Ghana exit heartbroken but moral victors

JOHANNESBURG - Ghana spurned a golden chance to write a new chapter for African football at the World Cup but exited the tournament the moral victors after a bitter quarter-final defeat to Uruguay at Soccer City on Friday.

At the first tournament hosted in Africa, Ghana were one kick away from becoming the continent's first ever semi-finalists but the usually reliable Asamoah Gyan missed a penalty that would have handed his side victory with the last effort of the match.

Uruguay went on to win the post-match penalty shootout 4-2 after a 1-1 draw but it is the Black Stars who enjoyed widespread sympathy after the chaotic manner of the elimination.

Gyan, whose costly miss will go down in tournament legend, insisted the last ditch effort from teammate Dominic Adiyiah had crossed the line before being scooped away by the hands of Luis Suarez and that the penalty Ghana's top striker squandered in the final seconds of extra time should not have been awarded in the first place.

Gyan also spoke of the irony of a situation where Suarez, who earned himself a red card and semi-final suspension for the goal-saving handball, will be seen as a hero for keeping Uruguay alive in the game while Gyan faces a lifelong burden of dealing with the disappointment of his miss.

"The ball crossed the line, it didn't need to be a penalty. He'll (Suarez) be a hero now.

"But it was one of many opportunities we had to win the game. I mean it's very tough (to have missed) but I'm the team's penalty taker and I had to try it."

Gyan's effort was a tired shot that grazed the top of the crossbar, reflecting in a sense the competitive potential of his country, and the other African teams, but their inability to close out matches.

Ghana had held the hopes of the continent, and enjoyed almost fulsome support among the 84,000 spectators at Soccer City, but will now be remembered for a missed opportunity rather than becoming only the third African side to reach the World Cup quarter-finals.

Ghana's coach Milovan Rajevac made a brief, and almost inaudible, reference to "sporting injustice" at the end of his post-match news conference but before that kept up a dignified stand of not wanting to apportion any blame, either on the the Uruguayans or his own penalty taker.

"That's football," he said repeatedly, looking as he would break down in tears at any moment.

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