Luis Suarez should probably never set foot in Ghana.
In 2010, at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, the Uruguayan made himself an eternal enemy of the West African country. El Pistolero achieved this level of infamy by performing his own version of the Hand of God in the dying minutes of extra time to save his team from elimination, which broke millions of Ghanian hearts in the process.
Now, the Black Stars get a chance to exact a degree of revenge. Ghana faces Uruguay on Friday in the final game of Group H play. Uruguay needs a win — and some help — to advance, while Ghana will likely move on as long as they can get a point.
This story is probably familiar to those who have been following the game for many years. If you’re new to watching soccer or the World Cup, this is a history lesson about one of the World Cup’s most infamous stories.
Uruguay and Ghana met in the quarterfinal stage at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2010. Ghana had never even qualified for a World Cup prior to 2006, and Suarez was a big reason why they didn’t make it further than the quarterfinal in South Africa.
Ghana’s Sulley Muntari opened the scoring right before halftime, and the legendary Uruguayan forward Diego Forlan answered back with a free kick in the 55th minute.
Neither team was able to prevent the match from going to extra time, which is when all hell broke loose. The main act of this play happened at the death of extra time in the 120th minute. Ghana whipped a free kick into Uruguay’s penalty area. Suarez found himself on his goal line, and blocked an initial shot with his leg. Ghana took a rebound shot and Suarez committed a selfless act of bravery — or unforgivable act of treachery, depending on your perspective — that gave his team a chance to stay alive by swatting the ball out of the net with his hands.
El Pistolero was given a red card for his actions, and Ghana was given a penalty kick right at the death. Asamoah Ryan took the penalty, but he incredibly failed to convert it. The game went to penalties, where Uruguay won the quarterfinal and moved on to the next round.
Without Suarez, Uruguay followed that up with a loss to the Netherlands in the semifinals and then fell to Germany in the third-place match, possibly karmic retribution. But it was still their best World Cup finish since 1970 and tied for their deepest run since last winning the World Cup in 1950.
While Suarez is revered in Uruguay in part for this play — but also for his overall resume — he’s seen as a villain in much of the world, especially in Ghana. Had he not committed that handball, Ghana would have won that game and progressed into the next round. It would have been the deepest run by an African nation in World Cup history.
From a less emotional perspective, it is also important to note that there was no “robbery” associated with these events. Yes, Suarez committed a handball in an incredibly crucial moment, but he was given an adequate punishment. In a World Cup knockout match, you have to play with a “win at all costs” mindset. I guarantee that a Ghana player would have done the same had the roles been reversed.
The rematch on Friday will be one to watch because of the nature of a final World Cup group stage match day. Each team in this group has something to play for. Uruguay remains winless in Group H after a scoreless draw with South Korea and a 2-0 loss to Portugal. Though they have yet to score in this World Cup and face an uphill battle to get out of the group stage, they can still advance with a win combined with South Korea dropping points to Portugal.
Ghana’s path to advancement is a bit more straightforward. They will advance with a win, but can still move on with a tie as long as South Korea doesn’t win by multiple goals.