AFRICA will never come closer to having its first World Cup semifinalists. First with his feet and then with a save that Robert Green would have paid money for, Uruguay’s Luis Suarez killed the hopes not of a nation but of a continent.
The hyperbole surrounding the build-up to Ghana’s quarterfinal clash with Uruguay was extreme even for the World Cup. All Africa was united, at least in the eyes of the world’s massed media on their month-long sojourn in the Rainbow Republic, cheering on the Black Stars against the South American interlopers.
The script seemed written in Holywood, with a screenplay commissioned by Clint Eastwood. Asamoah Gyan, already scorer of two penalties in the tournament, walked up to the spot and calmly placed his penalty high to the goalkeeper’s left. The crowd erupted in jubilation.
Unfortunately for Gyan, the penalty he had taken minutes earlier in the dying moments of extra time had struck the Uruguayan crossbar and rebounded away for a goal kick. If that one had gone in, Gyan would have sent Ghana into the semifinals, and he would now be the hero of a continent. The one he did net in the shootout casts him in the role of tragic hero.
For the sub-plot, it was Dominic Adiyiah, the 20-year-old substitute whose goal-bound header Suarez had handled on the line, who missed Ghana’s final shootout penalty. In October last year, Adiyiah had netted in the under-20 World Cup final penalty shoot-out against Brazil. Then Ghana had become Africa’s first world champions at under-20 level, now they are only the third African nation to crash out at the quarter-final stage of the World Cup finals.
In the end it was the thickness of a crossbar that condemned Gyan, and the hands of Uruguay’s most prolific scorer that denied Adiyah. The plot played out more ancient Greece than Hollywood.
Much of the post-match fall-out has centred on the hand of Suarez. Did he cheat by stopping the ball with his hand? Uruguay’s coach Oscar Tabarez claims that Suarez’s actions were “instinctive”. Naturally he will leap to the defence of the player who kept his team in the finals single-handed. But Suarez’s handball was the calculated action of a professional footballer. One who now will be celebrated throughout his homeland and in the players’ changing room. All footballers would do the same.
It’s not the fault of the player, nor the referee, who was technically right to award a penalty and show Suarez the red card. The problem was that the punishment did not fit the crime.
Why did Uruguay’s goalkeeper Fernando Muslera have the opportunity to stop Gyan’s penalty after being bailed out by Suarez’s hand?
Surely a free penalty without a goalkeeper would be a more appropriate punishment for deliberately handling on the line? Then Gyan would have walked up to take his initial penalty sure in the knowledge that he would be booking his nation its allotted place in history.