Luis Suarez’s World Cup ends in tears for Ghana

The game ended in tears. For both Uruguay and Ghana. In the stands, on the field, tears poured like a torrent on the sand of Al Janoub. As the match ended, with Uruguay winning 2-0 but knocked out of the knockouts by South Korea beating Portugal, Luis Suarez was sobbing inconsolably in the dugout. When the cameras relentlessly zoomed in on his face, he pulled his tear-stained shirt over it. He glanced sideways, some of his teammates charged the referee and his squad of assistants, for a corner kick that could have been, a penalty that could have been. But those were just passing distractions from the man who would always be the protagonist of the game, Suarez.

Just 30 minutes from the end of the game, Suarez was an album of joy, chatting with his teammates in the dugout, playing with the support staff, content after playing his best football of this World Cup for 64 minutes. The game against Ghana was perhaps the substitution that brought out the best for Suarez. Slow and sloppy, invisible and inert until this game, he rediscovered his vintage, perhaps the 2010 vintage. He was a transformed man, sliding into tackles, chasing the ball wildly, sliding and shoveling past defenders. There was a wonderful nutmeg near the byline. The marker Inaki Williams was only yards away, but he embarrassed him with the boldest nutmeg.

But before you get to Suarez, you have to pause for Andrew Ayew. When he lined up for the penalty kick, he had the whole weight of Ghana’s football history on his left foot. He jumped, stopped and swung at the ball. The ball tipped over the edge of his shoe and rolled meekly into the safe palms of Uruguayan goalkeeper Sergio Rocher. Ayew stood stunned.

Embarrassed, he hung his head and fell into the ground in slow motion. Ghana’s first chance at liberation ended in tears. And of all people Ayew, one of the few remaining members of the 2010 “Hand of the Devil” game, who watched all the drama from the dugout as an unused substitute. Like Asamoah Gyan, his idol who missed Suarez’s handball penalty, he would regret the mistake for a lifetime.

Andre Ayew reacts after his penalty kick is saved by Sergio Rochet of Uruguay. (REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo)

Ghana froze – in the silence between the Ghanaian fans you could hear the withering of a thousand hearts. The vocal supporters, in a burst of colour, singing and dancing until then, stood stunned. The players wilted, they wandered aimlessly. Until then, Suraez was camping in their heads. But from then on he would torment them on the field as well. Of all the cruel scripts, this was the one the Ghanaians feared the most. To be scared by Suarez. Scared forever by Suarez. For generations, or maybe an eternity.

Post the spilled fine, they unraveled. Pale-haired Giorgian de Arrascaeta seized the moment of Ghanaian buzz, scoring twice in the space of six minutes. Both goals came from insanely clumsy defending (was it defending at all?). The ball from deep passed through two defenders, each assuming the other would clear the ball. Suarez charged up the left, cornered sharply and grabbed a stabbing shot at goal.

The saving grace was that Suarez failed to score, instead goalkeeper Lawrence Ati-Zigi blocked. But Arrascaeta pounced on the rebound and bumped the ball into the net with the flap of his head. Six minutes later, Suarez-Arrascaeta combined again. Suarez drove the ball to Arrascaeta, a wonderful lob. The latter swung in the volley. It was a goal of pure technical perfection, from Suarez’s lobe, sweet and luscious, designed in an artist’s palette. The performance matched the assist. As the ball fell, Arrascaeta’s body also fell, and just before it kissed the ground, he twisted his body and hit it flat out. The ball first swung away before changing direction and whistling past Ati-Zigi, unable to judge the trajectory of the ball.

To compound their aches and pains, Suarez would celebrate wildly off the sidelines. After the second goal, he swerved to the Ghanaian part of the fans and clapped, gave his thumbs up and gestured to scold him harder.

On the stroke of the 64th minute, Suarez was taken off the field, to thunderous applause from the Uruguayan fence and muffled silence from the Ghanaian side. But even in his absence, Suarez still loomed on the field, as if the Ghanaian players saw him everywhere. They seemed to run through a maze with no exit.
The mood at the start was contrasting. A howl of boos greeted Luis Suarez to the ground. Ever the pantomime villain that he is, he bared his teeth and smiled. As the boos reached a crescendo, he blew kisses their way, fueling more fear and bringing back more memories of the heartbreaking night in Johannesburg. Ghanaians never forgave him for what Suarez then claimed was “the moment of the new hand of God”, or as the Ghanaian journalist recently put it, the “hand of the devil”.

Even if they had forgiven him, Suarez made sure to bring back the old bitter memories. He started the game, wore the captain’s armband and took the first touch of the ball. He may be in the fall fading of his career, but the mischievous, the pantomime kindness has remained intact.

Finally, the prayers of the Ghanaians were answered. They saw Suarez cry, but not in the way they had prayed or wished. They also cried. Had Ghana won or drawn the game, they would have qualified for the last 16. But perhaps, in accordance with their fate, Ghana could have found peace with Suarez and Uruguay. Or finally forgive him.

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