As many of you will be aware, Uruguay just progressed through to the semi-final of the World Cup, having beaten Ghana 4-2 on penalties, after 120 minutes of football left the scores locked at 1-1. At the very end of extra time, Uruguay striker Luis Suarez prevented a certain goal by deliberately pushing the ball away with his hands. He was rightly red-carded for the offence, and Ghana were promptly awarded a penalty, which they failed to convert.
It was inevitable, as Asamoah Gyan pulled his shirt over his head in disappointment at his miss, that Uruguay would go on and win in the shoot-out. Equally inevitable is the debate currently raging across internet forums over whether Suarez is a hero – having sacrificed himself for the sake of his team – or a cheat.
While I’d lean towards the latter (it’s always such a shame when rule-breakers prosper, even if Suarez will miss the semi-final thanks to the automatic one-game ban) it’s hard to come up with a ‘right’ answer, as it’s such a grey area. Was Suarez acting on pure instinct? It did seem that he could have headed the ball, but given the position he was in, it wouldn’t have been certain to prevent the ball going over the line. You could argue that Suarez knew what he was doing and in being aware of the rules of the game decided to swap what was certainly a match-winning goal for a penalty and a red card.
So are the rules to blame? Should a goal be awarded in such circumstances? The significance of the timing and the importance of the game is already causing some to question the regulations, though obviously any adjustment would potentially set a dangerous precedent. After all, where do you draw the line? If someone handles on the line in a meaningless league game between two mid-table sides in the 58th minute, it’s a little harder to make an argument that a red card and a penalty isn’t punishment enough. But right now, it can’t help but feel like Ghana were cheated of their place in the semi-finals.
Of course, had Gyan tucked away the penalty instead of striking it against the crossbar, there would be no argument at all. It’s just a great pity that Africa’s last remaining side in the competition has suffered this injustice, and in such dramatic and heartbreaking fashion, too.