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Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye

by Dave Durbach and Andy Davis, images by Dave Durbach / 06.07.2010

Before we can look forward, we must first deal with the traumas of our past. Before we can urge our old colonial masters, the Dutch, to thump the new villains of this World Cup, Uruguay, we must confront the pain and anguish of Africa’s last minute defeat at the dishonourable hands of Luis Suarez. That moment still causes waves of nausea, for surely we was robbed. But Ghana, and the rest of the African continent were not robbed of our first semi-final spot ever, by an unsporting Uruguayan. No the only ones who cheated Ghana were the czars who run the global game of football. Yes that’s right. The teflon Dons at FIFA who refuse to be swayed by arguments of logic. Who refuse, still, to overhaul their draconian and technology hostile views and bring the game of football into the 21st century. Uruguay just played their rules better. And Ghana blew their chance to convert the penalty. Yes it’s unfair, the goal should have been awarded, but those are the rules of the game, as it stands. It’s silly really. And so the World Cup remains a tournament of lost opportunities and footballing robberies. Mighty teams have been crushed not by the superior footballing skill and nous of their opponents but by the officious short-sightedness of those who administer the game.

Unfortunately, the greatest dramas of The Cup thus far have stemmed from dubious refereeing decisions and kak administrative decisions. South Africa, England, Mexico (and Ireland), at the very least, will agree. Friday night’s quarter-final clash between Ghana and Uruguay was more of the same.

Let us begin our postmortem.

Uruguay held the upper hand for the first half-hour, before the Black Stars woke up on the stroke of 30 min, with Isaac Vorsah and Asamoah Gyan missing out in successive chances. Spurred on by near unanimous support in Soccer City, by the last five minutes of the first half, Ghana are controlling play. An audacious bicycle kick by Kevin Prince Boateng off a cross from Samual Inkoom sails just wide. The breakthrough comes moments later, courtesy of a long range curler off the boot of Sulley Muntari.

Though not entirely a one man team, Uruguay’s fortunes certainly rest heavily on Diego Forlan. Silenced briefly during Ghana’s resurgence, Forlan’s clinical free kick in the 55th minute finds its way over the Ghanaian wall, around Kingson and into the back of the net. 84 000 people inside Soccer City fall silent. Ghana almost recover the lead moments later, but fail to do so. Neither side can convert their chances, and the score stays stuck at 1-1 until the dying seconds of the 30 minutes of extra time.

That’s when things turn ugly. Luis Suarez commits a blatant handball at the goalmouth to deny what would’ve been a certain victory and Ghana’s ticket to semis. Portuguese ref Olegario Benquerenca hands Suarez a red card, who at first feigns surprise, then trudges off pretend-sobbing, keeping an eye on proceedings as Asamoah Gyan steps up to the mark. Tragically, Gyan’s shot hits the crossbar. Suarez, meanwhile, is leaping with joy in the tunnel.

The game progresses to the penalty shoot-out. An exasperated crowd resort to booing when the Uruguayans take aim. Undeterred, both teams net their first two opportuntities. Forlan. Gyan. Victorino. Appiah. Scotti bags Uruguay’s third, before Ghanaian captain John Mensah steps up and sends a far too-casual shot down the middle into keeper Fernando Muslera’s hands. Ghana get a lifeline when Maximiliano Pereira shoots high to keep it at 2-all. Dominic Adiyah does the same as his captain, before Sebastien Abreu shows them how it’s done – also sending his shot down the middle, flummoxing Kingson with a gentle chip that gives Uruguay victory after two and a half hours on the field.

Predictably, Forlan is named man of match. “Budweiser let’s you decide”.. ja, lank! Love him or hate him, one can’t doubt the guy’s class. Suarez, however, is a different story. Here of course is the same jackass who got Ithumeleng Khune red-carded at a time when Bafana were looking good despite being 0-1 down – a key moment, coach Parreira later admitted, in the game that prevented Bafana’s passage to the 2nd round.

