Monday’s friendly at Sun Life Stadium, the last before the World Cup for Ghana and South Korea, should draw the eyes of soccer fans in at least three nations: the two participants and the United States.
Ghana and South Korea often play friendlies against each other, but Ghana’s June 16 World Cup opener finds another familiar foe — America. The U.S. saw its 2006 and 2010 World Cups end at Ghana’s feet. A loss to The Black Stars eliminated the U.S. at the group play level in 2006 and, in 2010’s Round of 16, the U.S. lost 2-1 in extra time.
Clearly wanting to avoid revealing strategy or making a galvanizing slight, Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah said of the U.S., “They’ve got a very good team. As for their strong side, I believe, all around, they have a very good team. There’s nothing I can say, looking at their warm up games. … I didn’t see any weakness.”
Some teams use the last pre-World Cup friendly as NFL teams do the third of four preseason games, playing most of the game with the lineup that will be on the pitch for the opener. With the unusual spate of injuries to key players the last two weeks, look for a change in that philosophy in 2018.
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Neither coach, Appiah nor Korea’s Hong Myung-Bo, said they would be settling on a World Cup lineup by Monday night.
“It would be really difficult for me to say. As I sit here, if you ask me, who are the names that are playing [Monday], I would have problems,” Appiah said.
Also, because South Korea plays differently than the U.S., Appiah said “how we play today may be very different from how we play the U.S. in Brazil.”
Both coaches hope for a raised standard of play before next week. South Korea lost 1-0 to Tunisia in its most recent friendly and has lost three of its last four. Ghana’s lost its last two friendlies by 1-0 scores also, to Montenegro and the traditionally talented Netherlands.
Montenegro, ranked No. 51 in the latest FIFA world rankings but unsuccessful in World Cup qualifying, actually stands six spots ahead of South Korea. Ghana is 37th. Only Australia, No. 62, languishes lower in the rankings than South Korea among teams that qualified for the World Cup.
“Friendly games are to help you prepare,” Appiah said. “It’s always good to win as far as your confidence goes. But, on the other side, I’m looking at technically how we play and, in the roles I assign some players, how they perform.”
Several media reports claimed a flu virus swept through the South Korean team during their stay in South Florida. It’s not uncommon for teams in all sports visiting South Florida this time of year to circulate colds in bodies unfamiliar with the contrast of heavy humidity outside and heavy air conditioning inside. Ghana’s one of the few teams for which Miami wasn’t a acclimation stopover.
“It’s the same as home,” Appiah smiled. “Much hotter.”