Ghana vs Uruguay: Cruel exit for the Black Stars; heartbreak for Africa

Ghana could not convert key penalties - in the last minute of extra time or in the penalty shootout - to win the Ghana vs Uruguay game. Uruguay's La Celeste advances to the semifinal with the Netherlands.

The drama of today’s Ghana vs Uruguay match was hard to script, and - for Ghana - even harder to accept.

The Black Stars came as close as a team could come to doing what no other African nation has ever done. But they will not be going to the semifinals of the biggest tournament in the world’s most popular sport.

Star striker Asamoah Gyan missed a penalty kick at the tail end of the second extra time period and Ghana lost on penalty kicks.

“That is one of the cruelest exits I’ve ever seen in World Cup history,” said ESPN announcer Ian Darke, his voice trembling.

“I can’t even breathe right now,” said former US soccer star and current ESPN commentator, Alexi Lalas, moments later.

Few critics gave Ghana much of a chance going into the game. Surely Ghana’s “physical” and “athletic” play wouldn’t be enough to top a highly skilled and tactical team from South America. African teams don’t have the discipline, the tactics, the strategy, or the skill to play with the big boys.

It’s a line of reasoning heard ad nauseum before, during, and after every one of Ghana’s matches and it belies the fact that Ghana’s tight, disciplined defense has given up few goals and that its crisp midfield passing at times resembles that of World Cup favorites, Spain.

The Black Stars proved them wrong, but couldn’t do what it takes to finish off the Uruguayans.

Ghana started off shaky, but came on strong at the end of the first half.

Inter Milan midfielder Sulley Muntari – the villain of this World Cup for Ghana for his sulking after not being used until tonight – emerged as a hero just before halftime with a line drive from way downtown. The wicked spin he put on the new World Cup “Jabulani” ball had Uruguay’s goalkeeper going the wrong way and the South African crowd erupted in jubilation as the ball spun on the net. The Black Stars went into the locker room with a huge mental boost.

Kevin Prince-Boateng, who’s been a sparkplug for Ghana throughout the tournament, aimed to continue the momentum into the second half, but missed a great chance with a one-man advantage on a fast break in the 53rd minute by passing the ball straight to a Uruguayan defender. Opportunities like that can’t be wasted against a team as tough as Uruguay.

And they were punished for it one minute later when deadly finisher Diego Forlan made the Jabulani his servant with a magical free kick that curled around Ghana’s wall of defenders and dipped down into the net. One-one.

The crowd fell silent and Ghana was knocked off its form for the rest of the half. Uruguay seized control of the match and pressed an attack that repeatedly confounded the normally robust Ghanaian defense.

Shark-like strikers Forlan and Luis Suarez were unable to score, however, and the game went into extra time.

In extra time, Uruguay seemed content to ride out the two 15-minute periods and take their chances on penalty kicks. But Ghana kept pushing, kept attacking, and almost put the ball in the back of the net multiple times.

In the final minute of extra time, they were nearly rewarded, but Uruguay’s Suarez earned a red card for swatting the ball out of the goal with his hand. A penalty was awarded, but Gyan – Ghana’s go-to guy and its top scorer of the tournament – inexplicably rushed his shot and hit the crossbar.

No goal! Heartbreak!

But there was still hope.

The game then went to the dreaded penalty-kick shootout with Uruguay surely feeling like destiny was on its side. The Uruguayan goalkeeper even thanked the crossbar as if he was thanking God for the divine intervention.

Forlan took Uruguay’s first kick burying it off to the right. Gyan then redeemed himself but putting his nerves aside and tucking the ball in the top right corner.

Ghana’s captain, John Mensah stepped up with a weak shot and missed. Heartbreak No. 2.

But wait. Uruguay’s Pareira missed his. A door was opened for Ghana.

But the next Ghanaian player to step up, Dominic Adiyah, missed his. Heartbreak No. 3.

Then Sebastian Abreu thrust the dagger in with a cold-hearted chip that drifted into the goal.

The stadium fell quiet.

Gyan cried. Ghana cried. Africa is still crying.

IN PICTURES: Top 12 Goals of the Second Week and Top 10 Goals of the First Week

World Cup 101:

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