Group H has many of the biggest storylines in Qatar. For a starter, Ghana are playing Uruguay in a rivalry 12 years in the making. This stems back to the 2010 World Cup when Luis Suarez batted away the ball on the goal line, preventing Ghana from becoming the first African country to reach the World Cup semi-finals. Ghana missed their penalty kick and have never forgotten.
Portugal have problems of their own, with Cristiano Ronaldo revealing his desire to leave Manchester United and eyeing a potential retirement. South Korea are dealing with an injury to star forward Son Heung-min. The drama in this group is unrivaled.
Because of this, it’s possible that some young stars can be the difference makers. Here are the best U21 prospects in Group H:
(Note: You can find the U21 standouts in Group A here, Group B here, Group C here, Group D here, Group E here, Group F here, and Group G here.)
Uruguay: DM Manuel Ugarte, 21
Ugarte is one of two U21 players on the Uruguay squad, alongside Manchester United’s Facundo Pellistri. Pellistri has potential but hasn’t played consistently since joining Manchester in 2020.
Ugarte started his career in Uruguay with CA Fénix, making over 50 appearances with the club until his departure in 2021. At the age of 19, he joined Famalicão — the club where one of my favorite Portuguese talents, Alexandre Penetra, plays — and a couple of months later he joined Sporting Lisbon. With Sporting, Ugarte has become one of the best midfielders in Primeira Liga, even playing 90 minutes in four of the club’s Champions League appearances this season.
Uruguay have some of the best midfielders in the tournament, one of the reasons I think they’ll go deep in Qatar. Expect Ugarte to be an option off the bench with the potential to start some games.
Portugal: LB Nuno Mendes, 20
Portugal brought three U21 players to Qatar: Mendes, and Benfica duo António Silva and Gonçalo Ramos. Silva and Ramos are both enjoying fine seasons in the Primeira Liga and Champions League, but they come into the tournament with a combined singular senior cap.
Mendes is a product of the Sporting Lisbon academy, joining at a young age and progressing through the ranks. At 17, Mendes debuted with the club and he soon established himself as a starter. In 2021, he moved to PSG on loan, playing 37 times. PSG made his loan permanent for nearly 40 million euros this season, and Mendes has been key — he scored the winner in a Champions League match against Juventus.
Mendes will likely be Portugal’s starting left-back, although he does have competition for the position. Expect Mendes to play a big role for Portugal in Qatar.
Ghana: LW Kamaldeen Sulemana, 20
Ghana brought four U21 players to Qatar: Sulemana, Ghana-based players Ibrahim Danlad and Daniel Barnieh, and Sporting Lisbon’s Issahaku Fatawu. Fatawu joined Sporting this year and, at 18, is already starting to impress with the club.
Sulemana is one of many Ghanaian players to follow the Rights to Dream academy to Nordsjaelland pipeline, with fellow teammate Mohammed Kudus following the same route. After one season with the club, talent developers Stade Rennais came calling, snapping Sulemana up for roughly 15 million euros. Since joining, Sulemana has just ten goal contributions, but he undoubtedly has loads of potential.
Sulemana has started for Ghana only nine times, but I would expect him to be a starter. If not, he’ll be an early option off the bench when Ghana need a goal.
South Korea: CAM Lee Kang-in, 21
Kang-in is the only U21 player South Korea brought to the tournament after Yang Hyun-jun was harshly left off the squad. Many of the K-League’s other prospects also had chances but missed the cut.
Kang-in himself was developed in a K-League academy with Incheon, before joining Valencia when he was 10. He quickly was highlighted as a future star, becoming one of Valencia’s youngest-ever debutants and scoring his first goal at the age of 18. Unfortunately, Kang-in’s career started to drop off, and he left for free in 2021. Since joining Mallorca, his career has been revitalized, with two goals (including a winner against Valencia) and three assists this season — his most goal contributions in a La Liga season.
Kang-in has started just once for South Korea since 2019, and this tournament will likely not be much different. Expect Kang-in to be an impact substitute.
Image courtesy of Scpforlife, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
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