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FIFA World Cup: Uruguay win thriller, Ghana ousted on penalties

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Johannesburg probably witnessed one of the ‘games of the tournament' tonight as Uruguay fought off a spirited challenge from Ghana, the last of the African teams surviving in the tournament, to win 4-2 on penalties and make it to the semi-finals. Ghana had taken the lead with what was practically the last kick of the first half through a wonder-strike from Sulley Muntari, only for Diego Forlan to respond with a brilliant free kick early in the second half.

The game then went into extra-time and with the penalty shootout approaching, Ghana got another great chance to seal the contest after having been awarded a penalty thanks to Luis Suarez handling the ball on the goal line, however, Asamoah Gyan, who had already scored twice from the spot missed on this occasion, resulting in the match heading into the uncertain world of a penalty shootout. Uruguay kept their nerve late in the shootout following a miss from either side, as veteran striker Washington Sebastian Abreu won the game for his side.  Both teams went in with an aggressive 4-2-3-1, having made two changes each to their playing eleven. Sulley Muntari was given his first start of the tournament for Ghana while Isaac Vorsah was recalled into defence, with the suspended pairing of Andre Ayew and Jonathan Mensah making way. Uruguay began with Mauricio Victorino in place of the injured Diego Godin, while Alvaro Fernandez was also given a start on the left side of midfield.

Uruguay dominated the game right from the start with the strike pairing of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez impressing early on. Forlan produced an excellent run through the middle to send a through ball to Fernandez as early as in the third minute only for the latter to waste the opportunity. Samuel Inkoom then lost possession in the midfield to give the ball away to Suarez, who produced a beautiful curling shot which Richard Kingson just managed to hold on to.

Forlan then got two free kicks in quick succession, and Kingson was fortunate to have the referee come to his defence after making a mess of the second. With Uruguay piling on the pressure, Kingson got sharper as the game progressed, producing a fine save when the ball deflected off John Mensah from an Edinson Cavani flick.

Uruguay continued to have opportunities on set plays and both Forlan and Suarez came close to getting the opening goal; denied only by the excellent Kingson. Having sustained the initial pressure, Ghana themselves almost scored in the 29th minute through Vorsah's header from a corner. A fantastic run from Kevin-Prince Boateng gave Asamoah Gyan half a chance, and then Boateng had a pot shot himself. With Uruguayan skipper Diego Lugano forced to go off injured, Ghana gained control of the game as half-time approached.

A late effort deep into stoppage time from Sulley Muntari gave Ghana the opener. Finding himself with some space from about 35 yards out, Muntari let loose with a cracking shot which bounced and curled away from Muslera, to leave the goalie with no chance. Having begun on the back foot, Muntari's lovely strike gave Ghana the lead at half time against the run of play.

Oscar Tabarez was quick to get rid of the unimpressive Fernandez at the start of the second period, with Nicolas Lodeiro replacing him. The second half got off to a scrappy start though, with both sides creating chances but failing to make any use of them. While Suarez kept up the pressure for Uruguay, Boateng wasted a fine chance to create something out of a Ghana counter-attack.

It was a set-piece though, which eventually brought Uruguay's equalizer with Forlan being the provider. A brilliant, dipping effort was enough to get the better of Kingson as Uruguay came right back into the game in the 55th minute. Ghana almost hit back immediately through Gyan but it was Forlan and Uruguay who looked increasingly threatening as the game wore on.

Forlan first lifted a brilliant pass to Suarez before sending in another one to Lodeiro, only to see nothing come out of both. The tempo of the game rose in the final minutes of the second half as both goalkeepers were called into action for making some tough saves, while both managers made some tactical substitutions. Ghana had a few half-chances in the final seconds, though it was Uruguay who ended the stronger side going into extra time.

Uruguay began a very scratchy first period of extra-time with both sides apparently nervous coming so late into the game. Gyan came close in the seventh minute having dispossessed Arevalo in the Uruguay box and though Forlan managed a few dangerous runs, that was as close either side got in the first half of extra time.

The tempo of the game fell away in the final 15 minutes though it was once again Ghana who came close to clinching the game. Stephen Appiah should have got his header in from the far post before Gyan's shot almost got an own-goal out of Scotti. The final minute of extra-time saw all hell break loose as Suarez was sent-off for clearing the ball off the line with his hand following a goal-mouth scrap and with a golden chance to finish the game off, Asamoah Gyan hit the crossbar with his penalty to send the game to the shootout!

Here's a lowdown on the shootout:

Uruguay 1-0 Ghana, Forlan sends it to the left of Kingson, unstoppable
Uruguay 1-1 Ghana, Gyan brushes himself off to take a great penalty, in the top corner
Uruguay 2-1 Ghana, Victorino with a rocket shot in the corner probably before the keeper even blinked
Uruguay 2-2 Ghana, Appiah slots home with panache
Uruguay 3-2 Ghana, Scotti sends his shot right down the center
Uruguay 3-2 Ghana, Muslera saves Mensah's shot down to his left
Uruguay 3-2 Ghana, Pereira hits it high over the bar, Uruguay fail to take advantage
Uruguay 3-2 Ghana, Another save from Muslera! Adiyiah the taker this time, almost identical penalty to Mensah's
Uruguay 4-2 Ghana, Abreu chips it in the middle, great penalty to give Uruguay the win!

A buoyant Uruguay would now meet the Netherlands in the first semi-final on Tuesday the 6th of June at the Green Point Stadium and with Luis Suarez suspended for that game, Diego Forlan would be all the more crucial to their fortunes. Ghana, on the other hand, crash out after having won a lot of fans at the World Cup and with such a young side producing such an outstanding showing, one can only dream what they may achieve in 4 years time in Brazil!

The Teams:

Uruguay: Muslera (GK), Victorino, Lugano (Scotti 38'), Fucile, Pereira, Arevalo, Perez, Suarez, Forlan, Cavani (Abreu 76'), Fernandez (Lodeiro 45').

Ghana: Kingson (GK), Mensah, Vorsah, Sarpei, Pantsil, Boateng, Annan, Gyan, Asamoah, Muntari (Adiyiah 88'), Inkoom (Appiah 74').

Final Score: Uruguay (Muntari 47') 1 - 1 Ghana (Forlan 54') (Uruguay won 4-2 on penalties)

Also Read:

Netherlands 2 - 1 Brazil (Match Report)

Photo by 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa

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