Accra, Ghana – Ghana and Uruguay meet in World Cup 2022 with an added importance for both sides.
While La Celeste, currently sitting bottom of the table, need a massive win to go through, a win or draw by the Black Stars will knock their opponents out of the 2022 World Cup.
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For millions of Ghanaians – and other Africans – the latter outcome would be predestined fate because of a 12-year-old grudge from the last competitive meeting between the two sides, at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
After a 1-1 draw between both sides, Ghana went on to lose 4-2 in a penalty shootout. But given the drama in the game, they felt aggrieved.
Fans are hoping that the Black Stars can take their pound of flesh, especially as veteran Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez, the chief antagonist in that game, is still involved for his side.
“I haven’t forgotten about that game,” Accra-based fan Enoch Kofi Boakye told Al Jazeera. “It hurt me in 2010 and even after all these years, it still hurts when I remember what Suarez did.”
Suarez himself has added flames to the fire by calling the match against Ghana a do-or-die one. “We are going to put our lives and soul in this last match,” he said earlier this week.
“Ghana is a good team but we know them, we have beaten them before and we know how to beat them again.”
‘We … lost on such vicious terms’
Of the five African teams present – hosts South Africa included – when the continent first hosted the tournament in 2010, only the Black Stars went from the group stage, reaching the quarter-finals for the second time (the 2010 World Cup was the only time Ghana reached the quarter-finals) in their second appearance at the World Cup.
So, when they eventually tumbled against Uruguay, the mood across the continent deflated.
Ghana put in such good performances that they were starting to make people believe. Having qualified from a group that contained Germany, Serbia, and Australia, the Black Stars dispatched the USA in the round of 16.
That set up a date with Uruguay in the quarter-finals. In the first half, the team secured a lead following a 35-yard belter from Sulley Muntari. But that was as good as it got.
A well-drilled Uruguay restored parity after the break, thanks to Diego Forlan’s dipping free-kick, and they would go on to knock Ghana out of the tournament via penalties.
In all these, two names stole the headlines: star forward Asamoah Gyan for missing a penalty in the last minute of extra time that would have seen Ghana become the first African team to reach the last four of the World Cup, and Suarez, for preventing a goal-bound effort from striker Dominic Adiyiah in the 119th minute with his hand.
Even though Suarez was red-carded for that, his wild celebrations on the touchline when Gyan hit the crossbar from 12 yards made him a villain for millions of Ghanaians but a hero back in South America.
Ahead of Friday’s game, Suarez has also refused to apologise.
“The emotions from that night are still fresh. Honestly, it still hurts,” said Daniel Koranteng, a sports journalist with Accra-based Citi TV. “Ghanaians will never forget Suarez. It would’ve been easier to forgive had it been a tackle in the box. But the fact that he denied Ghana a clear goal-bound effort, effectively turning Asamoah Gyan into a villain, is something that can’t be forgiven.”
“It was like the five stages of grief,” football fan Francis Gbeddy told Al Jazeera. “The acceptance stage – to accept that we had just lost on such vicious terms – took very long to come.”
Gyan’s costly penalty miss continues to divide opinion among Ghanaians, some of whom are yet to forgive him. From time to time, the veteran striker receives criticism for failing to convert that penalty. In an interview with the BBC in August, Gyan said he let down his country and the whole continent.
“I wanted to score for my nation and for the whole of Africa,” Gyan said. “I couldn’t bury the ball and I feel I let everybody down. Sometimes I ask myself questions. [If people say they felt pain], what about me who was on the field and missed the penalty? How did I feel?”
“If I hadn’t shot that penalty [in the shootout], that would’ve been the end of my career because the first one was a mistake that happened and I wanted to redeem myself with the second one,” he added. “[That moment] Still haunts me. Sometimes I wish there’d be a second chance for me to vindicate myself.”
‘This is revenge time’
Fate seems to have now presented that second chance, the right moment to avenge what remains probably the most heartbreaking moment in modern football history for the West Africans.
Although the stakes are not as high as they were in South Africa, there is still no love lost between them. Both teams are paired in a tricky group that also contains Portugal and South Korea who are in first and third place in the group, respectively.
To reach the knockout rounds, Uruguay need to defeat Ghana and pray that South Korea do not triumph over Portugal. But even in the case of an upset by the Asians, Uruguay’s winning margin over Ghana has to be at least two goals more than that of the Taegeuk Warriors.
With the odds seemingly in favour of the Black Stars this time, many fans cannot wait for what they consider karma to happen to Suarez and company.
Theophilus Addy was only a teenager during the World Cup in South Africa, but cannot shake off his disappointment from that game. “Suarez and Uruguay deserve to feel exactly what we felt in 2010. Even if Ghana doesn’t qualify from the group, we must beat them,” he said.
Eliminating Uruguay at the group stages “will be justice”, Koranteng concurred. “Let’s make Suarez’s final memory at the World Cup a painful defeat at the hands of the team he stole so cruelly from.”
Some fans do not see a victory as adequate revenge given that the stakes are considerably lower here. But that does not matter to Boakye, who wants his country to have the last laugh and ensure that Suarez who faces near-certain retirement after this tournament, bows out on a sad note.
“I can’t even begin to imagine Ghana losing again,” he told Al Jazeera. “The GFA [Ghanaian Football Association] must show the players videos from the 2010 game and how Ghanaians cried. This is revenge time.”
“It’s good that Ghana will play them in the last group game,” Boakye added. “That way, we can beat them and also knock them out of the World Cup.”