Strange, emotional Cup nears end

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:51 PM ET

DURBAN - With 62 of 64 matches completed, the World Cup cupboard isn't as stocked as it should be with vibrant memories of stunning goals or classic matches.

But like a fine wine, the longer it sits, the better it gets. As the tournament progressed further into its elimination rounds, it has started to come to life. There have been more goals, more incidents and better games.

The last week alone has produced two of the strangest sequences of events ever seen in World Cup history. They will be imprinted in the memories of football fans for a lot of years to come.

The most emotional touched not only the two teams involved, but also football fans on an entire continent as well. It was Ghana against Uruguay with the scored tied 1-1. The referee was about to blow the final whistle in extra time when Ghana staged a final attack.

Uruguay's Luis Suarez knocked Ghana's first attempt off the line with his legs. The second he could only parry with his hands. He was shown a red card and Ghana was awarded a penalty. Suarez left in tears.

Moments later, Asomoah Gyan approached the ball with a chance to make history and send an African team to the semifinals for the first time. He sent the penalty off the crossbar.

Suarez leapt for joy. Gyan crouched in despair.

Minutes later, Uruguay advanced to the semifinal, winning on penalties with Suarez joining in the celebration. Meanwhile, the breath went out of a continent as Ghanaian players sat stunned on the field.

Penalties had a hand in an incident that was just as stunning. Paraguay was giving World Cup favourite Spain all it could handle in its quarterfinal. In a dull game, Paraguay was suddenly awarded a penalty and all hell broke loose. Oscar Cardozo's spot-kick was saved by Iker Casillas.

Two minutes later, Spain was awarded a penalty by referee Carlos Batres. Xabi Alonso scored his first effort but had to take it again when Spanish players encroached into the area. His second penalty was saved.

Goalkeeper Justo Villar then fouled Cesc Fabregas to get to the rebound but a third penalty wasn't called. It was a remarkably wild moment so out of touch with how the rest of the tournament has gone. Spain won the game, but was within inches of being out.

When speaking of inches, England will forever rue the 24 inches unseen by Uruguayan officials. England made an embarrassing exit from this tournament, but not before it added yet another chapter to their history with Germany.

Down 2-1 in the round of 16, Frank Lampard whacked a shot off the cross bar and into the net. But wait! While most everyone in the stadium saw the ball bounce in by at least 24 inches, play continued. Germany would go on to win 4-1 and England would go home thinking that Germany had just been paid back for the 1966 goal Geoff Hurst didn't score.

Italy didn't leave the 2010 World Cup with much of anything worth remembering except for the final 15 minutes against Slovakia when the Italians looked like world champions.

Down 2-0, Italy made it 2-1 and had an iffy offside goal called back. Down 3-1, it scored to make it 3-2 and had a chance to tie it at the end. It was out of control, exhilarating and for Italian fans it had to be frustrating because the last few minutes proved Italy could give much more.

And then there were the Americans. Even though they went out to Ghana, the Yanks gave everyone something to remember in their three games.

The first was a memorial 1-1 draw with England that featured Robert Green's famous Hand of Clod blooper. They were down 2-0 to Slovenia and charged back in with prison-break type soccer. The United States tied it late and should have won it but for an officiating decision. Then came the clincher. Landon Donovan's last second winner against Algeria that put the Americans through to the next round.

The goal sparked a wild celebration around the park.

Is there more to come? Maybe this tournament has saved its most memorable moments for the final.


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