Nothing, it seemed, would go in for Ghana.
Nothing, it seemed, would go in for Ghana.
Not the shot kicked away at the goal line. Not the block ruled a handball an instant later as extra time ticked to a close. Not the subsequent penalty kick that sure-footed Asamoah Gyan sent bouncing straight up off the crossbar.
And not two more tries in the shootout as Uruguay, suddenly still alive, made four kicks and won the match 4-2 Friday night after a 1-1 draw. The South Americans were headed to the World Cup semifinals for the first time in 40 years.
The Ghanaians were headed home in tears.
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“It’s hard luck. You know, we had (an) opportunity to win this game,” Gyan said, “but unfortunately, that is football for you.”
With time running out, a scramble in front of the Uruguay net caught goalkeeper Fernando Muslera out of position. A shot by Ghana was kicked away on the goal line by Luis Suarez. Then, Dominic Adiyiah’s header was cleared off the goal line by Suarez – using his arm. That drew an immediate red card for the striker, who will miss the semifinal, and sent Gyan to the penalty spot.
As Gyan calmly placed the ball in front of him in the final seconds of extra time, all he needed to do was send it past Muslera – and that would have sent the Black Stars into the semifinals, an African first at the World Cup.
Child’s play for Gyan, who twice in the tournament had scored on a penalty kick. He stared down Muslera, then stroked the ball solidly.
Just as solidly, it hit the crossbar. Gyan stumbled away holding his head.
Victories – and defeats – don’t come any tougher than this.
“To be among the four best (teams) in the world, there are no words for that,” Uruguay star striker Diego Forlan said. “We felt we were going to faint with each penalty.”
Rather than faint, Uruguay pounced on an almost unimaginable second chance.
The fans, except for the small pockets of blue-clad Uruguay supporters in the crowd of 84,017, booed Forlan before he calmly sent the first kick of the shootout past Richard Kingson.
And who would step up first for Ghana but Gyan – and he also struck the ball perfectly. Had he done so minutes earlier, Ghana and all of Africa would be celebrating an historic achievement.
Instead, the shootout moved to 3-2 for Uruguay and Muslera guessed correctly, diving left for an easy save on John Mensah. After Maximiliano Pereira’s kick skied over the net for Uruguay, the vuvuzelas again were at their loudest.
But Muslera also stopped Adiyiah, and Sebastian Abreu won it with a soft but accurate placement as Kingson dived right.
“It’s a way of kicking (penalties). I believe in it, and the team has given me confidence to believe it’s the right way,” Abreu said.
As his teammates sprinted to smother him in an ecstatic scrum, several Ghanaians slumped to the field.
And Soccer City fell silent again.
Well, not entirely. Those Uruguayans who couldn’t be heard over the din during the match were singing everything from “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole” to their national anthem after their greatest victory in four decades.
They saluted Suarez, whose act of desperation wound up saving the Celeste.
“I think I made the best save of the World Cup,” he said.
Asked if this had been another “hand of God” moment similar to Diego Maradona’s famous 1986 goal, he said it was the “hand of Suarez.”
“It’s difficult to be sent off at a World Cup. It’s complicated,” said the high-scoring Suarez, who left the field in tears. “But the way in which I was sent off today – truth is, it was worth it.”
So Uruguay, once a soccer power, most recently an afterthought, will travel to Cape Town for Tuesday’s semifinal. The last nation to make the tournament, it needed a playoff against Costa Rica just to get in.
Ghana carried the weight of an entire continent’s soccer hopes – the other five African nations did not advance – and try as it might, it couldn’t replicate its victory over the United States in extra time to advance last weekend.
The vuvuzela-blowing, flag-waving capacity crowd cheered the Black Stars as if they were South Africa’s Bafana Bafana. Nelson Mandela himself praised the team earlier Friday, and Sulley Muntari, known more for his bad attitude than his good play, gave Ghana the lead in the final seconds of the first half.
But even with Brazil’s loss to the Dutch earlier in the day, this has been South America’s tournament. Forlan tied it with a swirling free kick early in the second half, then penalty kicks won it for Uruguay.
And lost it for Ghana.
Muntari, often a disciplinary problem who nearly was sent home earlier for arguing with a coach – was a catalyst as Ghana took control of the first half. Muntari and Michael Essien were supposed to anchor the Black Stars’ midfield, but Essien missed the tournament with a knee injury and Muntari had been nearly invisible.
His goal, though, was a masterful twister from 35 yards.
Forlan’s free kick turned the game in Uruguay’s favor, and he gave Suarez an open net to shoot at a few minutes later, only to see his usually dead-eye teammate put it wide from close range.