JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Ghana’s attempt to set a new high watermark for African soccer failed not for any lack of skill or tactical failure but on a cruel twist of fate that saw a last-gasp penalty miss by less than the width of a crossbar.
Another brave, skilful and supremely committed display from Ghana took them to the brink of a place in the World Cup semi-finals on Friday only for Luis Suarez to deny a goalbound shot with his hand in a goalmouth melee and Asamoah Gyan to lift the resulting spot-kick a fraction too high.
Uruguay, given a reprieve they had no right to expect, went on to win the penalty shoot-out 4-2, after the match at Soccer City had finished 1-1 after 90 minutes and a tense half-hour of extra-time went, scarcely credibly, without a goal.
Uruguay, World Cup winners in 1930 and 1950, can savour a return to the glory days with a match against the Netherlands to come, 40 years after they last reached the semi-finals.
That they took their place in the last four was in part down to the brilliance of Diego Forlan, who scored a spectacular free kick to cancel out Sulley Muntari’s equally special opening goal, as well as their cool in the shoot-out.
But in the end their victory was down to luck -- luck and the handball from Suarez that their fans will accept as an instinctive reaction in an impossible situation while others will decry it as opportunistic cheating.
Ghana have carried the weight of a continent’s hopes at this World Cup ever since five of the six competing African teams went out at the group stage.
Their dream was to become the first African side to reach the World Cup semi-finals, and in the first African World Cup too.
It was a responsibility they made light of in beating the United States in another match that went to extra-time in the second round and they were undaunted again at the magnificent Soccer City stadium on Friday, the last match here before the final.
With Muntari relishing his recall to the starting line-up, Gyan menacing one of the tournament’s best defences and Kevin-Prince Boateng cutting in from both flanks, Ghana had a real presence about them.
Of course they were tired, but no more so than their opponents, and they started and finished extra-time looking much the more dangerous side.
Their weakness all tournament has been in applying the final touch in front of goal.
Muntari gave them one goal with a speculative shot from over 30 metres but too many chances came and went as Uruguay squirmed in defence, particularly after captain Diego Lugano was forced off injured seven minutes before half-time.
Boateng also missed with a clear headed chance two minutes from time before Dominic Adiyiah did everything right with his header only for Suarez to intervene.
That was the story of the night for Ghana -- too little reward for a collective display that was as disciplined as it was artful.
They had little trouble shouldering the expectations of Africa but in the end Forlan carrying his team proved the easier task.