‘The big miss’ still hurting Africa

Ghana’s striker, Asamoah Gyan’s penalty kick was saved by Uruguay’s goalkeeper, who struck the ball off the crossbar at the very end of extra time in their quarterfinal match at South Africa 2010 FIFA World Cup. Photo: AFP

Last Saturday, Asamoah Gyan missed a penalty and then scored a fantastic free-kick for his 51st Ghana goal in the country’s 2-1 loss to the USA in an international friendly game in East Hartford, in the US state of Connecticut.

Coincidentally, it was a day short of the occasion of the seventh anniversary of the Ghana captain’s momentous penalty miss against Uruguay in the quarterfinal of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Thus, Gyan’s latest penalty miss against the USA on July 1 sharply brought to mind his gargantuan, costly miss on July 2, 2010 against Uruguay.

It was exactly seven years ago when Ghana, as a country, and Africa, as a continent, got the mother of all chances to reach, at least, a World Cup semi-final stage for the first time. But on that cold night at Soccer City (FNB Stadium) in Johannesburg, the whole Africa and its supporters rather endured arguably the most disappointing moment thus far in the history of African football.

Africa, shamefully, have never reached a World Cup semi-final to still remain the only major footballing continent not to do so. Even Asia’s South Korea placed fourth when they co-hosted with Japan in 2002. The best effort by any African side in the World Cup finals was by Cameroon and Senegal who reached the quarterfinal in 1990 and 2002 respectively.

In South Africa, Ghana had equalled Cameroon and Senegal’s feats and had the best chance of all, of beating Uruguay and going through to the semi-final for a first-ever African appearance at that stage for a meeting with eventual finalists Holland, who had defeated favourites Brazil in their quarter-final encounter the same day.

But the big opportunity went with the wind, lost by a whisker in such dramatic fashion amid massive disappointment, heartache and even cries at Soccer City. Even worse, there were reported self-inflicted deaths in Ghana and elsewhere in Africa over the lost opportunity.

With Ghana and Uruguay deadlocked at 1-1 in extra time, after Man-of-the-Match and Player of the Tournament Diego Forlan cancelled out Sulley Muntari’s first-half goal in the second half, Ghana got the best opportunity, in fact a gift in the last minute of extra time, to win the match and advance to the semi-final with an awarded penalty and a red card for Uruguay’s ‘saviour’ Luis Suarez, who stopped Dominic Adiyiah’s goal-bound header on the line with his hands.

Initially, the Portuguese referee Olegario Benquerenca didn’t see it, but his assistant referee did and the penalty was eventually given. Score and Ghana would be in the semis but disaster for African football was to unfold.

Gyan, Ghana’s penalty taker, who had already scored from the spot against Serbia and Australia, grazed the cross bar with his impatient, high kick and the big, big chance went with the wind.

The last kick of the game that would have won the game and changed history rather sent Ghana and Africa into an unwanted penalty shootout, which Uruguay won 4-2 to end Africa’s dream in ‘Africa’s World Cup’.

With all of the continent’s other five representatives, including host South Africa, falling by the road side at the group stage, Ghana remained Africa’s hope until the quarter-final where the Black Stars received unprecedented massive support of all Africa, especially South Africans – who had renamed Ghana “Ba-Ghana, Ba-Ghana” – and other foreign nationals who had fallen in love with the brilliant Ghana team.

Thus, the whole of Soccer City of 84, 017 people went dead and silent upon Ghana’s eventual loss in the shootout, with only a handful of blue-wearing Uruguay fans celebrating at the end of it all on that cold night in Johannesburg.

And so as cold-feeling, devastated Ghana fans made their way home from Soccer City by road, foot and train, it slowly dawned on them that they had witnessed the most disappointing night for African football.

That penalty miss and its subsequent exit from the tournament was a big opportunity Ghana and Africa may never see or have again. No wonder, one Nigerian football fan, a taxi driver in Calabar in the Nigerian state of Cross River, perfectly described it recently in January as this: “Asamoah Gyan killed Africa in South Africa”, in reference to Gyan’s great miss and its consequences for African football.

It was indeed a multi-million dollar miss of a penalty and this would haunt African football for a long time until Africa gets to at least a World Cup semi-final in the future.

Personally, Gyan had a great World Cup, he was named among the 10 nominees for the Golden Ball award and would have become Africa’s leading scorer in the history of the World Cup – a feat he later achieved four years on at Brazil 2014 – if he had scored that penalty against Uruguay, but the miss really killed him, Ghana and the whole Africa. The FIFA Technical Study Group correctly summed it up with their verdict at the end of the tournament. “Asamoah Gyan is an outstanding striker, who unfortunately ended up as a tragic hero of the tournament. If he he’d converted his penalty in the quarter-final against Uruguay, he’d have gone down in history celebrated and not in infamy.”

Culled from supersport.com

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