In Uruguay-Ghana World Cup game, Uruguay wins on penalty kicks

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 3, 2010

JOHANNESBURG -- Uruguay is going to the World Cup semifinals for the first time in 40 years because it defeated Ghana in a penalty kick tiebreaker Friday night, the decisive stroke provided by a man nicknamed "El Loco" to close out the craziest match of this, or perhaps any, World Cup.

However, the penalty kick seared into the memory of all 84,017 observers at Soccer City Stadium and the millions watching throughout a united Africa was the one taken on the final play of the 30-minute overtime. With the sizzling match tied 1-1, Uruguay forward Luis Suarez intentionally batted the ball at the goal line, preventing certain victory for Ghana's Black Stars and resulting in both a red card and a penalty.

The match rested with Asamoah Gyan, Ghana's star striker. Convert the 12-yard kick, and the Black Stars would become, in the first World Cup played in Africa, the continent's first-ever semifinalist. The shot skimmed the top of the crossbar and sailed away.

Walking toward the tunnel after his ejection, Suarez turned back as Gyan's shot missed. Devastation turned to elation. Remarkably, Uruguay was still alive.

In the tiebreaker, goalkeeper Fernando Muslera made consecutive saves and Sebastian "El Loco" Abreu used a cheeky, soft shot down the middle to seal the 4-2 advantage and set up a semifinal against the Netherlands on Tuesday in Cape Town.

"This is something that we never would have imagined before coming to South Africa," Coach Oscar Tabarez said of an Uruguayan program that won world titles in 1930 and 1950 but, for the most part, has been stuck in South America's second tier since.

What was also hard to imagine were the two sensational goals scored in regulation, by Ghana's Sulley Muntari on the final touch of the first half and Uruguay's Diego Forlan, the most outstanding player of the tournament, on a free kick early in the second half.

It was also hard to believe the frantic final moments of extra time. Ghana had pressed Uruguay to the brink with several outstanding opportunities in the last 15 minutes. With time melting away, Suarez, stationed on the goal line, used his knee to block Stephen Appiah's point-blank attempt, then in desperation, used both hands to slap Dominic Adiyiah's header.

"The hand of God, now it's mine," Suarez said, referencing Diego Maradona's infamous handball goal for Argentina at the 1986 Cup.

Gyan had put away two penalties in the group stage before scoring in extra time on a powerful shot in the run of play last weekend to defeat the United States in the round of 16. However, he had also missed a penalty kick against the Czech Republic at the 2006 World Cup.

He faltered on this one as well.

"Suarez, this time instead of scoring goals, saved one," Forlan said. "He saved the game."

Afterward, Gyan burst into tears and had to be consoled by several teammates.

Suarez's act raised an ethical issue. Yes, he and Uruguay were penalized within the rules, but many observers condemned such a blatant undertaking.

Ghana Coach Milovan Rajevac declined to address the issue, saying, "This is football."

Tabarez, one of the sport's most respected figures, dismissed accusations of cheating.

"The player instinctively stopped the ball and was given a red card accordingly," he said. "He was thrown out and can't play the next match. What else do you want me to do with Suarez? What else do you want the referee to do with Suarez? These are the circumstances of the game, simply that. Is Suarez also to blame for Ghana missing that penalty in that shootout?"

With continental pride at stake, South Africans united with Ghanaian supporters to forge the most pronounced home-field advantage aside from Bafana Bafana matches. Pockets of baby-blue clad Uruguayans were adrift in a squall of red-yellow-and-green Ghana flags.

Fueled by Forlan, Uruguay dictated the first 30 minutes before the Black Stars began to find their way. On the last touch of the half, they went ahead. From the midfield circle, John Mensah targeted Gyan, who knocked the ball to Muntari in a relatively unthreatening position. When Egidio Arevalo backed off, Muntari pushed the ball into the middle and ripped a left-footed, 35-yard shot. This was trouble for Uruguay.

Gyan ducked to avoid getting hit. Although Muslera had time to react, the ball was bending away from him. One skip and a futile dive later, Ghana was ahead.

Forlan needed just 10 minutes of the second half to level the match -- a fantastic strike on an angled free kick from 25 yards. Goalkeeper Richard Kingson initially stepped the wrong way, but the ball was hit with such power, he didn't have a prayer.

For the first 15 minutes of the extra session, despite a tight grip on possession, Uruguay failed to seriously test Kingson. From there, Ghana threatened time and again before the chaotic ending.

"It really would have been a fairy tale if it ended well for us," Rajevac said. "It is very difficult for us, but we are very proud of what we achieved."

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