After treating spectators to 119 minutes of a tight, tense, fairly even cat-n-mouse game, drama of the highest caliber engulfed the Ghana – Uruguay quarterfinal with an unprecedented sequence that will be long remembered by both nations and African fans alike. It was a devastatingly sad ending for a Ghana team that exceeded all expectations in reaching this stage of the tournament, carrying the emotional weight of the entire continent in the process. For Uruguay, the tremendous achievement of reaching the semifinal may simply amount to living to fight another day. After pulling off a houdiniesque escape in Johanessburg, the South Americans will take on a powerful Holland team without a few key players.
Ghana came excruciatingly close to being the first African team to reach the semifinal of the World Cup on a play that, it must be said, should not have taken place. The foul given against Uruguay defender Fucile was in error, as the Ghanaian midfielder Ayew had simply slipped. On the ensuing play, virtually the last action, Ghana threw everything forward and out-muscled an exhausted Uruguayan defense to every bounce, the final effort punched off the goal-line by Luis Suarez, Uruguay leading scorer. Automatic red card, the most desperate of defeats was looking upon Uruguay as Ghana’s leading scorer Gyan stepped up to convert the penalty with the final kick of the match. It wasn’t meant to be.
With another lifeline and with the pressure shifting to the African side, Uruguay put their faith into goal-keeper Fernando Muslera and he came through. Sebastian Abreu sealed the victory with a cheeky conversion a la Zidane and it was enough for Uruguay to achieve what seemed impossible minutes prior to their victory celebration, a place in the last four. Without injured captain Diego Lugano, suspended Jorge Fucile and Luis Suarez, it will be very difficult for an emotionally depleted Uruguay squad to keep pace with Holland on Tuesday, but that is why the games are played. Eleven men a side and anything can happen.
For Ghana, the heartbreak will give way to pride and building for the future. While the Nigerian football program is in complete disarray, the Nigerian government having just fired all of the officials and suspending the team from international action, with Cameroon showing little, Ghana’s Black Stars did very well not only to reach the last eight but also to gain fans around the world and make the continent proud. If only Essien would have been with them this time around…