So as the tournament came to Africa for the first time ever, expectations were understandably high. But most were left disappointed: After a promising opener, the South African hosts proved to be the first host nation eliminated in the first round of a World Cup. Nigeria, Algeria and Cameroun all came last in their respective groups, while Cote d'Ivoire came third in a difficult group behind Brazil and Portugal. After the first round, only one African team was left in the tournament: the “Black Stars” from Ghana.
Ghana had until 2006 been a notable under-performer at senior level, while they had come to the forefront of youth football: World champions for U-17 in 1991 and 1995 and runners-up in the U-21 World cup in 1997, as well as a memorable bronze medal in the 1992 Olympics. The incredible pool of talent and a high level of organization had always made it only a question of time before Ghana would emerge on the stage, something that finally happened in 2006, for their first world cup, where they surprised everyone by making it to the last-16 ahead of the Czech Republic and the USA, and there losing to Brazil.
In 2006 they had been one of the youngest sides, so in 2010 they were a team with more experience that was to face Serbia, Australia and Germany in the first round. Under the Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac it was a more cynical Ghanaian side than the charming but naive side of 2006. They had started with a difficult 1-0 victory over Serbia and had then tied 1-1 with a fighting Australian side. Both goals were scored on penalty by the Rennes striker Asamoah Gyan. In their last group-match Ghana lost 1-2 to Germany, but when Australia managed to defeat Serbia, Ghana was through on goal difference.
In the last-16 Ghana faced the USA, and as in 2006 the Black Stars won 2-1, but after extra time.
As only the third African team to make it to a World Cup quarterfinal, all the hopes of the continent were now with Ghana, who were to face Uruguay. The team had been strong an efficient, but had been mired in some controversy as the Inter Milan striker, Sulley Muntari, who had been suspended from the team during qualification, had been expelled for insulting Rajevac. However, captain Stephen Appiah's plead to the coach had allowed Muntari to be pardoned by the coach.
It was proper that the double world champions of Uruguay would participate in the first World Cup in Africa; as the first hosts and champions themselves, Uruguay had also been the first country to use black players on their team, at a time when other countries were still immersed in their colonial racism and idiotic arrogance.
Although Uruguay had struggled to qualify (they qualified as the very last team after a hard-fought play-off match against Costa Rica), they arrived to the tournament with a powerful striking force in Diego Forlan, from Atletico Madrid, and Luis Suarez from Ajax Amsterdam, supplemented by players with a lot of experience in the top European leagues.
Uruguay started with a tie against France before defeating the hosts of South Africa 3-0 and Mexico 1-0 to take the first spot in their group. In the second round the South Americans played South Corea and won 2-1 on two goals by Suarez, and were now to face Africa's darlings in the quarterfinals.
The Uruguayan team started best in a match between two very skilled but also very physically strong sides. The South Americans completely dominated the first twenty minutes of the match, and the Wigan goalkeeper Richard Kingson had two good saves. But slowly Ghana fought themselves back into the match, and towards the end of the first half they were dominating when Uruguay was seriously weakened: Their experienced captain, Diego Lugano from Fenerbahce in Turkey, was injured and had to replaced by Andres Scotti. And things started to look bleaker for Uruguay when Ghana went ahead in the last seconds of the first half. The goal was scored on a long-range effort by the controversial Sulley Muntari, whose shot curled in such a way that it caught goalkeeper Fernando Muslera on the wrong foot.
But Uruguay kept their cool, and ten minutes into the second half Diego Forlan took a free kick outside the Ghanaian area, and also gave the ball a curve that caught Kingson on the wrong foot.
The match then became a hard fought physical affair, with chances on both sides, although Luis Suarez missed a couple of great chances against Kingson. 1-1 in ordinary time, and the extra time was mostly characterized by tiredness, nerves and long-range attempts as the minutes slowly moved forward, until the last minute of extra time: Ghana got a free kick on the right side outside the Uruguayan penalty area. As the last kick of the match, they sent all men forward to try to get a goal before the penalty kicks. Dominic Adiyiah, AC Milan player who had come in for Muntari, got a strong header towards an empty goal, but Luis Suarez, who was standing on the goal-line, saved it with his hands to avoid Ghana taking the victory.
The referee was not in doubt: direct red card for Luis Suarez and penalty kick for Ghana, which would put them in the semifinal of the World Cup. Asamoah Gyan, who had scored three goals in the tournament, two of them on penalty, completely overshot his kick.
The villain, Luis Suarez, celebrated the miss from the sidelines.
Most people had the feeling that Uruguay, after looking into the deep hole of elimination, had all the advantages as the penalty kicks started. After John Mensah and Adiyiah missed for Ghana, Sebastian Abreu elegantly scored the goal that put Uruguay in the semifinal of the World Cup.
Until now, no African team has come closer to a World Cup semifinal. And it is scant consolation that Uruguay, without Suarez, lost the semifinal 2-3 to the Netherlands, and went on to lose the bronze match as well, 2-3 to Germany.
2nd July 2010
Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg
Referee: Oligario Benquerenca (Portugal)
Uruguay: Muslera, Maxi Pereira, Diego Lugano (Scotti), Victorino, Fucile, Alvaro Fernandez (Lodeiro), Perez, Arevalo Rios, Cavani (Abreu), Luis Suarez (RC, 120), Diego Forlan.
Ghana: Kingson, Pantsil, Vorsah, John Mensah, Sarpei, Annan, Inkoom (Steven Appiah), Asamoah, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Suley Muntari (Dominic Adiyiah), Asamoah Gyan
Ghana-Uruguay 1-1 (after extra time)
1-0 Sulley Muntari (45)
1-1 Diego Forlan (55)
Mensah missed for Ghana
Pereira missed for Uruguay
Adiyiah missed for Ghana