With his jaw-dropping goals and frequent brushes with controversies, Luis Suarez divides opinion like no other player — except in Ghana, where he brings the fans together.
They don’t hate him as much anywhere else in the world, as they do in Ghana. Such is the dislike towards the Uruguayan that, according to reports, dartboards bearing his photos were among the best-sellers in capital city Accra.
Then, there is the one person who detests him the most — Asamoah Gyan. The Ghanian striker has, admittedly, woken up in middle of the night and seen ‘that’ match nearly two dozen times. Ghana, underdogs in South Africa, had emerged from a group comprising Australia, Germany and Serbia, and looked set to become the first African side to qualify for the semifinals.
Uruguay, or more precisely, Suarez, stood between them and a place in the last four. With the match was tied 1-1 in extra time, Suaez, in the dying seconds, pulled off a ‘Hand of God’ moment, using his right hand to slap away Dominic Adiyiah’s goal-bound header on the line. Suarez was sent off, but a certain goal became a not-so-certain penalty and a deserved victory withered away.
The missed penalty dealt the taker Gyan, Ghana’s protagonist till then, a huge psychological blow. “I hate Luis,” he once said, before correcting himself, “Actually, the whole country does.”
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As fate would have it, the 28-year-old himself became one of the most disliked figures in his country. In 2012, he was to miss yet another decisive penalty in the semifinals of African Cup of Nations against Zambia.
The nation, still recovering from the missed penalty at Soccer City, found it difficult to deal with another heartbreak. Gyan’s house was under siege and he received death threats. Gyan’s mother, in fact, even advised him not to take penalties two weeks before she died. “The one thing mum said to me two weeks before she died, she emphasised, was these penalty kicks. She advised me not to take penalties,” Gyan had said at the time.
He obliged, ceding responsibility to Wakaso Mubarak. Gyan continues to refrain from taking penalties, but with Mubarak expected to start on the bench in Brazil, it is unclear who will step up should the need arise. Despite all his misfortunes, captain Gyan is the glue that binds together an often divided, and a very young, dressing room.
The Ghanian coach James Kwesi Appiah believes that that moment has brought the team closer together. “It is incredible how hatred towards one person has strengthened a team’s resolve,” Appiah recently said in jest. “This time, it’ll be tough to stop us. Be it Suarez or whoever.”