Johannesburg, July 3 (DPA) Uruguay crushed Africa's World Cup dreams by beating Ghana in a thrilling quarter-final showdown Friday that ended in a penalty shootout and saw the last remaining African team miss a spotkick in the final seconds of extra time.
The score was even at 1-1 after 120 minutes of play before Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera stopped spot kicks by Ghana captain John Mensah and Dominic Adiyiah in the 4-2 shootout, which saw Sebastian Abreu convert the winner for Uruguay.
Sulley Muntari had opened the scoring for Ghana just before the end of the first half before Diego Forlan equalised in the 55th minute at Johannesburg's Soccer City Stadium.
The 1930 and 1950 world champions Uruguay appeared destined for elimination when Luis Suarez used his hand to stop a Ghana finish from crossing the goal-line during the final seconds of extra time and was red-carded. But Asamoah Gyan's penalty attempt hammered off the crossbar, eliminating Ghana from the first World Cup on African soil.
"I am totally exhausted. We are all totally exhausted. We fought so hard for 120 minutes and then came the penalty. You can't get over that so easily. But then we are winners in the end, it was amazing," said Uruguay star Diego Forlan, whose great performance on the pitch was recognised with a FIFA Man of the Match award.
"This has been a dream of ours for a long time. And we have seen that we are growing. I think we deserve this and we are happy to give Uruguay fans a reason to be happy," said Abreu.
The result sent Uruguay back to the semi-finals of a World Cup for the first time in 40 years, when they finished fourth in Mexico.
In the first semi-final on Tuesday in Cape Town, Uruguay will face off against the Netherlands.
"We will celebrate this victory, but we cannot celebrate too much. The Netherlands are coming," said Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez.
Ghana's run to the quarter-finals was already an all-time best after they improved upon their Round of 16 showing in their first World Cup at Germany 2006. But a victory would have made Ghana the first African nation to reach the semi-finals. It was not to be.
"All I can say is that's football. This was a very difficult game because we played the previous game for 120 minutes (against the US)," said Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac.
"In the end, we had the historical opportunity to reach the semi-finals. We had the penalty, but you saw it all."
Tabarez was missing injured Diego Godin and Alvaro Pereira, who he replaced with Mauricio Victorino and Alvaro Fernandez.
His counterpart Rajevac was missing two of his key players due to suspensions in Andre Ayew and Jonathan Mensah. Replacing them were injury returnee Issac Vorsah and Sulley Muntari.
Both teams had chances in the first half-hour and the Uruguay coach had to swap out his captain and defensive boss Diego Lugano in the 38th minute with a right knee injury, replacing him with Andres Scotti. Tabarez was close to subbing out Jorge Fucile just before the break as well after his left-back fell horrifically on his head and shoulder, though Fucile was able to play on.
Muntari gave the Africans the lead two minutes into first half stoppage time. The Inter Milan midfielder unleashed a blast from 30 yards which Muslera misjudged and watched pass him just inside the right post.
The South Americans equalised in the 55th minute. Ghana keeper Richard Kingson took a half-step to his right, which was just enough for Forlan's free-kick from the left side to sneak past him and make it 1-1.
Led by Suarez and Forlan, Uruguay were stronger from then until the extra time, which lacked any highlights until the final 10 minutes, when Gyan and Kevin Prince Boateng both threatened Muslera's goal.
The drama reached unimaginable levels in the stoppage time of extra time, when Suarez stopped a shot on goal at the line but then used his hand to stop the rebound attempt, getting his marching orders from Portuguese referee Olegario Benquerenca.
Gyan, who had already converted two penalties in the tournament, stepped up to the spot with a chance for glory on the line, but he hammered his penalty off the middle of the crossbar, sending the game into a shootout.
With Uruguay starting the shootout, Forlan and Victorino both converted, getting matched by Gyan and Stephen Appiah. Scotti made it 3-2 before Muslera stopped Mensah's attempt.
Then it was Maximiliano Pereira's turn to miss high to even things again. Muslera, however, came up big again, stopping Adiyiah's shot, after which Abreu coolly lobbed his attempt high down the middle.