La Mano del Diablo, The Crossbar of God, The Fallibility of Man

I’m still struggling with putting this game into words. It wasn’t the greatest game I’ve ever seen, from a technical perspective. There have been prettier goals scored, just in this World Cup alone.

People ask me why I love soccer, and I tell them: because it’s the closest any sport gets to reflecting the agony and glory of life on this small orb. Now, I can point them to the last seven minutes of this game to drive the point home.

I say the last seven minutes, because within that spread of time, you saw it all.

With literally no time left in the second period of extra time, Ghana mounted one last, ferocious attack on Uruguay’s goal. Once, twice, thrice Ghana struck – and at the last, when the ball seemed headed into the back of the net, and Ghana’s Black Stars seemingly headed towards immortality, the hand of Luis Suarez got in the way.

Which would have been spectacular, except for the minor fact that Suarez is a striker, not a goalkeeper. Strikers are most definitely not allowed to use their hands. But with the game on the line, with a trip to the World Cup semifinals on the line – a place that Uruguay, a proud soccer nation, hadn’t seen in forty years – what else would you do?

The referee whistled. The crimson flashed, sealing Suarez’s doom. And the ball was placed on the penalty spot.

For the third time in this World Cup, Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan would take a penalty kick as a result of a handball in the penalty area. Two times, he had icily delivered the scoring blow. All Gyan had to do was do something that, quite literally, he’d done twice before over the last two weeks, and quite likely, millions of times before then.

Only this time, the moment was incomparably greater. Scoring this would mean Ghana would become the first African team to advance to a World Cup semifinal. Deliver the killing blow against Uruguay, and Gyan then leads Ghana against the Netherlands in three days’ time – a Netherlands team that had looked decidedly wobbly in beating Brazil.

Gyan glanced towards the goal. Fernando Muslera, Uruguay’s keeper, stood before him, the only obstacle between hope and history.

Gyan struck. Muslera dove. The ball rose.

And then struck the crossbar, and sailed off into the night, taking a whole continent’s hopes with it. Asamoah Gyan stood on the soft, well-trod grass of the field, disbelieving, poleaxed.

And Uruguay, astonishingly enough, still lived.

They took swift advantage. Forlan, Victorino and Scotti all struck home in the penalty shootout for La Celeste, as did Appiah and Gyan for Ghana, thus gaining some small measure of redemption.

Then Ghana’s Mensah missed, with a weak, mincing attempt that Muslera turned away easily. But just when Uruguay could’ve iced it, Maxi Pereira missed as well.

Ghana still lived, barely. But Adiyah failed, giving Muslera another easily-parried shot. Sebastian Abreu’s softly chipped shot, struck as Ghana keeper Richard Kingson dove the wrong way, ended the contest.

What didn’t end – and won’t end, really – is the heartbreak of a dream deferred. Deferred, not denied, because an African country will break through. And if there’s any justice, poetic, sporting or otherwise, Asamoah Gyan will hoist the World Cup in four years time.

But since when has justice proved a part of life? Life is, after all, unfair – and so is soccer.

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