Accra, Ghana – Ghana and Uruguay will meet at the 2022 World Cup with added importance for both sides.
While La Celeste, currently sitting at the bottom of the table, needs a huge win to continue, a win or draw by the Black Stars will knock their opponents out of the 2022 World Cup.
For millions of Ghanaians – and other Africans – the final outcome would be fate predetermined due to a 12-year grudge from the last competitive encounter between the two sides, at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
After a 1-1 draw between both sides, Ghana lost 4-2 in a penalty shootout. But given the drama in the game, they felt sad.
Fans are hoping the Black Stars can take their pound of flesh, especially since veteran Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez, the main antagonist in that game, is still involved with his side.
“I have not forgotten that match,” Enoch Kofi Boakye, a fan from Accra, 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 thrown fire on the fire by calling the match against Ghana a do-or-die. “We are going to put our lives and souls into this last game,” he said earlier this week.
“Ghana is a good team, but we know them, we beat them before and we know how to beat them again.”
‘We…lost on such cruel terms’
Of the five African teams present – including hosts South Africa – when the continent first hosted the tournament in 2010, only the Black Stars advanced from the group stage and reached 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 finally tumbled against Uruguay, the mood sank across the continent.
Ghana performed so well that they started to believe people. After qualifying from a group that included Germany, Serbia and Australia, the Black Stars dispatched the USA in the round of 16.
That ensured an appointment with Uruguay in the quarterfinals. In the first half, the team secured the lead after a 35-yard belter from Sulley Muntari. But that was as good as it got.
A well-practiced Uruguay restored the tie after half-time, thanks to Diego Forlan’s dipping free-kick, and they would knock Ghana out of the tournament on penalties.
In all these cases, two names made headlines: star striker Asamoah Gyan for missing a penalty kick in the last minute of extra time that would see Ghana become the first African team to reach the last four of the World Cup, and Suarez, for preventing a goal by striker Dominic Adiyiah in the 119th minute with his hand.
Although Suarez was shown a red card for it, his wild celebrations on the touchline when Gyan hit the crossbar from 12 yards out made him a villain to millions of Ghanaians, but a hero in South America.
Suarez also refused to apologize ahead of Friday’s game.
“The emotions of that night are still fresh. Honestly, it still hurts,” said Daniel Koranteng, a sports journalist at Accra-based Citi TV. “Ghanaians will never forget Suarez. It would have been easier to forgive if it had been a tackle in the box. But the fact that he denied Ghana a clear goal-bound effort that effectively turned Asamoah Gyan into a villain is something not can be forgiven.
“It was like the five stages of mourning,” soccer fan Francis Gbeddy told Al Jazeera. “The acceptance phase – to accept that we had just lost on such cruel terms – took a very long time.”
Gyan’s costly missed penalty continues to divide opinion among Ghanaians, some of whom have yet to forgive him. From time to time, the experienced striker is criticized for not converting that penalty kick. In an interview with the BBC in August, Gyan said he had failed his country and the entire continent.
“I wanted to score for my country and for all of Africa,” said Gyan. “I couldn’t bury the ball and I feel like I let everyone down. Sometimes I ask myself questions. [If people say they felt pain], what about me who was on the field and missed the penalty kick? How did I feel?”
“If I hadn’t shot that penalty [in the shootout]that would have been the end of my career because the first was a mistake that happened and I wanted to redeem myself with the second,” he added.[That moment] Still haunts me. Sometimes I wish there would be a second chance for me to justify myself.
‘It’s revenge time’
Fate now seems to have provided that second chance, the right time to avenge what remains arguably the most heartbreaking moment in modern football history for the West Africans.
Although the stakes are not as high as in South Africa, there is still no love lost between them. Both teams are paired in a tricky pool that also includes Portugal and South Korea who are ranked first and third respectively in the pool.
To reach the knockout rounds, Uruguay must beat Ghana and pray that South Korea does not triumph over Portugal. But even in the event of a defeat by the Asians, Uruguay’s margin of victory over Ghana must be at least two goals more than the Taegeuk Warriors.
With the odds looking to be in the Black Stars’ favor this time around, many fans can’t wait for what they consider karma to befall Suarez and company.
Theophilus Addy was just a teenager during the World Cup in South Africa, but can’t shake his disappointment about that game. “Suarez and Uruguay deserve to feel exactly what we felt in 2010. Even if Ghana doesn’t qualify from the group, we have to beat them,” he said.
Eliminating Uruguay in the group stage “will be justice”, Koranteng agrees. “Let’s make Suarez’s last World Cup memory a painful defeat at the hands of the team he so cruelly stole from.”
Some fans don’t see a win as revenge enough, as the stakes are considerably lower here. But that doesn’t matter to Boakye, who wants his country to have the last laugh and makes Suarez, who is about to retire after this tournament, bow on a sad note.
“I can’t even imagine Ghana losing again,” he told Al Jazeera. “The GAFA [Ghanaian Football Association] must show the players videos of the 2010 match and how Ghanaians cried. This is revenge time.”
“It’s good that Ghana will play against them in the last group game,” added Boakye. “That way we can beat them and knock them out at the World Cup.”