Ghana’s Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac was close to tears after the game, but remained proud of his team. “Of course it is very difficult for me to talk about this at the moment, but that’s football. This is very difficult for us, but we are proud of what we have achieved. We managed to achieve a great result. The whole of Africa supported us. I think that we didn’t deserve to lose in such a way, but nevertheless, this is a great result.”

Elaborating on the controversial last minute penalty, Rajevac remained philosophical. “We weren’t lucky today. It was bad luck. That’s all I can say. There are no other words to explain it. But I congratulate Uruguay on reaching the semi-finals, because today, they were the lucky ones.”

Uruguay’s coach Oscar Tabarez praised Ghana’s performance but maintained that his team were deserving winners. “It’s not our fault that things have happened like this, but they have. Yes, we won, without actually playing brilliantly. But as the Uruguayans say, we did what we had to, we played as best we could.”

Tabarez was quick to defend Suarez. “When there’s a handball in the penalty area, there’s a red card. The player is booked and thrown out of the game. Saying that we cheated Ghana out of victory, I think that’s too harsh a word to use. We also abide by the referee when he applies the rules of the game. It could’ve been a mistake of our player – yes, he stuck his hand out. But that’s not cheating. I really don’t like that word. I don’t think it’s fair…I think it was instinctive. The player instinctively stopped the ball, and he was booked, with a red card. He was thrown out. He can’t play the next match. What else do you want the referee to do with Suarez, or with our team? These are simply the circumstances of the game. Or is Suarez also to blame for Ghana missing that penalty in the shoot-out?”

“We are happy, because we won. Had we lost the match, we’d be very sad. But we try to be dignified, and don’t need excuses. If we lose a match, then we have to look for the reasons to explain our defeat. We shouldn’t look to third parties for explanations. This is football. There are consequences to that handball. When Suarez handled the ball, he didn’t know what was going to happen afterwards, that Ghana was going to miss the penalty. If anybody thinks that, perhaps they should go and do something else, rather than play this game.”

Tabarez’s words did little to placate the Ghanaian players. “Today just wasn’t our day, “ said defender John Panstil after the match. “If it was, the handball wouldn’t have been a penalty, it would’ve been a goal, straight. But the referee called it a penalty. All I can say is that there was no luck.”

“As footballers, we are professionals, we know what is right. But sometimes when something goes wrong, you feel like saying something…I think we’ve all gotta learn from our mistakes. I don’t think such a thing will repeat again.”

“My brother’s keeper” Richard Kingson, who along with Pantsil is the only member of the Ghana team to play in all of Ghana’s 2006 and 2010 World Cup matches, was similarly frank. “You could see from the beginning, the referee was unfair on our side. The referee should have allowed the ball as a goal, but he allowed it as a penalty. It’s very unfortunate, but its also part of the game, so we have to accept it. Many things happen in football, you have to understand that. The referee’s decision can change the whole situation. That’s what happened today. If the referee had allowed the ball as a goal, we would have qualified for the semi-final. But he didn’t. There’s nothing I can do about it, I have to accept it.”

Part of the blame, Kingson admitted, ought to be on the Ghanaians themselves, rather than the ref or Suarez. “It’s unlucky. Where I was standing is far from the other goal. I don’t know whether the ball crossed the line or the guy caught the ball. But if he took the ball in front of the line, it’s a penalty, and we need to convert our penalties.” The men who missed, Asamoah Gyan, as well as Mensah and Adiyah in the shout-out, obviously deserve to shoulder some of the blame for Ghana’s last minute loss.

Though departing under the cruelest of circumstances, Ghana leave this year’s World Cup with their heads held high, unlike, one might say, their South American opponents, who, by claiming victory at the expense of sportsmanship, have undermined the spirit of the tournament, and are unlikely to get much support from anyone but their countrymen at Tuesday’s semi-final against the Netherlands in Cape Town. The Black Star’s performance at this year’s World Cup has given us something to cheer about, and brought the host continent together in green, yellow and red, a more significant achievement than the difference between a semi or a quarter final. “It’s a game,” says Kingson. “If it’s our day, we should win the thing. But now it’s not our day, so we should forget about it and think about the future.”

Now go put some orange on…

* All images © Dave Durbach.

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