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Africa's hopes dashed as Uruguay wins in penalty shootout.
For the Black Stars, the significance of Friday’s game had largely spilled over Ghana’s borders. As the last African survivor in this first African World Cup, Ghana had become the unofficial champion of the entire continent.
The African National Congress, South Africa’s ruling party, gave a plaque to Ghana’s leadership this week and recommended the team change its name from “Black Stars of Ghana” to “Black Stars of Africa.”
“May the gods of Africa, your continent, our continent, mother Africa be with you,” the ANC said in a statement Friday.
Even Nelson Mandela himself got involved, writing to the president of the Ghana Football Association: “We join everybody on the continent and in the diaspora in wishing you success in the tournament going forward.”
Ordinary South Africans had also embraced the West African team, which some affectionately called “Baghana Baghana,” a reference to the host nation’s own Bafana Bafana who were eliminated in the first round. That Uruguay played a major part in South Africa by beating them 3-0 also ensured many locals were behind the Black Stars.
Uruguay took control of the match early, creating chances from corner kicks and long-range shots, but midway through the first half Ghana grew more comfortable and ventured deep into Uruguay’s camp. The Black Stars created several clear scoring chances through quick passing and deft combinations between Gyan and midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Pressure was mounting on La Celeste, and it seemed only a matter of time until one of the most hermetic defenses of the World Cup conceded a goal.
It happened just before halftime, when Sulley Muntari, who took a couple of touches 30 yards from goal before unleashing a blazing curving ball that grazed his teammate Gyan’s head and ended up in the lower-right corner of Fernando Muslera’s net. It was sweet vindication for Muntari, who had risked being expelled from the squad after reportedly insulting his coach and teammates.
Uruguay had never trailed in this World Cup, but it didn’t take the South Americans long to level the score. Less than 10 minutes into the second half, Diego Forlan hit a free kick from the corner of the box. The ball traveled at a moderate speed, but Ghanaian goalkeeper Richard Kingson appeared fooled by the ball’s trajectory and found it in the back of his net.
The score didn’t change through the remainder of the half and most of the extra time that followed despite repeated attempts by Forlan, Gyan and Uuguayan forward Luis Suarez. Until finally, in the last second of overtime, Suarez’s volleyball-style hand punch to the ball on his goal line gifted Gyan with a penalty kick and a sure chance to send Ghana to its first semifinal.
Gyan’s miss will leave many wondering whether Africa is cursed after two failures to move beyond the quarterfinals stage by Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002.