Sunday, 4 July 2010

Suarez proves there's more than one Maradona

Uruguay 1-1 Ghana (Uruguay won 4-2 on pens), Soccer City, Johannesburg

'Mine is the real 'Hand Of God'. I made the save of the tournament.' Luis Suarez.

After the disappointment of Brazil's exit from South Africa 2010, Uruguay made sure there is to be South American representation in the final four of the World Cup. It took a penalty shoot-out and the most incredible final moments of perhaps any game of the 19 tournaments.

Now that the dust has settled, what to make of Suarez' handball? With time rapidly running out in extra-time he made a save from Adiyiah that his goalkeeper would have been proud of. As the ball pinballed around the Uruguyan box he managed to block one shot legitimately and then placed two hands on the follow-up header to keep it out. Red card. Penalty. Penalty blazed on to and over the bar. Cue wild celebrations from Suarez on the touchline.

Many commentators have said that this is all part of the game. Not so much cheating as opportunism. Maybe not to be applauded but certainly tolerated in the modern professional game. Uruguay coach, Oscar Tabarez had this to say after the match:

'Saying we cheated Ghana is too harsh a word to use. Yes he stuck his hand out but it's not cheating. It was instinctive.'

If Suarez is the new Maradona on the field then maybe Tabarez is the new Maradona in the press room. Come on Oscar, be serious. Your lad cheated pure and simple. He knew exactly what he was doing, let's not complicate matters.

Suarez even admitted to preparing for moments like this:

'Sometimes in training I play goalkeeper so it was worth it. There was no alternative but for me to do that.'

This was delivered with a broad grin. That is called bringing the game into disrepute. There was an alternative. It's called heading the ball.

Has he been punished enough? Unlike Henry's blatant handling against the Irish in the qualification play-off, the refere spotted Luis' infringement (well he would have had to be blind to miss it), gave the penalty to Ghana and sent Suarez from the field. The striker/ goalie will miss the semi-final.

Should he miss any potential final too? If FIFA had real balls rather than a bagful of Jabulanis, this is the course of action they would take. So of course they will do nothing. They did nothing about Henry's handball, they will do nothing about this.

Talking of Jubulanis, the adidas ball had a hand in both goals during normal time. Muntari spanked one in from some distance for the opener while Forlan levelled things up with a great free-kick up and over the wall and into the top corner. Blame was laid at the doors of both keepers, Muslera and Kingson, but they deserve some sympathy for the way the ball swerved so viciously at the last minute.

Suarez had decent chances to make himself a hero with a foot or head of God but he obviously knew that there was greater drama to be had in his own penalty box. He cast himself in the lead-role and ensured that the game was decided by a Jubulani shoot-out.

And the final scene had an Oscar worthy cameo to boot.

After an ice-cool Forlan got the ball rolling with a successful first kick, only Pereira failed to follow suit with a kick that is probably still sailing into orbit now. But his 'real' goalkeeper helped him out with a superb low save to his left to save the 4th Ghana penalty which meant it was incumbent on Abreu to make sure Suarez' antics weren't in vain.

Abreu clearly has a similar penchant for the dramatic as his pal. The dink penalty can make fools out of those brave enough to try them, but Abreu disguised his intentions well and the ball looped slowly but surely into the middle of the net as the keeper dived to his right.

Game over. The first time La Celeste had been involved in a penalty shoot-out and success at the first time of asking. They also won the first World Cup and the first after the War. Couldn't be the first team to win in Africa, could they? Bring on the Dutch.

Uruguay's still dreaming.

How they lined up: Muslera, Lugano (Captain, Scotti, 38), Fucile (Yellow card), Victorino, Pereira, Perez (Yellow card), Rios (Yellow card), Fernandez (Lodeiro, 46), Cavani (Abreu, 76), Suarez (Red card), Forlan

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