[URUGUAY-GHANA] Ghana’s quest to be the first African team to reach the World Cup semifinals fell agonizingly short in a excruciatingly spectacular encounter that Uruguay captured on penalty kicks, 4-2, after 120 minutes of drama ended tied, 1-1.
What we liked:
-- The endings that weren’t came nearly too fast to count in overtime stoppage time. It started on a free kick glanced to the back post, where Stephen Appiah and then Dominic Adiyiah fired point-blank shots. Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez blocked the first attempt with his legs, then threw up his arms to prevent Adiyiah’s follow-up effort from crossing the goal line.
As referee Olegario Benquerenca brandished the red card, his teammates rushed to console Suarez. He departed in tears, only to exult on his way to the tunnel when Asamoah Gyan’s thunderous penalty kick crashed into the top edge of the crossbar.
Thus a semifinal spot came down to a few shooters and the two goalkeepers. For Ghana, Richard Kingson had been magnificent, repelling everything directed his way -- except for an extraordinarily wicked free kick that Diego Forlan swerved home in the 55th minute. Forlan’s goal matched one by Sulley Muntari; he belted a dipping shot of more than 30 yards past Uruguayan goalie Fernando Muslera in the second minute of first-half stoppage time.
-- In the shootout, Muslera dived left to save rather tame penalties from John Mensah and Adiyiah. Gyan bravely took and nailed Ghana’s first PK, but despite a badly skied attempt by Uruguay’s Maxi Pereira, Muslera’s two saved provided a 3-2 edge. Sebastian Abreu stepped up to take la Celeste’s fifth kick, and he disdainfully dinked it behind Kingson as the keeper guessed to his right.
-- The 84,017 fans packed into Johannesburg's Soccer City Stadium generated a raucous din for the entire match, eager to see Ghana make history as the first African World Cup semifinals. A deafening roar greeted Ghana’s goal two minutes into first-half stoppage time, but Uruguay refused to panic or be fazed by the bombardment of voices and vuzuzelas.
-- La Celeste also overcame the injury removal of defender and captain Diego Lugano, who landed clumsily dueling for a ball in the air and had to be replaced in the 38th minute. Andres Scotti, who had played only one minute in the first four matches and only nine of 18 qualifiers, stepped in to tangle with Gyan and steady a team that creaked a few times down the stretch.
Scotti also took and converted the third penalty, which provided a lead in the shootout Uruguay held until Abreu’s bit of cheek left Ghana two kicks behind with only one chance remaining.
-- As painful as it is for the World Cup to lose the last remaining African team, a return to glory of sorts for two-time champion (1930, 1950) Uruguay marks a renaissance symbolic of a deep South American contingent at this tournament, the departure of Brazil notwithstanding. It returns to the semifinals after a 40-year absence.
What we didn’t like ...
-- Suarez did what any player in the situation would have done; committing a deliberate hand ball and taking a straight red card to keep his team’s hopes alive. Slim is the possibility a penalty won’t be converted, yet the only alternative is to give up a goal and lose the game, and unfortunately for Ghana, Suarez’s illegal act paved the way for Uruguay to snatch victory.
The incident will undoubtedly re-ignite suggestions that a deliberate handball committed by a player standing on or near the goal line, when no other player can intervene, that prevents a goal should be punished by a red card and the awarding of the goal. Cases like that of Suarez, who was standing underneath the bar and blocked the ball just as it reached the plane of the goal line, are very rare; FIFA has steadfastly maintained that only when the ball legally crosses the line can a goal be awarded. (Or in the case of Frank Lampard's shot, that hit the bar and crossed the goal line, if the officials happen to be paying attention.)
U.S. fans will remember the infamous case of Torsten Frings, who was standing on the goal line when a partially blocked shot caromed off his arm in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinal against Germany. That ball, however, rebounded off goalkeeper Oliver Kahn and the ground, and may not have been actually going into the goal when Frings, deliberately or not, blocked it. Germany quickly cleared the ball from the goalmouth and U.S. protests were rebuffed.)