As the dust began to settle in Johannesburg last night after a stupendously dramatic quarter final encounter between Ghana and Uruguay, a vitriolic opinion began to emerge from betwixt the cloud of genuine sympathy and endearment and cringingly embarrassing bias (I’m looking at you iTV) for a welcoming and deserving continent – Africa was robbed.
Apparently, the one feeling all true warm-hearted non-reptilian individuals were supposed to feel was indignation. Luis Suarez diabolically cheated the plucky Ghanaian heroes out of a semi final place they had righteously earned. By punching away a clearly goal bound headed effort from a free kick in the last minute, Suarez unfairly altered the inevitable course of the game through a sheer, brazen act of gamesmanship. The resulting penalty and sending off wasn’t acceptable recompense for a goal clearing punch. A penalty doesn’t (and didn’t) substitute adequately for a certain goal. Already last night people were calling for penalty goals to be given in such circumstances a la Rugby, to prevent such injustices ever happening again. It just wasn’t fair. They was robbed. Suarez should pay the filthy swine.
Except this is all rubbish really. Yes Suarez prevented Uruguay definitely going out by illegally preventing the goal, but his action was penalized, and he was punished. There was no unnoticed action here. There was no deceiving the officials. Everything that happened was dealt with how it should have been, and always has. In fact if we’re talking about injustices, the free kick that lead to the goal bound header in the first place was never a just one to begin with AND there were two Ghanaian players offside from the flick on anyway. How far back should we be going to damn injustices? One minute or two? And how selective should we be? Should it only apply to the teams we’re rooting for? Give over. Uruguay weren’t given the chance to amend these bad calls as Ghana were. So who actually got the rawer deal here? In truth you could quite easily claim it was just as fair in the scheme of things for the penalty to have been missed.
The shamefully partisan commentators on iTV had even announced quite ironically that it would be hugely controversial should Ghana score from the free kick they were awarded when one of their players tripped over himself. But low and behold, a full minute later, all that was forgotten in haze of even greater controversy.
The world is understandably getting carried away with it’s newfound love and good will for Africa, but getting carried away it never the less is. I’d been in South Africa from the beginning of the tournament until last Friday, and I’d been staying – as chance would have it – in the same bizarre casino hotel thingy-ma-gig as the Ghanaian team. No non-African wanted Ghana to prevail last night more than me, I can assure you, but what Luis Suarez did was not a heinous unjustifiable act that needs new rules to stamp out. It’s merely what many players would’ve done in such desperate circumstances and what many have. And he was caught. The fault for defeat – unfortunately, and tragically for all his bravery – lies with Asamoah Gyan for failing to convert the resulting awarded penalty. Gyan shouldn’t be blamed of course – the man has done more than almost any other player in getting Ghana where they were – but neither, particularly, should Suarez.
Imagine if Suarez had been English, or even Ghanaian. His “sacrifice” would most likely have been lauded, as it was by Manchester United fans when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scythed down Robert Lee in the penultimate game of the 1997/98 season. In that instance, United needed to avoid defeat and Lee was clear through on goal. Solskjaer was applauded off the pitch – as he likely would have been at any home ground – and relayed simply to his teammates; “I had to do it”. Was it the most noble of actions? No, of course not, but he was simply doing all he felt he could for his team to keep them in it. As every goalkeeper whose ever brought down a player who’s rounded him for an empty net has done. It’s called a professional foul. Are they vilified? Are there automatic penalty goals proposed in that almost weekly scenario? No. Put your handbags and pitchforks away people, there’s nothing to see here but brilliant drama.
Solskjaer – and the endless plethora of rounded goalkeepers and last men – had far more time to think about their actions than Suarez, whose instinctive volleyball snap must have occurred to him a mere millisecond before he did it. He would also have known he’d face a red card, and probably not play in the tournament again, but while letting the ball float past him would’ve caused the same outcome for he, it allowed his teammates to progress. He took one for the team, and if it had’ve been John “Lion Heart” Terry performing such “bravery” he’d likely be praised by the rag tops – rightly or wrongly (probably wrongly) – for his epic sacrifice.
It’s football, it happens, and it’ll happen again, and what happened after it is exactly what should always happen in such circumstances. The sending off of the player and the chance for the offended team to re-dress the balance. The fact that the offended team in this instance didn’t re-dress the balance is no fault of Suarez. They were given a free swing at him, and they punched air.
So the free kick was unfair. The offside call was unfair. The handball was unfair. The penalty was fair. Ghana were plucky but unlucky, and did themselves and their homeland proud, but are out because they can’t score penalties. End of. Now pick up your girly tissues and lipstick and get on with it people. There’s two more quarter finals to watch, time to man up.