Friday, July 02, 2010

World Cup 2010 Game 58: Uruguay 1, Ghana 1

In the first 56 games of the World Cup, the team that scored first lost once. In the quarterfinals, the first team to score has yet to win. And this was a game that, years from now, will be remembered for how it ended rather than how it began.

Ghana broke through at the end of the first half on a curving, rolling shot that caught the goalkeeper leaning the wrong way. Uruguay got the equalizer early in the second half, then both teams settled in.

The end of overtime looked a bit like a reverse of the end of regulation between Ghana and the United States. In the earlier game, Ghana looked gassed and was saved by the whistle, getting enough of a second wind to score early in overtime. Here it was Uruguay that looked out of energy, hanging on by a fingernail against a younger, pressing side. Even so, the penalty kicks looked inevitable.

Then a foul let to a free kick that landed in the box. Shot...saved by goalie. Rebound for another kick which was kicked out by a defender on the goal line. The second rebound was put on goal and Ghana was going to the semi-finals.

Except Uruguayan Luis Suarez, standing on the goal line, deliberately handed the ball away. He got the compulsory red card (ejection, suspension for next two games), but Uruguay was technically still alive.

Then, incredibly, Ghana missed the penalty kick as the player hit the top of the goal post and the kick sailed away.

I've mentioned earlier in this series of blogs that one problem with eliminating diving and other forms of cheating is the cost/benefit analysis. Here was a classic example. Suarez deliberately cheated to prevent a certain goal in a situation where the game would have been over. In such a situation, anything that keeps the goal off the board is better than taking the loss, and so he took the 1% chance over no chance at all.

Once the penalty kick was missed, it seemed inevitable that Ghana would lose in the shoot out, and they did.

Uruguay may find itself in the position of villains after a sort. Yet what Suarez did is what anyone would do...and he accepted the penalty. Perhaps people will look at this the same was as an American fan might view fouling a player on a breakaway layup to concede two freethrows or tackling a receiver and getting a pass interference call rather than giving up a touchdown. One difference is, of course, that this was that here the outcome was certain. (A player can miss a breakaway dunk, a receiver can drop a pass.) I seem to recall that in baseball or softball, if a player used an illegal means to stop a home run that the home run would be awarded. But the deliberate handball has a penalty in the rule book and rare, very rare is the instance in which that penalty is preferable to the outcome of the play.

Will any of this matter to FIFA? Probably not. The Maradonna "Hand of God" goal was deliberate cheating and they did not change the rules. This is the most puzzling aspect of the sport for Americans. To be sure, nothing could be done here since the rules governing the game were in place, but American sports generally move to ensure such instances won't happen again.

Will it matter to Uruguay? Nope. They will be underdogs against The Netherlands, particularly with Suarez serving a suspension, but they live to play another game.

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