Tuesday's clash between Brazil and Ghana in Dortmund promises to be much more than just 90 minutes of football. Fate has pitted the giants of the world game and five-time champions against the African minnows playing at their first FIFA World Cup. And what a tournament it has been for the Black Stars, their vibrant performances writing the name of their nation large on the footballing map.
Brazil: Yellow shirts, blue shorts, blue socks.
Ghana: White shirts, white shorts, white socks.
The story so far
After a sluggish start to the tournament the Seleção have finally hit their stride. Group F victories over Croatia and Australia were notable only by the absence of Brazil's own brand of stylish attacking football. Japan, however, suffered the backlash, as Carlos Alberto Parreira's men finally found their rhythm and range and ran out comfortable 4-1 winners.
Many pundits have attributed the defending champions' recovery' to two major factors: Ronaldo's return to form and the squad's strength in depth. O Fenômeno has once again found his scoring boots and seems back to somewhere near his devastating best. His goals against Japan saw him draw level with Germany legend Gerd Muller as the all-time leading scorer at the FIFA World Cup finals, and more importantly, he is starting to reproduce the sort of hard-running, powerful displays for which he is so rightly acclaimed.
Meanwhile, Brazil's squad players have taken advantage of their playing time to show that the Canarinho bench is every bit as good as the starting XI. Robinho (now sidelined by a thigh injury), Cicinho, Gilberto, Juninho Pernambucano and Gilberto Silva all started the game against Japan, and their energy and flair made a huge difference to a previously lacklustre Brazil team. Their displays have given coach Parreira the kind of welcome selection headache that makes him the envy of his counterparts at the finals.
Going into the tournament, Ghana were considered the outsiders in Group E. They were drawn against three-time champions Italy, Czech Republic, ranked second in the world, and the fifth-ranked USA. But the Africans, themselves a lowly 48 in the rankings, acquitted themselves magnificently to win two of their group games to take their place in the Round of 16.
They showed genuine promise in their first game against Italy, running their illustrious opponents close, although the Czech Republic's emphatic 3-0 win over the USA seemed to have tied things up in the group. But Ratomir Dujkovic's men responded with a pair of wins and convincing displays against the Czechs and the Americans, banging in four goals in the process.
Even though the world champions now lie in wait for the Black Stars, the tournament's shock team will not be fazed. All of the pressure is on Parreira's side, while the Ghanaians have revelled in their underdog status. The Africans will now be looking to spring one of the greatest surprises in FIFA World Cup history, though they will have to do it without their inspirational playmaker Michael Essien. Two yellow cards during the group stage mean that the Chelsea man will be forced to sit out the biggest game in his country's history.
Kaka v Sulley Muntari
The game will be won and lost in the middle of the park, and the confrontation between Kaka and Sulley Muntari promises to be crucial as the tough Ghanaian will try to nullify the threat posed by the mercurial Brazilian. The two know each other well, having been in direct opposition in the Italian top flight on a number of occasions. In fact the AC Milan star and the Udinese man locked horns for the first time in the Round of 16 at the 2001 FIFA World Youth Championship, when the Africans emerged triumphant by two goals to one.
The two teams have met only once at full international level, ten years ago in a friendly played at Sao Jose do Rio Preto in the state of Sao Paulo. On that occasion the Auriverde ran the African side ragged, winning 8-2.
What they're saying Carlos Parreira, Brazil coach: Ghana should have played at the World Cup a long time ago. They deserved to qualify for the Round of 16. They played very well against Italy and technically they are a very good team. They are a real force in African football.
Ratomir Dujkovic, Ghana coach: I think that we can stop them, because they are not playing very well. They've got outstanding players, but as a team, they aren't playing that well.