Heartbreak For Ghana, But A World Cup Highlight : Show Me Your Cleats! - World Cup 2010 Blog What a game! Heartbreak for Africa will be the inevitable headline. But you couldn't find a better advertisement for the joys of soccer. This game had more drama than a theater festival.
NPR logo Heartbreak For Ghana, But A World Cup Highlight

Heartbreak For Ghana, But A World Cup Highlight

Luis Suarez of Uruguay made a split second decision to use his hands to stop a ball. It got him a red card and Uruguay one more opportunity to stay alive.  Michael Steele/Getty Images hide caption

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Michael Steele/Getty Images

Asamoah Gyan of Ghana reacts after missing a late penalty kick in extra time. The goal would have given Ghana, the last African team in the tournament, the win. Cameron Spencer/Getty Images hide caption

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Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Asamoah Gyan of Ghana reacts after missing a late penalty kick in extra time. The goal would have given Ghana, the last African team in the tournament, the win.

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Stephen Appiah of Ghana shouts at team mate Asamoah Gyan after he missed a late penalty, which would have handed Ghana the win. Cameron Spencer/Getty Images hide caption

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Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Nicolas Lodeiro of Uruguay and Kwadwo Asamoah of Ghana challenge for the ball. Dominic Barnardt/Getty Images hide caption

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Dominic Barnardt/Getty Images

What a game! Heartbreak for Africa will be the inevitable headline. But you couldn't find a better advertisement for the joys of soccer. This game had more drama than a theater festival. Sadly, if you're African we're talking Shakespearean tragedy, not comedy.

In the last seconds of extra time a frantic scramble in Uruguay's goalmouth ends with a blatant handball that prevents a Ghanaian goal. Uruguay's star striker Luis Suarez is deservedly red carded for the offense and leaves in tears. Ghana has a penalty, and with it a golden chance to win the game with its very last kick. The script is written. Surely, this is Africa's moment.

Ghana's star striker Asamoah Gyan steps up to the spot, 12 yards away from glory. If he scores, Africa has a team in the World Cup semi-finals for the first time. The screenplay has been optioned. Will Smith is interested in playing Gyan, George Clooney the Black Stars' Serbian coach, with the inevitable cameo by Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela. But Gyan's shot hit the crossbar. It wasn't to be.

After this, the penalty kick shootout was almost anti-climatic. While Gyan bravely stepped up and made his kick minutes after the earlier miss, the air had gone out of the Black Stars. Two weak misses ended their World Cup hopes.

Yet if this game had never gone to extra time at all, it would still have made for terrific viewing. Both teams came to play and the referee let them. This was robust soccer that felt more like a English premiership game than a World Cup encounter, and it was all the better for it. There were heavy challenges, with plenty of yellow cards, but it wasn't a dirty game, just a hard one. The Portuguese referee, presumably an expert in these matters given his fellow countryman Christian Ronaldo's propensity for diving to the ground if an opposing player comes within five yards, did an especially good job of not been tricked into giving free kicks or penalties for blatant dives by players from both sides.

Uruguay dominated the opening minutes of the match, but Ghana slowly gained in confidence, and had the best chances of the first half, scoring in injury time when Sulley Muntari's magnificent long-range shot caught the goalkeeper flat-footed. If Muntari's goal was good, Diego Forlan's equally long-range equalizer was just as spectacular. The action was end to end. Both teams created plenty of good chances. While both goalkeepers will be faulted for the goals, they also made fine saves.

While the storyline will be all about Ghana, let's not forget Uruguay's achievement in reaching the semi-finals. Once a soccer power, winners of the first-ever World Cup, Uruguay has been an also-ran for a generation or more. They only sneaked into the 2010 finals by winning a play-off against Costa Rica. Yet they've looked like a confident and well-schooled team during their dream run in South Africa. If Ghana deserved to win, Uruguay didn't deserve to lose.

But while the asados will smoulder on the grill until late into the night in Montevideo and the dulce de delche will never taste as sweet, this may prove a Pyrrhic victory for Uruguay. The red-carded Suarez and the excellent defender Jorge Fucile will be suspended for the semi-final. Add in a knee injury to captain Diego Lugano, and it's a weakened team that will take the field as underdogs against an impressive Dutch team fresh off the big win over Brazil.

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