A beautiful, cruel game

2010-07-03 00:00

SPORT can be beautiful, and it can be cruel, and football is perhaps most pitiless game of them all.

Last night the line between glory and devastation could not have been finer as Ghana went from the brink of being historic first African semi-finalists on continental home soil to losing quarter-finalists — 4-2 on penalties to Uruguay at Soccer City after the game ended 1-1 after extra time.

The drama, agony and emotion of the World Cup were in evidence in all their allure and sheer brutality in the devastating manner of Ghana’s defeat, in what must rank as one of the most spectacular conclusions to a game in the World Cup.

The Ghanaians were understandably inconsolable. They should have won the match in extra time but Asamoah Gyan’s penalty, with the last kick of the game, struck the crossbar.

Ghana were easily the more cultured and innovative of the two sides. They almost had what it took to dismantle a robust Uruguayan team, who in the absence of genuine talent outside of their well­organised defence and world-class strikers Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, played a spoiling game to perfection.

Almost, but not quite. Uruguay progressed to the quarter-finals almost on sheer determination, and will continue in that vein in their semi-final against the Netherlands in Cape Town on Tuesday.

The Black Stars are left to try to recover from a devastating defeat.

Ghana found Uruguay a predictably tough outfit to dominate in the first half-hour, while the South Americans’ strikers always looked like they would pounce on a half chance.

In the 11th minute Suarez demonstrated this when he rounded Isaac Vorsah on the left and shot straight at Richard Kingson.

Seven minutes later Kingson was forced into a sharp save when Forlan’s corner deflected goalwards off John Mensah.

Ghana were committing mistakes in their own half and losing out in the one-on-ones. But on the half-hour the Black Stars sprang to life and began to show signs they could win the game.

Two minutes into injury time the Black Stars took the lead, as Muntari created space on the edge of the area and his skidding shot beat an unsighted Muslera.

From a softly-awarded penalty from Portuguese referee Olegario Benquerenca at the start of the second half, Forlan scored the equaliser. The Atletico Madrid maestro’s 25 metre effort from the left of the area curled in over a poorly positioned, wrong-footed Kingson in the 55th minute.

Ghana had a chance to hit back almost immediately, Boateng threading a pass through to Gyan on the left, whose shot was well stopped by Muslera.

But the Black Stars could not re­establish their ascendancy of the second quarter, and it was Suarez who had the best chances of the half, seeing a shot from a narrow angle pushed over by Kingson before volleying into the side-netting.

In extra time Ghana raised their game again and should have won the game. Boateng headed agonisingly close from John Pantsil’s long-throw while Hans Sarpei’s attempted cross took a deflection and was kept out by Muslera.

In the dying seconds a goalmouth scramble saw Suraez handle on the goal-line to keep out Dominic Idiyiah’s shot. Suarez was red-carded and Benquerenca pointed to the spot, but Gyan went for power and struck the bar.

Tame penalties by captain John Mensah and Dominic Idiyiah were saved by Muslera in the shootout, to the single miss by Maximiliano Pereira for Uruguay. Sebastian Abreu read Kingson’s dive to easily chip in the winner.

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