With the World Cup in Africa for the first time this was the chance for African nations to show what they were made of and make some serious inroads to the latter stages of the tournament. Unfortunately, hosts South Africa fell despite having a win in their final group game and Nigeria’s inability to score the most basic of goals had condemned them. Algeria bored themselves to death and the magnificent Ivory Coast side again went down in a tough group.
This only left Ghana.
Ghana made the final 16 in 2006 and snuck through a tough group in South Africa in 2010 eliminating Australia on goal difference and condemning the mighty Serbs to last place. In the second round they outlasted the United States in a pulsating game with extra time needed. An African side was in the quarterfinals for only the third time.
Their opponents in the quarter final would be Uruguay who had topped an open group that featured hosts South Africa, Mexico and the self hating French. They had to work to beat South Korea in the second round, with the side spearheaded by the irrepressible strike force of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez and led at the back by Diego Lugano, a veteran of the arm wrestle with Australia in 2005 who loved nothing more than to throw an elbow in to the back of an opponent or kick a shin.
In the massive Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg both sides went for it with both also guilty of wasting gilt edge chances but Uruguay started to turn the screws. The Ghanaian goalkeeper Kingston made a string of fine saves to keep it 0-0. Lugano, the captain and rock at the back, then injured himself and had to be subbed. Advantage Ghana. It was right on half time that the deadlock was broken when Sully Muntari, a player who had almost been booted out of the Ghanaian squad for criticising the coach a week or so before, scored a spectacular goal from 30 yards.
This Uruguay side reveled in digging deep and never doing anything the easy way. With their talisman gone and down 1-0 La Celeste got stuck in and were back to 1-1 10 minutes in to the second half thanks to a quite spectacular free kick from Forlan. Gyan was giving Uruguay a lot of grief. The striker was put through a couple of times but couldn’t get his shot away or would tangle with one of the Uruguayan defenders. Extra time it was.
Both other times an African team had it this far (Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002) they had also gone to extra time. Would this be the time they had the luck to push through to the final four and make history? Legs were like lead for both sides as tension hung in the air and vuvuzelas bleated. Uruguay defended deep and hoped Forlan and Suarez would catch Ghana on the break but that was a big ask. Penalties looked likely.
In the final seconds of extra time Ghana won a corner. The corner was flicked on and the Uruguayan keeper Muslera could only punch the ball straight to the young striker Dominic Adiyiah who shot at goal but the shot was cleared off the line by Suarez. The loose ball again fell to a Ghanaian who shot but Suarez managed to clear it again but this time with his hand in the desperate chaos. Penalty. Red Card.
With the referee to blow full time as soon as the penalty was taken it seemed as though Suarez’s desperation had seemingly condemned his side. The star striker was mortified as he slowly trudged off the pitch with his teammates pleading with the referee. Gyan, the player who helped condemn Australia with a penalty against the Socceroos in Rustenburg, would take the penalty. If he scored that was it. A virtual free hit. It was a hit all right, against the crossbar and over in another dramatic twist and the game would go to a shootout. Images shown from the tunnel showed Suarez virtually dancing knowing his sacrifice had saved his country.
Gyan showed enormous courage to take the first penalty in the shootout and scoring. The next four converted before Mensah had his penalty saved. Perreira and Adiyiah then both had their shots saved with one to go all Abreu had to do was score and Uruguay were through. He did. The Uruguayans were virtually out but Gyan’s missed shot from the spot and the heroics of their keeper had them in the semi finals for the first time in decades.
Ghana was shattered, as was most of Africa. In their own backyard this was a chance for an African nation to make history and make the semi finals for the first time. Gyan was inconsolable. The game was theirs sitting on the penalty spot but now found themselves eliminated. Suarez would be criticised for his actions for the handball but when desperate most players would do such a thing rather than let the goal get scored. It was the first time the controversial striker (who would move to Liverpool 6 months later) would make massive headlines for his conduct.
One of the most dramatic ends to a match in the World Cup and a memorable moment.