19th FIFA World Cup - South Africa 2010
11 June to 11 July 2010
ROUND OF 16
1A/URUGUAY 2, 2B/SOUTH KOREA 1
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium - Port Elizabeth
Luis Suarez, the 23-year-old miracle worker who plays for Ajax in the Netherlands, was the master tactician whose two goals proved the difference for Uruguay against the South Koreans in Port Elizabeth. Just over 30,000 were in attendance for the first of eight octofinals matchups to be played over the next four days across South Africa. A rainy day didn't stop the two squads from coming out and playing some electric soccer for the assembled crowd and the worldwide audience.
It looked like South Korea was going to get the first advantage, hitting the woodwork with a beatifully-curled shot that had Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera beaten, but within the next three minutes the Asians would see their defense break down fully and yield the first score. In the seventh minute, Diego Forlan saw a rebound volley his way... but he was only able to get enough on the shot to punch it right at South Korean keeper Jung Sung-Ryong. Less than a minute later, persistent on the attack, Forlan would get another chance along the left edge of the box. Waiting an extra split-second to catch Suarez in stride, he slotted a low cross just pass Jung's fingertips and right there for the youngster to punch in from the tight angle and take the lead for Uruguay.
Both sides were pressing throughout the first half, South Korea looking for the equalizer and Uruguay looking for some cusion on their lead. Park Chu-Young had a great chance in the 31st minute, shooting just wide from outside the box as Muslera stretched out to stop the Jabulani. They almost had a penalty kick in the 38th minute but the referee told them to play on. And then, after Kim Jung-Woo earned a yellow card for a hard tackle, Uruguay had a mighty chance as Forlan put the free kick right there for Suarez to attempt a header. Lucky for Korea, it went straight to Jung in net. Just before halftime, we saw a flurry of activity as both sides pressed. Cha Doo-Ri put a dipping shot from about 20 yards out, curling it just over the bar from right of net as Muslera looked to have it read had it stayed on goal. Uruguay should have received a handball penalty two minutes from time, Maxi Pereira's shot clearly blocked by an upraised arm in the box, but the referee missed the blatant penalty kick. Korea, undeterred, unleashed a quick counter and then earned their own free kick. It would be parried away by the wall, and the whistle would blow with both sides lamenting their missed chances and preparing for the second half.
Coming out of the locker rooms for the last 45, it was Korea getting all the chances on offense in the first quarter-hour of the second half. Muslera, the Lazio goalie, came up with some great saves for Uruguay... but he erred most egregiously in the 68th minute. The Koreans had a free kick left of the box; it was curled into the box, where Lee Chung-Yong went up to meet it with his head. Despite good pressure on Lee from his defender Muslera pushed forward off his line to meet the cross; it proved a horrible gaffe, as Lee got to the ball first and headed it into the space Muslera had just vacated for the 1-1 equalizer.
The Koreans appeared to have all the momentum at this moment. Uruguay had just allowed their first goal in 338 minutes of tournament play in this World Cup. Lee Chung-Yong nearly had his second goal three minutes after his first, squandering a brilliant chance to put the Koreans ahead with a shot right at Muslera. But then Suarez, working manaically all throughout the match, got another opportunity to shoot from the same tight angle that got him his first goal and challenged Jung to punch it over the bar for a corner. The ensuing kick in from Forlan was pushed out initially by Korea, but Uruguay held at midfield and launched it right back in. Suarez stayed onside, but couldn't direct the header onto goal. Right afterward, Nicolas Lodeiro came on for Alvaro Pereira, Forlan got another shot on the goalie, and the heat was on.
Neither side was holding anything back, end to end in a blitzkrieg of chances for both. The next slip-up on defense would send the team to commit it right home. That mistake came in the 79th minute, as Maxi Pereira was allowed to run deep into the Korean box before his effort was punched away by the defender for a corner. Forlan bended the kick, just missing Edinson Cavani for the header but seeing the defender punch it over the end line for a second attempt. This time, the corner was headed to midfield and kept back in. Tapped back into Suarez, the Ajax man controlled the ball, cutting just inside to set up his right foot for a blistering curling whirling dipping shot that arced inside the far post past Jung's extended fingertips and onto the scoreboard for the 2-1 lead.
Korea would nearly get the equalizer yet again, three minutes from stoppage time, as a wicked shot from substitute Lee Dong-Gook was unleashed right at Muslera. But the keeper bungled the stop, letting it trickle through his fingers and on a slow roll toward the goal line. Fortunately for the goalie, several Uruguayan defenders were in the area to rescue his bobble and punch it away from the line. Three minutes of stoppage time would yield no Donovan-like bliss for the Koreans, as the South Americans maintained possession most of the way from there and held on to the 2-1 victory to advance to the quarterfinals. All that was left for Suarez and company was to wait and see which of the teams playing later would advance to meet them on Friday in Johannesburg...
