World Cup: Uruguay vs. Ghana: Uruguay ends Ghana's run on penalty kicks
One was the hope of its continent. The other was an afterthought on its.
One was in the World Cup quarterfinals just four years after qualifying for the tournament. The other hadn't been that far in 40 years.
So when Ghana met Uruguay in a chilly Soccer City Stadium on Friday, it wasn't about settling scores, renewing rivalries or even soccer tradition.
It was about two teams happy to have gotten this far, trying to keep their fairy-tale runs from ending.
And wouldn’t you know it? With neither team wanting to go home, they both decided to play 30 minutes of extra time tied at 1-1 before Uruguay's improbable World Cup stay was extended on penalty kicks, sending it on to a semifinal game Tuesday against the Netherlands.
Uruguayan keeper Fernando Muslera, who has had a spectacular World Cup, came up big twice in the shootout, guessing right and diving to his left to stop shots by John Mensah and Dominic Adiyiah.
That left it to hulking forward Sebastian Abreu to tap in the final penalty kick to give Uruguay the victory with a 4-2 edge in the shootout.
Ghana's World Cup ended in perhaps the cruelest way possible. But the Ghana players are going home knowing that they played in what was certainly the most emotional and dramatic game of this World Cup.
Ghana seemed certain to win just seconds before the end of extra time. The Africans peppered the Uruguay net with three shots in rapid succession -- the first was stopped by goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, the second bounced off a defender and the third hit the hand of Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez, who was standing on the goal line.
That set up a penalty kick for Asamoah Gyan, who had scored twice on penalty kicks earlier in the tournament. This time, his shot hit the crossbar as time expired.
It was the third game in this World Cup to go to extra time, and Ghana has been involved in two. It beat the United States, 2-1, on Gyan’s acrobatic goal simply to earn the right to play Uruguay. And Friday's game was the second game to be decided on penalty kicks, after Paraguay beat Japan in the second round.
The Africans' only goal came in first-half stoppage time when midfielder Sulley Muntari, threatened with being sent home over a disagreement with Coach Milovan Rajevac earlier in the tournament, brought the pro-Ghana crowd of 84,017 to its feet seconds before intermission by bouncing in a shot from 35 yards out.
Muntari, making his first start of the tournament, wouldn't have even been on the field if Dede Ayew hadn’t been suspended for his second yellow card in Ghana's win over the U.S. And his shot from a poor angle well outside the penalty area was so unlikely that Uruguayan keeper Muslera never anticipated it.
But with the South Americans dropping as many as seven men deep in an effort to neutralize Ghana's speed, it must have seemed like a good idea to Muntari, who let go a bending left-footer that skipped once and shot past a diving Muslera, who was caught flat-footed.
For Ghana, which has found offense hard to come by in this tournament, the one goal was huge. Especially since it was just the second goal Uruguay had allowed in the tournament.
And it marked the only time Uruguay has trailed in the World Cup.
But it didn’t trail for long, with Diego Forlan tying the match 10 minutes into the second half on a free kick from about 20 yards.
Kingson, who has had a sparkling World Cup in goal for Ghana, may have misjudged Forlan's right-footed strike because he seemed to react slowly, and the ball sailed over his outstretched hand high into the far corner of the net.
Uruguay nearly went ahead 12 minutes later when an accurate cross from Forlan landed on the right foot of Suarez, but he put his deflection into the side of the net.
Suarez was the target of physical -- and verbal -- harassment all game, with the Ghanaians tugging on his jersey and shorts, pulling his arms and trying all kinds of ways to slow him. But they paid for it with a number of yellow cards.
The physical play took its toll on the Africans in another way, as Ghana's players began to get beaten up, especially when the game stretched into extra time
But then no could have figured that Ghana, in just its second World Cup, would get this far anyway. Especially since the Black Stars have been without their best player, standout midfielder Michael Essien, for the entire tournament after he had knee surgery.
But with the other five African nations at the World Cup going out in the first round, Ghana has found itself drawing strength from the support it has received from the rest of Africa, which was desperate for a good showing in the first World Cup on the continent.
Even Nelson Mandela, the former South Africa president, weighed in on Ghana’s side, saying it was a "great pleasure" to see the Black Stars reach the quarterfinals.
In a letter sent Friday to the president of the Ghana Football Association, Kwesi Nyantakyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner wrote that "on the historic occasion of the first FIFA World Cup to be hosted in Africa, it is a great pleasure to see that Ghana has reached the quarterfinals."
According to his foundation, Mandela wrote that "we join everybody on the continent ... in wishing you success in the tournament going forward."
Uruguay, meanwhile, needed to win a playoff against Costa Rica just to be invited to South Africa. And with South America's hopes rightly focused on Argentina and Brazil, no one -- Nobel laureates included -- paid much attention to lowly Uruguay, by far the least populous of the five South American nations to qualify for the tournament.
But La Celeste rolled through group play unbeaten and didn’t give up a goal until the second round.
And though it generated a couple of good scoring chances in the opening minutes Friday, Uruguay seemed to expend a lot of energy trying to keep up with the speedy Ghanaians, wearing out as the game wore on. So it was no surprise that Uruguay's only scoring play in regular time came on a set piece.
-- Kevin Baxter in Johannesburg, South Africa
Photo: Fernando Muslera reaches for the ball, as the penalty shot taken by Ghana's Asamoah Gyan hits the crossbar, during extra time Friday. Radu Sigheti / Reuters.