Hero or villain debate rages
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
Sebastian Eguren carries teammate Luis Suarez on his shoulder after Uruguay beat Ghana to advance to the World Cup semifinals. (REUTERS/Henry Romero)
JOHANNESBURG – He will be remembered as either a cheating villain or a selfless hero.
The debate is already raging.
But when Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez deliberately handled the ball, preventing Ghana from becoming the first African team in history to make the World Cup semifinals, he cemented his own place in Hand of God history.
Ghana and Uruguay were tied 1-1 with extra time almost over. Ghana's last-gasp attempt to win was foiled twice, first legally when Suarez blocked a shot by Stephen Appiah on the line and the second time illegally when he swatted away a Dominic Adiyiah header with his hand.
Referee Olegario Benquerenca immediately pointed to the penalty spot and red-carded Suarez.
Saurez was inconsolable as he left the pitch but despair soon turned to joy as Ghana's Asamoah Gyan hammered the penalty off the crossbar. It was the last kick in extra time.
When Gyan failed to score, Saurez celebrated as if he had fired home the winning goal.
And that's exactly what it turned out to be.
Moments later, Uruguay won the game on kicks from the penalty spot.
The result devastated a continent that had hoped to see one of its teams write itself into the history books.
Now the shock is turning to anger as the realization has set in that Suarez deliberately cheated and his team was rewarded for it.
Suarez's penalty was ejection from that game and suspension for the semifinal against the Netherlands. But he showed no remorse and that infuriates those who believe he brought the game into disrepute.
Others see Suarez as a player who took one for the team, knowing full well that if a miracle occurred and Uruguay came back to win, he would miss the semifinal.
The miracle happened.
So, Suarez is being hailed a hero at home and a villain in other parts of the world.
"It was worth it to be sent off in this way. It was complicated and tough. We suffered to the end but the Hand of God, it's mine now," Suarez said. “I was very sad because no one likes to be sent off but there was no other choice."
With Ghana the overwhelming people's choice, Suarez's deliberate handball set off a firestorm of protest and debate.
What Suarez did is not unusual. Players deliberately handle the ball all the time and are punished for it, as Suarez has been.
Suarez wasn’t the only Uruguayan who would have knocked the ball down. Jorge Fucile was just in front of Suarez. He tried to stop it with his hand but missed.
Players will do whatever it takes to win, especially when it a semifinal berth in the World Cup is at stake.
But because Ghana was the sympathetic choice going into the game, the hand ball seems like a greater affront to the sportsmanship in the game.
Some are calling for the rules to change so that any deliberate hand ball that stops a ball from entering the net becomes an automatic goal.
Lost in the debate is the fact Gyan failed to score on a penalty, an inexcusable offence.
Also lost in the debate is that when it came down to penalty kicks, Ghana missed twice. Uruguay failed to score only once.
FIFA investigated the hand ball, looking to see if further disciplinary action should be taken for “unsportsmanlike conduct.”
It opted for only a one-game suspension.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez espouses the competitive view.
“Saying we cheated Ghana is too harsh a word to use. We also abide by what the referee did. It could have been a mistake. Yes he stuck his hand out, but it's not cheating. I don't think it's fair to say that.
“(Suarez) was thrown out of the match and he can't play the next match. What else do you want?
"Is Suarez also to blame for Ghana missing the penalty? We try to be dignified and if we lose a match we look for the reasons for it. You shouldn't look to third parties.”