JOHANNESBURG – The “hand of God” reappeared at soccer’s World Cup, this time to take Uruguay into the semifinals for the first time in 40 years.
With Uruguay and Ghana tied 1-1 and approaching the end of extra time in Johannesburg, striker Luis Suarez stopped a goal-bound header with his hand, earning a red card and giving Asamoah Gyan the chance to win the game for Ghana from the penalty spot.
Gyan’s kick struck the crossbar, sending the match into a penalty shootout that the Uruguayans won, 4-2, when the Ghanaians missed two more efforts from the spot.
“The hand of God, now it’s mine,” Suarez said with a laugh in reference to Diego Maradona’s handballed goal against England at the 1986 World Cup. “I couldn’t help myself.”
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The match at Soccer City near Soweto went to extra time after Uruguay striker Forlan struck a 55th-minute free kick to cancel out Sulley Muntari’s 30-yard shot in the second minute of first-half stoppage time.
After 30 minutes of extra time failed to produce a winner, Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera saved penalties from John Mensah and Dominic Adiyiah before Sebastian Abreu chipped in the decisive spot-kick for the South Americans.
Suarez, who left the field in tears after he was red-carded, punched the air with glee when he turned to see Gyan’s miss. He was held aloft on the shoulders of teammates as the Uruguay squad celebrated following its triumph.
“The way the game finished was incredible,” Forlan told reporters after collecting the man-of-the-match award. “Instead of scoring goals, Suarez saved one. He won us the game.”
From a free kick into the penalty area in the 120th minute, Suarez blocked Stephen Appiah’ shot on the line with a leg and then stopped Adiyiah’s header from the rebound with his hand. Gyan then thumped his penalty against the bar, opting for power instead of placement.
“It’s hard luck,” Gyan said. “We had the opportunity to win this game, but that is football. I would say he’s a hero now in his own country, because the ball was going in and he held it with his hand. He is a hero now.”
After the game, Gyan burst into tears and had to be consoled by several teammates.
Suarez’s act saved Uruguay and also raised ethical issues for some.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez, one of the sport’s most respected figures, dismissed accusations of cheating.
“The player instinctively stopped the ball and was given a red card accordingly,” he said. “He was thrown out and can’t play the next match. What else do you want me to do with Suarez? What else do you want the referee to do with Suarez? These are the circumstances of the game, simply that. Is Suarez also to blame for Ghana missing that penalty in that shootout?”