JOHANNESBURG // In one of the most dramatic World Cup matches in the tournament's 80-year history, Asamoah Gyan, the Ghana forward who scored two penalties in the group stages to help his side progress, missed a 120th-minute spot-kick against Uruguay as Africa's last remaining representative heartbreakingly crashed out in the cruellest possible fashion. Sebastian Abreu, the Celeste striker, scored from 12 yards after Dominic Adiyiah had seen his penalty saved one-handed by Fernando Muslera to put the two-time World Cup winners in the semi-finals for the first time in 40 years.
It was a cruel blow for Ghana and the young AC Milan striker Adiyiah, especially as it was his goal-bound header that was handballed by Luis Suarez, the Uruguay striker, giving Gyan the chance to win it in normal time. Milovan Rajevac's side had started nervously and struggled to get a foothold in the game. Diego Forlan, playing in a deeper role behind the front line, was allowed too much time to dictate play, while Suarez lurking on the shoulder of John Mensah, the Africans' captain, was causing problems and forced Richard Kingson in the Ghana goal to make two vital blocks early on in the first half.
Ghana, however, began to gain the ascendancy, while Uruguay were further hampered by the withdrawal of Diego Lugano, the captain, who limped off to be replaced by Andres Scotti. And the Africans struck with the final kick of the first half. Sulley Muntari picked up the ball in the centre of the park, turned on to his left foot and let fly from 35 yards, watching with delight as the swerving ball evaded the poorly positioned Fernando Muslera and nestled in the corner of the net.
Muntari, the Inter Milan midfielder who last week packed his bags and was ready to fly home following a dressing room dressing down by Rajevac, was only playing because of Andre Ayew, was suspended. Ghana's lead did not last long. When John Pantsil upended Jorge Fucile on the edge of the area on 55 minutes, Forlan's fierce free-kick somehow sailed over the head of Richard Kingson, but under the crossbar.
While the quality of the strike was undoubtable, the Wigan keeper should have done better. Commendably, the Black Stars rallied and continued to threaten with fast counters, but, as was so often the case in their group matches, their wastefulness in attack continued to let them down. Suarez almost gave his side the lead later midway through the half, but Kingson parried over when the Ajax striker was through on goal.
Oscar Tabarez showed confidence in his side's ability to end the game in regular time, using his final substitution in the 75th minute, replacing the anonymous Edinson Cavani with Sebastian Abreu, while Rajevac waited 10 minutes before introducing Adiyiah in place of Muntari. But neither substitute was able to prevent extra-time. An animated Tabarez relayed his tactics to his huddled horde, while Rajevac, born in Serbia, spoke to his team through an interpreter.
Unsurprisingly, it was the Uruguayan's message that was enacted most efficiently as La Celeste, having reverted to a three-pronged attack, continued to threaten from the flanks; Nicolas Lodeiro coming closest, but failing to beat Kingson at his near post. The pace slowed as both sides realised the monumental punishment a mistake could produce, but when Suarez handled on the line to deny Adiyiah's header in the last minute, Gyan looked destined to send his side into the semi-finals.
As Suarez walked down the tunnel though, Gyan - who had scored twice from the spot in the group stages, watched in horror as his penalty cannoned off the crossbar and a shoot-out ensued. Uruguay, with their potent strikeforce, did not pass up their chance from 12 yards. Jonathan Mensah for Ghana and Maxi Pereira for Uruguay both failed from 12 yards, before Adiyiah's shot was saved by Muslera, allowing Abreu to cheekily chip his spot-kick down the middle and send Uruguay wild.