Uruguay Continues to Break African Hearts

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Two weeks ago, Uruguay knocked the fight out of Bafana Bafana by beating the host nation 3-0. And now, due to some “gamesmanship” (if we’re being kind), the South Americans have defeated Africa’s remaining hope, Ghana, in controversial fashion.

After canceling each other out with goals either side of the break, Uruguay definitely looked like the more likely winners. But history seemed to be repeating itself as Ghana held on for extra time — just as in their second round clash with the U.S. last Saturday — before having the best of the 30 minute period. Ghana’s coach had allowed his players to stay out in Sun City until 1am this morning and perhaps other managers want to take note (paging Mr. Capello) as the side suddenly took the game to Uruguay, with an incredible spirit (and fitness) shining through.

As the game entered extra time in extra time, one of the World Cup’s most dramatic ever incidents took place (and that’s not mere hyperbole. It really was, wasn’t it?). Uruguay’s striker Luis Suarez, no stranger to foul play it is fair to say, handled the ball on the line to deny substitute Dominic Adiyiah a certain Ghana winner, which would have made them the first African side to reach the last four of the tournament. Suarez saw red but opposing striker Asamoah Gyan, who had already scored two penalties in the competition, smacked the crossbar with literally the last kick of the game. And with that, you had to fear the worst for the Black Stars as the game entered the dreaded penalty kicks.

To give Gyan his due, he had the bottle to take his side’s first spot-kick and absolutely drilled it home. If only his team mates John Mensah and Dominic Adiyiah had shown similar poise but their efforts were easily saved by Fernando Muslera. Sebsatian Abreu sealed Uruguay’s unlikely victory with an audacious chip, which sends his side to Cape Town on Tuesday to meet Holland, who out-smarted the fancied Brazilians in Friday’s first quarter-final (and don’t mention penalties to the Dutch. Never a good idea).

But the post-match analysis is certain to revolve around Suarez and his deliberate handball. On the one hand (if you’ll excuse the pun), his gamble was a stroke of genius that has kept the 100/1 shots in the running, taking them to their first World Cup semi-final since 1970. And while he’s now banned from the game (and will be a huge loss for Uruguay, especially as he plays his club football in the Netherlands for Ajax), he would be eligible for the final as it’s just a one match ban. If we can play fantasy football, it’s a shame we can’t play fantasy football rules: allow yourself to imagine a World (Cup) where the laws of the game would have given Ghana an automatic goal thus rendering the Uruguayan’s cheating (for that is what it was) irrelevant. Perhaps FIFA will further punish Suarez with a two match ban to insure that his participation in this World Cup is over (if only for his celebration near the tunnel upon seeing Gyan miss his kick), no matter what happens on Tuesday.

As a life-long fan of football, it’s undeniable that this World Cup won’t just be known for bringing the greatest show on earth to Africa, but for exposing the fact that the referees are in need of extra help, diving still gets players sent off and the cruelty of penalties can lead to justice not being served. “The story of the Black Stars has redeemed the image of Africa,” ANC chairwoman Baleka Mbete had remarked on the eve of the game. “On your shoulders rest the football dreams of mother Africa.” For Asamoah Gyan, that dream has become a nightmare.