831 players, 32 teams and four matches per day – following the football World Cup can get a little overwhelming. For the next month, The Indian Express will cut through the clutter and handpick the biggest storyline of the day every morning.
Ghana vs Uruguay (Group H)
8.30 pm, Al Janoub Stadium
Luis Suarez was as unremorseful on Thursday as he was 12 years ago.
During the pre-match press conference in Doha, a Ghanaian journalist didn’t mince words in describing how the country felt about the Uruguayan striker. “Some Ghana fans feel you are the devil itself,” the journalist began, going on to say how the country was looking forward to his retirement before eventually asking him if he’d apologise.
Suarez, rather cheekily, replied: “(sic) I did handball the ball, but the Ghana player missed the penalty, not me. Maybe I would apologise if I did a tackle, injured a player and took a red card. But in this situation… It’s not my fault. I didn’t miss the penalty. The player who missed the penalty, he would do the same. It’s not my responsibility how he shot the penalty.”
And thus, the stage was set for a spicy reunion between the two teams who last met on that fateful evening at Soccer City in Johannesburg in 2010. It was the quarterfinals of the World Cup and Ghana had dished out some breathtaking football to stretch a star-studded Uruguayan side that had the likes of Suarez and Diego Forlan playing at their peak.
The score was 1-1 when the clock ticked into the final minute of extra time. Ghana had won a free-kick on the right flank and a cross was whipped into the box that caused complete mayhem. It was flicked goalwards by a Ghanaian head; the Uruguayan goalkeeper stepped out to catch the ball but completely missed it; a defender then made a goal-line clearance which went straight to Dominic Adiyah, whose header was well on target.
At that point, celebrations had already started inside the stadium in Johannesburg, on the streets of Accra, and the whole of Africa. With the goalkeeper on the ground and just one man on the line, nothing – it seemed during that moment – could stop Ghana from scoring the goal which would’ve made them the first team from the continent to reach the semifinals of the World Cup.
Just then, Suarez popped out of nowhere and stopped Adiyah’s header from going into the goal. It was a point-blank save that any goalkeeper would’ve been proud of, but Suarez was given his marching orders for deliberately handling the ball.
A continent shocked
At that point, one could feel African hearts being broken into a million pieces. There was stunned silence in the stadium, and across public screenings in South Africa where the entire host nation was rooting for them. The players themselves seemed taken aback by Suarez’s audacity. They never recovered from it – Asamoah Gyan missed the consequent penalty and the Black Stars eventually lost the match in the penalty shootout.
When Gyan fluffed his chance, Suarez broke into wild celebrations to further antagonise a nation and a continent. It was, rather famously, dubbed the ‘Hand of Devil’ moment, in reference to Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal vs England in 1986.
Suarez, while talking to his former Barcelona teammate Gerard Pique in a Players Tribune interview, recalled that moment: “I took a risk in a situation where I have been blamed for anti-fair play… I celebrated like that for having taken a risk for something that was worth it. And I remember that I celebrated it more than a goal. A teammate on the bench passed out on that play (laughs). Juan Castillo… He passed out in celebration of the penalty kick. And well, I left screaming (more laughter).”
The moment has become a part of World Cup lore but, as was evident from the question put forth to Suarez on Thursday, for the Ghanaians, it isn’t a laughing matter. They still feel the pain of being robbed of a chance to create history.
On Friday, when they meet again, emotions will fly high. The winner will knock the other team out of the tournament. For the Black Stars, this is their moment to bury the ghosts of Soccer City and make it past the group stages for the first time since 2010.
For Uruguay, who’ve been pretty flat so far in Qatar, it’s a chance to pile further misery on Ghana. And they’ll hope to get a helping hand from Suarez.
Other fixtures on the day:
Portugal vs South Korea, 8.30 pm, Education City Stadium
Brazil vs Cameroon, 12.30 am (Saturday), Lusail Stadium
Switzerland vs Serbia, 12.30 am (Saturday), Stadium 974