Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Day After

It's the day after one of the most bitter sporting pills I have ever had to swallow. As I write it is approximately 15 hours after I finished watching Ghana's heart-breaking loss to Uruguay, due to the fact I had to tape it and watch it last night because of work during the day. I can honestly say, it will take more than 15 hours to completely digest what happened yesterday. That being said, I will try to compose my thoughts and reactions in a way that you can follow and make sense of.

The Game
The game itself was enjoyable to watch whether you were a neutral observer or were heavily invested in one of the teams. There were definite stages to the game, with each team enjoying the edge in possession at various moments. Out of the gates Uruguay was the better team as Ghana seemed to take a while to get into things. For the first 20 minutes Ghana looked tentative and kind of sleepy. During this stretch, Ghana keeper Richard Kingson was forced into making a couple important saves. Once they got into a rhythm though, they were able to dominate and create a number of chances in the final 25 minutes of the first half. It all culminated in a great strike by midfielder Sulley Muntari (left) from 35 yards out. It came out of nowhere right before the halftime whistle. Pleasantly surprised, the first half had ended successfully.

The second half started with Uruguay again in control. They were rewarded in the 55th when star Diego Forlan (right) executed a great free quick to tie the game 1-1. The goal seemed to boost Uruguay spirits and they continued to take the game to the Black Stars. Forlan and strike partner Luis Suarez (don't worry, we'll get back to him in a minute) continued to look dangerous as Ghana slowly started to find their legs again. As the game got closer and closer  to the breaking point and the seeming inevitability of extra time, Ghana started to assert themselves again. When 90 minutes had passed and a winner had still not been declared, the two brave sides ventured into 30 more minutes of tense action. Ghana had the opportunities in extra time and both Asamoh Gyan and Kevin Prince Boateng came inches from putting Ghana in front. But those chances weren't meant to be, setting up the most dramatic of finishes.

The Controversy
With only seconds left in the extra time before penalty kicks, an unbelievable sequence of events unfolded, which I am still recovering from. In the dying seconds Ghana was awarded a free kick in a dangerous area. John Paintsil stepped up and lofted a precise cross into the box  which Uruguayan keeper Muslera got a hand on. Unluckily for him though, it ended up at the feet of Ghana's former captain Stephen Appiah. His shot was blocked on the line, legally, by Luis Suarez. The ball then ricocheted right to 20 year-old striker Dominic Adiyiah who headed into the net. Or at least it would have been in the net if it wasn't for a moment of brilliant volley ball play from the one and only Luis Suarez. Suarez made a save that any goalkeeper would be proud of. Since he's not a keeper of course, that means a red card, automatic ejection, and a penalty kick for Ghana. It has to be the winning goal, right? Penalty kicks are rarely missed and Ghana had already converted 2 in this World Cup. Asamoah Gyan, Ghana's 24 year old striker and star of the tournament stepped up and well, words can't describe what happened next. Here's the video of the entire sequence of events:

Not easy to watch. In fact, every time I see it it's like when you have that annoying mosquito
bite on your leg that you have scratched so many times that it starts to hurt and bleed, then 
you leave it for a while and forget it's there except for a moment of weakness when you reach  
down and scratch it again, re-igniting the fiery pain. After that, Ghana was unable to recover
and eventually succumbed to the South Americans in a penalty shootout. Ghana's dream run
deep in the first ever World Cup in Africa was brutally brought to an end. Heartbreak for Gyan,
Ghana, and all of Africa.

The Reaction
There was no other reaction possible for me after the game than pure and utter disbelief, sadness, and shock. Could there be a more bitter and difficult way to lose a game of that 
magnitude? I actually felt sick when it was all said and done. 
Probably one the most blatant examples of 'the agony of 
defeat' that I have felt.

Let's get down to brass tacks here. Am I upset with Suarez 
for denying Ghana the victory by clearly cheating? Yes, 
absolutley. Can I hold it against him? No, I don't believe I can. It's the system, the rules that are flawed, he did what a lot of people would have done in his situation. In a split second he made the decision to deliberately break the rules to deny a sure goal to keep his team alive for another few seconds. He knew he would get a red card and that Ghana would get a penalty kick. He also knew that Ghana would probably convert the kick and his team would lose anyways, so he 
didn't really have anything to lose. Luckily for him and his country, and unfortunately for 
Ghana and Africa, Gyan stepped up and hammered the shot off the cross bar. The problem 
here is in the rules of the game. The ref did things by the book, made the right decisions based on the current rules. What I'm saying is the system is flawed. It should not be possible for a 
player to break the rules on purpose, get penalized, and yet still come out as the benefactor. What I'm also saying is that the ref should be able to award the goal to the team that deserved it, 
avoiding the possibility of cheaters actually prospering, which is what happened in this 
case. Take a read through this article and tell me if you think that justice was served. Like I 
said, it's hard to fault Suarez when it's the system that is flawed allowing things like this to 

The Future
This World Cup is only the beginning of the Black Stars who have a bright future ahead of them. In 2009, The Black Satellites of Ghana won the Under-20 World Cup in Egypt by defeating Brazil in penalty kicks, and already a few members from that team have graduated up to the senior squad. Between now and the 2014 World Cup which will be in Brazil, I'm sure Ghana will continue to improve and should be ready for another long run amongst the worlds best teams. Let's not forget, Ghana accomplished as much as they did in South Africa without their leader and most well-known player, Michael Essien. Congrats Ghana for representing Africa so well and showing the world that African football is indeed ready to compete on the world stage. Thanks for the memories, even the tough ones that I will be recovering from for some time.

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