FFinally the tears came. For the last few minutes, he had managed to hold them off, as the news broke and his teammates continued to hunt. But the final whistle came like a life sentence and suddenly he couldn’t hold back any longer. He buried his crumpled face in his jersey. The Ghanaian fans caught a glimpse on the big screen and let out their biggest cheer of the night. For a few seconds the world watched Luis Suárez cry. And the world was not – shall we say – too uncomfortable with this state of affairs.
A kind of revenge, then, even if no one was really in the mood to party. And for Uruguay, perhaps the latest cruel twist in a strategy that seemed to work perfectly, until it didn’t.
What if they converted some of those chances in the second half? What if they had started playing a little earlier against Portugal? What if they had started playing against South Korea at all? For now, these questions could wait. After all, there were scores to settle, honors to satisfy.
As referee Daniel Siebert and his team walked off the pitch, furious Uruguayan players stood in their way, shoved and shoved, demanding answers that would never come. José Giménez grabbed an assistant by the arm and immediately raised both hands in mock innocence, old habits dying hard. In a way, Uruguay left the World Cup the same way they had played it: graceless, reluctant, with chips on their shoulders.
The big shame was that they were capable of so much more and sometimes in that chaotic 2-0 win they showed it. For most of the game they dragged Ghana all over the park, took control of midfield, attacked with vision and determination. The rest of the time, they simply defended themselves heroically. It took three games for Uruguay to show us what they were made of, and by the time they did, it was too late.
Giorgian de Arrascaeta deserved better. For years he was one of Uruguay’s great lost talents: an attacking midfielder hailed as the next big thing on his first appearance, but now 28 and perhaps wondering if that would come one day for him. He won just about everything there is to win with Cruzeiro and Flamengo and yet for some reason Uruguay never really saw their best. Óscar Tabárez never felt brave enough to give him the free role he played in Brazil. Now, under a new manager, on the biggest stage of all, he had two goals and the stardom he deserved.
The last five deserved better. Guillermo Varela, perhaps lucky to keep his place ahead of Martín Cáceres, made a ferocious turn at right-back. Giménez, a defender who slipped on his own grandmother, made countless last-minute interventions and a powerful block in the final minutes. Fede Valverde, such a dynamic and creative player with Real Madrid, deserved better: brilliantly disruptive in a deeper role.
Did Suarez deserve better? In a way, he probably did. After all, he was the key to the whole exercise. Not so much in terms of everything he’s done on the ball; At 35, Suárez barely looks like he has the energy to swing his own leg. But his role against Ghana was quietly vital and it was an ingeniously prepared role for him over several days.
Everyone knows the story: Ghana, the handball, the penalty, the grudge. And in the build-up, it was a grudge that Uruguay was happy enough to indulge. Suárez was given pre-match interviews and blatantly refused to apologize for handball, even when a Ghanaian journalist called him “the devil”. Suárez was made captain: he was there, smiling at the cameras at kick-off. At every turn, Ghana’s players and coach tried to maintain strict concentration. But at every turn, Uruguay put Suárez in their sights.
How does this work in practice? Maybe if you’re a defender you stay a little closer to Suárez than is wise. You pay attention to him. You give it so much attention that you take your eyes off the cross and miss it completely.
You are sitting too narrow and leaving De Arrascaeta too much space for a shot. Despite everything they tried not to do, Ghana ended up waging the last war, playing the man and not the game. Never look at the magician’s hands or you might miss the trick.
And so Ghana too is leaving with a cruel sense of unfinished business. They were good enough to win, good enough to qualify. They were very close to getting a draw against Portugal. They missed an early penalty here. They sank their enemy, and yet he managed to take them with him.
Then their crushed fans found some solace in Suárez’s plight, but it didn’t feel as sweet as they had hoped. Perhaps they were learning that revenge and victory are two very different things.
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