MARK GORDON remembers the controversial handball of Luis Suarez and how close one Ghanaian came to African footballing immortality
One of the most incredible passages of play in World Cup history took place at Soccer City, Johannesburg as Uruguay faced Ghana in the World Cup 2010 quarter-final. The game itself was good to watch, if unspectacular, for most of its 120 minutes. Both sides created chances but were wasteful for the most part. The African side took the lead on the stroke of half-time. A low, long-range effort by Sulley Muntari beat Fernando Muslera in the Uruguay goal to give the Black Stars one foot in the semi-finals.
Atlético Madrid’s Diego Forlán scored a stunning free-kick from the angle of the penalty area to equalise in the second half. Ghana’s goalkeeper Kingson may have been at fault for the concession of the goal, however, it was the only mistake he made in a game where he produced several vital saves.
Both sides had chances to win the game in normal time but a mixture of poor finishing and inspired goalkeeping, particularly from Kingson, meant the game went into extra-time. The extra period saw Ghana finish the stronger of the two teams as the South Americans appeared to tire.
Then, after nearly two hours of football, Fulham’s John Pantsil curled a free-kick into the heart of the Uruguay goalmouth. What followed was possibly the most dramatic ending ever to a World Cup knockout tie.
Muslera failed to punch clear and a scramble ensued as Stephen Appiah’s effort at goal was blocked on the line by the knee of Luis Suarez. The rebound spun in the air and was headed goalward by Dominic Adiyah, his goal-bound effort was swatted away on the line by the hand of Suarez.
The referee spotted the infringement, duly awarded a penalty and Suarez was ordered off for his indiscretion. The striker left the field in tears, hiding his face within his sky-blue shirt as he made his way toward the tunnel.
Asamoah Gyan placed the ball on the spot and took a continent on his shoulders as he prepared to take the penalty which could give Africa its first ever semi-finalist. Gyan fired his spot-kick over, clipping the crossbar on its way. Agony for the Ghanaians as Muslera blew a kiss to his crossbar and Suarez celebrated trackside as if he himself had scored the winning goal. It was the last kick of the game.
In an incredible show of testicular fortitude Asamoah Gyan somehow found the courage and strength to take the first penalty of the shoot-out, which he scored. It wasn’t to be for the Africans though as Muslera saved from Mensah and Adiyah before Sebastien Abreu sent Uruguay to the semis.
The emotions at the end were raw as Gyan broke down in the arms of one of the Ghanaian training staff whilst villain/hero Suarez returned to celebrate with his countrymen. As if to underline the contrast between winning and losing, the careers of the two protagonists of the final minute drama couldn’t have differed more from that game.
As Dominic Adiyah headed towards goal in the last seconds of extra time he was poised for African football immortality. If the header goes in Adiyah gives the continent its first World Cup semi-finalists. He had been his county’s hero in the previous year’s Under-20 World Cup, his performances at youth level had thrust the 20-year-old into the limelight and he signed a 3-year deal at Italian giants’ AC Milan just 6 months before the 2010 World Cup.
Adiyah spent his 3-year contract with Milan out on loan, never starting a competitive game for the Serie A side. After spells in Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine, the 2009 Ghanaian Player of the Year was last seen plying his trade in the Thai League.
On the flip side, the villain of the piece Luis Suarez left Ajax for Liverpool in a deal worth around £23million six months after the end of the South Africa tournament. Three-and-a-half goal-filled years at Anfield followed as Suarez almost fired the Reds to their first League title since 1990. The striker left to sign for Barcelona in 2014 for an undisclosed fee, thought to be around £65million. Never one to avoid controversy the handball incident against Ghana is just one of a list of misdemeanours in a colourful, yet successful, career to date.
Uruguay, without suspended Suarez, fell in the semi to the eventual beaten finalists the Netherlands. This game at Soccer City will be remembered though for last few seconds of extra-time, pure football drama.