Ghana’s exit marks the end of the African challenge at this World Cup. They enjoyed the support of the vast majority of the crowd at Soccer City last night. But in the most dramatic match of the tournament so far, their nerve failed them.
No African team had ever taken part in a penalty shoot-out at the World Cup before, let alone won one. So Ghana have at least broken new ground, though that will be no consolation whatsoever.
The top African teams regularly compete in shoot-outs at the Nations Cup, so penalties are not something they are unprepared for – or not good at (remember Ivory Coast’s 12-11 victory over Cameroon in 2006?).
It’s hard to imagine the mental state of the Ghanaian players going into that shoot-out having just blown their chance of victory in the final seconds of the game, as Ghana did following Asamoah Gyan’s last-second miss at Soccer City last night.
Uruguay knew they had escaped with their lives, thank to Luis Suarez’s instinctive handball, but they held their nerve in the shoot-out. Credit should also go to coach Oscar Tabarez for fielding a three-man attack in extra time, with Lodeiro as playmaker behind them. That showed a desire to win the match without resorting to penalties, as so many other teams would have done.
Inevitably, Suarez will be portrayed as the villain of the piece. But a few points worth considering. Ninety nine point nine per cent of professional players would have done the same as he did; Ghana still had the chance to win the match with Gyan’s penalty; and Suarez is now banned from the biggest game of his career, and possibly the Final.
What of Ghana? Defeat will be hard to bear, especially the manner of their exit. But they have shown the way forward for African football.
Without their leading player Michael Essien, they showed an impressive commitment to youth. Unlike other African countries, where all too often the senior players call the shots, Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac put his faith in youngsters such as Isaac Vorsah and Samuel Inkoom. Established names like Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah had to be content with places on the bench.
Their success under Rajevac, a low-key appointment two years ago, will hopefully serve as a pointer for other African federations to not repeat the mistakes of Nigeria and Ivory Coast by parachuting in high-profile European coaches like Eriksson and Lagerbeck just weeks before a major tournament.
Better still, it’s time for African countries to follow the example of Egypt and appoint local coaches. But that’s another debate for another day.Like Angler´s Mail blog? Subscribe to our magazine and you will be able to access our latest comprehensive content!