2D/GHANA 2, 1C/UNITED STATES 1 (a.e.t. - 120min)
Royal Bafokeng Stadium/Rustenburg
Finally, a radio broadcast at least to listen to at work! Lord knows that half of my time spent watching a match is spent listening to a match, as my head is buried in a stat sheet and my fingers racing on the keyboard and all the while looking up a whole other potpourri of information to bolster and enrich whatever it is that's crossing my mind at that point. So I know how to listen to soccer on the radio. Hell, that's the only way I ever got to see some games of my favorite teams, as the few television broadcasts usually deigned to play the big-ticket clubs rather than my personal hooks.
But I digress... there it was, all right there for both teams to nab. The United States, here it was... they hadn't been handed a clearer path to a semifinal since the inaugural World Cup in 1930. It was Project 2010 time, the fat sizzling away over that open flame, time to show what composed these sinews of team, of America, of the place where soccer stood in the country. Publicly, the tale went that the goal was to get out of the group stage. Hell... they'd proven with at least the kind of regularity you'd expect out of a second-tier soccer power that they could do that. But especially after last year's Confederations Cup, held right in these very South African environs, the Yanks had shown that they at least ought to be there in the discussion. They hung with teams like Spain and Brazil and damn near captured the whole thing.
For Ghana, it meant at least as much. And with the weight of whole Mother Africa behind it, the Black Stars were playing for the pride of an entire host CONTINENT, all the vuvuzelas resounding in their sing-songy way into the Rustenburg night and beyond to see this squad do at least what Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002 had shown possible. Take out the Americans and then, hey... take it from there, Uruguay already in the distance for whichever team could defeat the other and claim that spot beside them. And without their leader, their impresario, their maestro in the midfield Michael Essein, injured before the thing even started, and men like Muntari melting in the heat, the Black Stars still saw quarterfinal wishes and semifinal dreams in their future.
It sure felt that way, at least. Because Ghana, determined, came right out and forced the issue. The Americans didn't sound like they were comfortable at all, J.P. Dellacamara and Tommy Smyth regaling us all in the kitchen with their commentary over the drone of the wind instruments buzzing all around. Kevin-Prince Boateng, the erstwhile German-Ghanaian that went the opposite way of his half-brother when choosing his national team to represent, illustrated the fact perfectly, taking advantage of passive defending to burst up toward the edge of the box, drifting left, to crank an absolute scorcher with his left foot that beat American goalie Tim Howard to the near post. The game was just five minutes in at that point, and the Americans seemed to spend most of that first half on their back foot, unable to make any sort of attack stick.
The Americans would come out a little more offensive in the second half, pressing forward with greater success and challenging Ghana's defensive mettle. About a quarter-hour in, Landon Donovan played a beautifull ball played into Clint Dempsey in the box. Jonathan Mensah came in hard on the challenge, missing the ball but taking Dempsey out. The referee pointed to the spot. Donovan stood in behind the ball to take the kick. Going left, he tapped it in off the post past Richard Kingson and leveled the score for the Americans. It was a grand moment in the kitchen, all these kids roaring gleefully as that goal went in... but at the same time it felt like fleeting glory, like premature exultation, as though there would be no more joy in Mudville this evening.
Or maybe that's just the hindsight talking. However, what was unmistakable was the fact that Ghana were still getting plenty of solid chances. The Americans were getting in chances on the counter, but it was the African side that was still getting the lion's share of the opportunities on offense. The match would play out the remainder of its minutes without anyone finding the winner, and we would be left with our first overtime match of the 2010 World Cup.
Now, it used to be that the first goal was the Golden Goal, a sudden-death format where the two 15-minute periods of overtime served as your chance to become the hero. These days, apparently, that rule has been replaced with a straight thirty minutes of overtime -- so when Asamoah Gyan found a long ball coming his way out of midfield, three minutes into the first overtime period, and split U.S. defenders Jay DeMerit and Carlos Bocanegra with a pure burst of speed to chip point-blank over Howard's head, the Americans weren't immediately relegated to the sidelines for the remainder of the tournament. But they might as well have been, Ghana tightening up on defense and finding their own chances in the gaps being left behind by the surging Yanks, maintaining the one-goal victory in the end.
The Americans ought not be shaking their heads -- this was a tough Ghana side coming in and everyone realized it, even if many of us did predict that it would be the United States prevailing in the end. They were right there with their chances. Early goals killed them in the end, the Achilles heel which was exposed throughout the tournament but never pricked until this point. Ghana advances to the elite eight of international football, and that slim yet bright ray of hope is still radiating forth that there might still be an African winner...