This article is two years late. But as the English say, better late than never.
Dominic Addiyah looks destined to score. Ghana looks destined to become the first African country to make it past the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup. Addiyah’s header is powerful, on target and Uruguay’s goalkeeper, Fernando Muslera is nowhere near it.
But Luis Suarez’s hands are.
Luis Suarez is dully shown the red card. A penalty is dully awarded to Ghana. Ghana look set to raise the bar for African football.
Instead, Asamoah Gyan hits the top of it.
The miserable penalty shoot-out that transpires thereafter (from Ghana and Africa’s point of view anyway) ensures that Africa would once again have to wait at least another 4 years before having a crack at reaching the Semis again. Dejected, tears flow freely across the African continent.
The major implication that night had on African football is that it made Luis Suarez public enemy number one. He became the man responsible for ruining the dream that should have been. If Africans had their way, Suarez would now be in detention at the African Court of Justice and Human Rights in Arusha, Tanzania, awaiting an unfair trial for a crime he’s generally already been convicted of, with the trial being but just a mere formality.
But was Suarez the man really responsible for killing the dream.
The answer, surprisingly, is NO!
What Suarez did was wrong, and is wrong, and no other footballer should be encouraged to do the same. But think about it this way, isn’t it what any normal person would do when put in the same situation? Isn’t it human instinct to always think about self, and aim to protect self whenever faced with a situation that might be potentially harmful to self? If a driver notices that he is going to ram into the car in front of him, won’t he immediately swerve in such a way as to protect himself from imminent danger? Won’t a kindergarten kid lie to get out of trouble, when he clearly knows that it is he who broke the teacher’s tea mug?
Certainly, the answer to these questions would be in the affirmative. It is not that what they have done is right, but when in the heat of the moment, the tendency to pick wrong over right supercedes our conscious decisions.
It is an affliction that even affects Kings. In the year 1415, King Henry V was winning the Battle of Agincourt despite being outnumbered 5:1 by the French. But all of a sudden, circumstances seemed to dictate that the French numbers would eventually tell. King Henry feared (appropriately so) that the moment this happened, the captured French Knights would turn on the English. He thus did the unthinkable. He ordered his men to slit the throats of the French Knights. This was clearly against the Rules of Chivalry at the time, and can be compared in gravity to a modern time slaying of Prisoners of War.
But Henry’s decision ensured victory for the ‘happy few.’ So much was King Henry V revered after that, that his leadership qualities against the French during the 100 years war have been immortalized by English playwright, William Shakespeare.
The same could be said of Suarez. His actions brought victory for La Celeste, and he is probably a hero in his native Uruguay.
But unlike King Henry V, Suarez’s actions did not contribute as much to the Uruguay cause as most hold it to. On handling the ball, Suarez got a red card and a penalty was awarded to Ghana. In the application of the Laws of Football, this was a most severe punishment (but the correct one nonetheless). It subjected Uruguay to two handicaps. They were a man down: and the Ghanaians had the chance to score. Taking into account that it was the final minute of extra time, the first handicap was not of great consequence to the Uruguayans, as their was little, or no time left in which Ghana had to make their numerical superiority count. But the lack of time made the second handicap an even more lethal weapon for the Ghanaians. Twelve yards out, stationery ball, only the goalkeeper to beat. With the exception of a tap in, it is probably the greatest and easiest opportunity a footballer can get to score. And with little or no time left on the clock, their was no chance for Uruguay to stage a comeback.
But Gyan went ahead and missed it.
Now, some will argue that the dynamics of taking a penalty kick, in the last minute of extra time, with the whole team’s (and country, and continent’s) weight of expectation on your shoulders is not as easy as it looks or sounds. To that, I agree. But then again, the nature of a penalty kick places so much advantage on the kick taker, that it effectively negates any pressure that there may be on him. The advantages to the kick taker so much outweigh the advantage the goalkeeper has (if he has any) that it clearly puts the kick taker at a hugely unfair advantage. I mean, the kick taker doesn’t even have to take a perfect penalty; the ball can still somehow find itself in the back of the net. And as for the pressure, Gyan knew what he was subjecting himself to. For him to have stepped up ahead of much experienced players (e.g. Stephen Appiah), the presumption should be that he exuded the confidence required to take that spot kick.
But Gyan didn’t even work the keeper. He hit the crossbar (technically, this is a shot off target). There wasn’t even a chance of a rebound.
Asamoah Gyan is the real villain of that cold Friday night in Soweto. Had he dispatched that penalty, then he would have left no room for argument. Luis Suarez’s actions would not have mattered. ‘El Pistolero’ would have been remembered as a man who in vain, tried to dishonestly deny Ghana the inevitable. Instead, Gyan’s penalty miss gave Suarez’s dishonesty some justification. And even though the brilliant Oranje would have been waiting in the Semis, it still would have been a piece of history made. Who knows, maybe Ghana would have taken care of The Netherlands. Maybe Spain would have fallen at the last hurdle at the hands of the Ghanaians. I wouldn’t, at the time have put it beyond them. This Ghana team was after all carrying 4 graduates from that Under 20 side that had just a year earlier defied the odds to lift the FIFA World Youth Championships (defeating a much fancied Brazil in the final). Who knows, maybe this senior side would have replicated that achievement. Maybe….
We will never know with absolute certainty. We can only speculate. And it’s not because Suarez used his hands. It’s because Gyan did not use his right foot accordingly.
So, the next time you blame Luis Suarez for killing the African dream, think of what might have been had Gyan slotted home that penalty. Think of how you would have been witnessing history, but instead, witnessed Gyan become the first man to miss two penalties in regulation time in the history of the World Cup (he missed one against the Czech Republic in 2006).
Oh, and by the way, contrary to what Patrice Evra vehemently asserts, Luis Suarez is NOT A RACIST!!!
But that in itself, is a story for another day.