Africa bows out after Uruguay make Ghana pay harsh penalty
Uruguay 1 Ghana 1 (Aet: Uruguay win 4-2 on penalties)
Africa's heart broke for Asamoah Gyan, whose missed penalty in the last minute of extra time plunged his Ghana side into a penalty shoot-out which they lost, depriving the continent of an historic first World Cup semi-final berth in this, of all years
Gyan was the man who had expressed such belief before the game - "when I am 100 per cent fit, I know what I can do on the field and I thank God for that" – but instead he left the field a desolate, tear-stained figure, who stood a football's kick away from taking an African nation further than any other but instead slammed the ball against Fernando Muslera's bar in the last kick of extra time.
The individual who will take a place alongside him in the continent's football history is Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan whose punched clearance of Dominic Adayah's header earned him a red card which will see him miss a semi final against the Netherlands but who will not care today, having sent his nation on their way.
Ghana's Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac was too shell-shocked to indulge in moral indignation about an incident which contributes to Uruguay's long-held reputation for cynicism which their own coach Oscar Tabarez has railed against. "I don't know what I would tell [Suarez]at this moment because of course, in the last minute, there was a penalty but we weren't lucky it was bad luck, that's all I can say. We weren't lucky today." Gyan felt differently. "He'll be probably be a hero now," the 24-year old said of Suarez late last night.
To be fair, Uruguay paid their dues. Suarez did not escape as, say, Thierry Henry did, in the goal which deprived the Republic or Ireland of their place here. But for an evening of such potentially historic proportions to end in such a way was a tragedy
Tabarez – or "maestro" and "professor" as the Uruguayan press address him – avoided any question on the topic until the British contingent started piping up, when his talk about Ghana started to grate, in the circumstances. "I'm familiar with their universities. I used to receive letters from their youngsters when I as at Milan," he said. "I admire those who have grass roots, young footballers"
There was an unintentional irony in his declaration that "as Uruguayans say, 'we did what we have to'," though he took offence at suggestions that his striker had cheated. "When there's a handball in the penalty area there's a red card and the player is thrown out of the game," Tabarez said. "I think 'cheating' is too hard a word to use. I don't like that word 'cheating.'
Having consigned his team-mates to a shoot-out, before which Rajevac considered changing goalkeepers following Richard Kingson's erratic night, Gyan took the award for most courage shown in the tournament when he stepped up to take Ghana's first penalty and dispatched it, top right. But his team-mates could not follow suit. First John Mensah's pitifully weak kick was saved.
When Maximiliano Pereira fired over, Ghana's hopes were lifted. But Dominic Adiyah's shot was saved and Sebastian Abreu dinked in with his left foot to seal a semi-final berth against the Dutch.
When the emotion of the finale is stripped out, Ghana may be able to reflect that the better side won. The superior technical ability of the Uruguayans was evident and Diego Forlan delivered another of the performances which have stamped his name on the competition, equalising out Sulley Muntari's opening goal with a free kick of devastating swerve which baffled Kingson soon after the interval.
It was the usual two-man Uruguayan show, with Forlan and Suarez proving again that two-man strike partnerships need not be out of fashion. The twin strikers began like a hurricane, raining down shots of Kingson who ranged from the sublime – tipping wide after Suarez had spun away from Isaac Vorsah – to the ridiculous - punching a deep free kick from Forlan vertically into the night sky, to cause pandemonium in his own area.
Ghana's brand of football is built around speculative efforts from long range and Muntari's 30-yard punt which sent Ghana ahead was no different. Gyan ducked underneath it – perhaps unsighting Muslera before it sailed way to his left.
Ghana also exposed an aerial weakness in Uruguay, who suffered after the loss through injury of captain Diego Lugano. After the game entered extra time they looked the more potent force, too. If Rajevac's side could only have advanced in a less of state of bedlam, they might not been drawn into the awful finale.
In extra time, there was a bad moment for John Pantsil when he seemed to have brought down the gangling Abreu in the area but the Portuguese referee was not ready to set the course of history at that moment. Gyan seemed ready to do so when he leant into substitute Dominic Adiyah's sharp cross but sent it over. But once Gyan had missed his kick and Muslera had spent several minutes talking to the crossbar the ball struck, there really only looked like one winner. Kingson, who would probably prefer is usual terrain in reserve team football at Wigan than this, really looked nowhere near any of the kicks.
As Rajevac put it: "All I can say is this is football. We had the historic opportunity to reach the semi finals. We had a penalty but you saw it all. We had the penalties shoot out and the opponents had the psychological advantage. They knew how to seize the opportunity. Looking back now, it seems like everything was directed by someone else."
Uruguay (4-4-2): Muslera; M Pereira, Lugano (Scotti, 38), Victorino, Fucile; A Fernandez (Lodeiro, h-t), Perez, Arevalo, Cavani (Abreu, 76); Suarez, Forlan.
Ghana (4-1-4-1): Kingson; Pantsil, Vorsah, Mensah, Sarpei; Annan; Inkoom (Appiah, 73), Asamoah, K P Boateng, Muntari (Adiyiah, 88); Gyan.
Referee O Benquerenca (Portugal).