5 July 2010

South Africa: Fifa Reprieve for Cheat Suarez

Johannesburg — FIFA have ruled that Luis Suarez will only serve a one-match ban for his infamous handball in Uruguay's quarter-final clash against Ghana and will be eligible for the World Cup final if they beat Netherlands, turning the Ajax striker from a momentary villain into a hero for the South American country.

Uruguay sent Africa's last remaining team Ghana crashing out of the World Cup following a dramatic 4-2 penalty shootout at Soccer City on Friday night.

The two teams had been deadlocked at 1-1 after extra-time.

But it was Suarez decision to block with his hands Dominic Adhiyiah's goalbound shot on the line that turned the game on its head and saved the day for Uruguay.

Suarez was sent off for the offence while Ghana were awarded a penalty which their striker Asamoah Gyan could only crash against the cross bar with the last kick of extra-time.

A tearful Suarez was heading into the tunnel when he stopped to watch Ghana blow a chance to send his team packing following Gyan's shocking miss.

From a monetary villain, Suarez had become a hero as Uruguay went on to win the shootout lottery to set up a semi-final date against Netherlands who had earlier stunned Brazil 2-1 in another quarter-final in Port Elizabeth.

Now Fifa confirmed that their disciplinary committee had looked at the case and decided against imposing any further punishment beyond the minimum one-match ban.

The disciplinary committee expeditiously reviews all offences at this tournament and their decisions are not subject to appeal in terms of the World Cup rules and regulations.

But after his heroics threw Uruguay a huge lifeline, Suarez also told the media that "the 'Hand Of God' now belongs to me".

Suarez's actions and comments after the Ghana game, evoked memories of Diego Maradona's infamous goal for Argentina against England at the 1986 World Cup.

Suarez said: "The 'Hand of God' now belongs to me. Mine is the real 'Hand Of God'.

"I made the best save of the tournament. Sometimes in training, I play as a goalkeeper so it was worth it.

"There was no alternative but for me to do that and when they missed the penalty I thought 'it is a miracle and we are alive in the tournament.

"Now we are in the semi-finals although I was very sad because no-one likes to be sent off.

"The celebration afterwards was impressive, but very quiet because nobody gave us a chance but, with courage, we move forward," Suarez said.

Suarez's strike partner Diego Forlan, who had scored Uruguay's equaliser in normal time backed the actions of his teammate.

The 31-year-old Atletico Madrid striker noted that while Suarez had fired blanks on the night, he had summoned his defensive capabilities to thwart Ghana from scoring, albeit using unorthodox means.

"It is a pity we won't have Luis for the semi-final but he made a good save. He didn't score a goal but he saved one. He was sent off but he saved the game for us. Now we will have to try and do our best to reach the final so he will be available for that.

"When they had the last-minute penalty, I couldn't believe it, I stopped thinking. When he (Gyan) missed, I couldn't believe it again.

"Everyone is so happy. It was a tough game and we knew it was going to be very difficult and the way it finished was incredible," Forlan said.

The former Manchester United striker has had an outstanding tournament literally driving the Uruguay machine although he remains modest and attributes all to teamwork.

Forlan also believes Uruguay deserve their success after coming through a demanding South American group to reach their first semi-final since 1970.

"Qualifying in South America is really tough because Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Chile are great teams with good players.

"You play at altitude, in warm weather, in cold weather, different types of climate and pitches and it's really tough.

"But we also knew once we qualified this was going to be a different tournament and we just focused on each game.

"We were not looking forward to what might happen, just looking at the game in front of us.

"Every game is difficult whether it's Brazil, Holland or Ghana.

"It does't matter about the history of the country or names of the players on the pitch.

"It doesn't matter because this World Cup has had some surprises," Forlan said.

Those surprises also continued with a youthful Germany turning on the style against a star-studded Argentina to destroy the South Americans 4-0 with an efficient game that was high on attacking and defensive quality.

Paraguay also gave European champions Spain a tough night at Ellis Park on Saturday and, just like Ghana the night before, paid the price for a penalty miss as a late David Villa strike helped the Spaniards to scrape through to the semi-finals and set-up an even tougher date with Germany.

While Suarez got a huge reprieve from Fifa with confirmation that his World Cup will not be over as long as Uruguay are not knocked out, it was a different story with Black Stars striker Gyan who was virtually inconsolable after his penalty miss.

Twice Gyan had been precise from the penalty spot in the 1-0 win over Serbia and the 1-1 draw with Australia in their Group D games before his classic extra-time goal against the United States sent Ghana through to the quarter-finals.

But when it mattered most the rangy forward failed to hold his nerve and his rash effort crashed against the bar and with it Ghana's semi-final hopes had been blown away.

Ghana defender John Pantsil has since been urged to put that penalty despair against Uruguay behind him or risk it having a long-term effect on his career.

Fulham defender Pantsil admitted it was hard to try and console Gyan after he hit the crossbar with a spot-kick in the last seconds of extra-time which would have taken Ghana into the semi-finals.

"We said to Asamoah that anyone can miss a penalty and it is part of football and it was the only mistake he made. In fact, it was not a mistake at all. It is part of football and he kicked it from his heart and we all wanted to win the game. We have been talking to him. He is feeling bad about that. It is not easy just to forget about something like that.

"He is a good fellow and very disciplined and always wants to win the game so we believe in him and we trust in him," Panstil said.

Pantsil believes the fact that Gyan had the nerve to step forward and convert Ghana's first penalty in the shootout was testimony of his character and many in the strong 84 000 crowd gave him credit for that.

"It shows his character. He did well to come back and put another one away in the end. That shows he will very soon forget about it. He has to," Panstil said.

Exciting Ghana winger Andrew "Dede" Ayew, who sat out the game against Uruguay because of suspension, also rushed to the tunnel to try and console Gyan.

Meanwhile, Fifa also revealed that they had credited Dutch striker Wesley Sneidjer with Netherlands' first goal against Brazil which had initially been thought to have been an own goal by Samba Boys midfielder Felipe Melo.

"Who should get the credit for a goal? At times it is not 100% clear, but in the case of a Fifa competition, it is the Fifa Technical Study Group who ultimately decide. Shots which are on target (i.e. goal-bound) and come off a defender, or shots which rebound from the goal-frame and bounce-off a defender or goalkeeper may be considered as an own goal, but in this instance, the TSG have decided to credit the goal to the attacking player.

"Therefore, Wesley Sneijder now has four goals so far in the 2010 Fifa World Cup, taking him level with Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina) and Robert Vittek (Slovakia) on the goal scoring chart," Fifa said.

Spain's Villa is now the tournament's leading scorer with five goals.

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