Life From 12 Yards: Gyan’s miss fail to put Ghana in history books

Penalty. A term, that can ruffle the feathers of even the calmest of beings. A term, that in any walk of life, shocks and triggers signals of doom and punishment for some, and hope or satisfaction for others. Football, is no exception. Goalden Times bring you a series where we look at the more unfortunate events of missed penalties (and their aftermath??). Enjoy the ride with Subhashis Biswas.

Image Source - Daily Maverick
Image Source – Daily Maverick

Player : Asamoah Gyan, Ghana.

Opponent Goalkeeper: Fernando Muslera, Uruguay.

Match venue and date: Soccer City, Johannesburg, South Africa, Quarter-final, World Cup, 2nd July, 2010.

In the  fourth segment of the series, we bring you the story of a missed penalty, which had far more long lasting implications than just on the result of the match. Football in Africa was about to enter among the elites in the, for the first time ever, an African nation was about to enter the semi-final of the world cup. Only that penalty needed to be converted. But, as we have portrayed so far in this series, life from 12 yards is not easy, life from 12 yards does not go according to the plan. The gap between cup and lips, however small it may seem at times, are sometimes impossible to close.

In the build-up to the dreaded moment, we actually had a fascinating football match. Football in world cup 2010 was not particularly a scintillating affair, and more so in the knockout rounds, we did not have evenly contested exciting matches. The quarter-final encounter between Uruguay and Ghana was a different affair. From the very onset of the match, it was full of attacks and counter-attacks, and close misses. Suleh Muntari gave Ghana the lead with a stunning 35 yarder just with the last shot before half-time, but Diego Forlan, who was in red-hot form during 2010 world cup and eventual golden-ball winner, equalized on the 10th minute after the break, with a curling free-kick from just outside the box.

Though the match had many more goal-bound attempts, brilliant saves and close shaves, it failed to produce any more goal in the regular 90 minutes of play. The story remained same in the added extra time, as the match was slowly headed towards penalty shoot-out. On the last minute of the extra time, Ghana had one last attack towards Uruguay goal, and after a miss-timed clearance by Fernando Muslera from a free-kick, Stephen Appiah shot the ball towards goal. Luis Suarez blocked it with his knee at the goal line, but the rebound lobbed up to Dominic Adiyiah, who headed the ball towards the goal. The Ghanaian supporters present all over the world was about to erupt in joy, when they saw a player in Uruguay goal line saved the ball with both hands. Nope, the guy who saved the ball was not goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, but it was Luis Suarez!! This time instead of using knee or other body parts, he had to use his hands to keep his country’s hope at the world cup alive. Referee could not be quicker enough to show him the red card and awarded a penalty to Ghana. With what would be the last shot of the match, Ghana could become the first ever African nation to enter the semi-finals of the world cup. How we wish that life would have been that simple.

Asamoah Gyan walked up to take the penalty. Asamoah Gyan had already scored three goals in that world cup, and had 100% conversion rate from two previous penalties, one against Serbia and another against Australia in the group stages. Against Serbia his shot was about two feet above the ground, and towards the right side of the keeper, while the keeper dove left. Against Australian keeper Mark Schwartzer , his shot was a grounder , towards the bottom left corner of the goalkeeper, and again the goalkeeper dove towards the wrong direction. He was a good penalty taker, and did not provide any clue to the keeper till the last moment. It was difficult for the keeper to guess which Gyan was going to shoot, looking at his eyes. Gyan had already scored four  international penalty goals till that time, so the whole Ghana nation along with the players were pretty much confident about their progress to the semi-final.

Asamoah Gyan had already scored three goals in that world cup, and had 100% conversion rate from two previous penalties

Fernando Muslera, the Uruguayan goalkeeper was actually no mutt with penalties. He was playing with Lazio at that time and made them Copa Italia Cup winners by saving two penalties in the penalty shoot-out at the final against Sampdoria. When Asamoah Gyan was getting ready to take the penalty, there was a lot of tension among the players, and a few players were walking inside the box to distract the player. Referee had to clear the penalty box before asking Gyan to shoot. Just before the whistle, Andres Scotti, the Uruguayan defender made a signal with his right hand towards Muslera. It was not clear what he wanted to mean, but it seemed that he suggested the ball would be above the ground, it would be a high shot. It was exactly that in the end.

Gyan did not have a long run up, maximum up to three to four steps from the spot. Muslera was still, right at the centre of the goal line. He did not give any indication towards which side he is going to dive till the last minute, which probably forced Gyan to shoot the ball almost down the middle, and above the ground. Muslera finally dove to his right, but his dive was so late that Gyan already has struck his shot by the time Muslera made the decisive move.

Now let us look at the penalty from Gyan’s point of view. Gyan could have placed it on either side of the goal, choosing placement over power. But it was a nervous moment. Any penalty is a nervous moment for the shooter, no matter how calm the player remains outside. But there is added pressure on the shooter when he knows that his shot is the last shot of the match, and can put his team in world cup semi-final. This would be the first time for Ghana in world Cup semi-final. This would be the first time for any nation from the “Dark Continent in world cup semi-final.  It is difficult to think logically in these kinds of pressure situations.

Owing to this pressure, Gyan might have decided to blast it rather than place it. He probably knew about Muslera’s reputation of saving penalties, and thus feared that may be a placement on either side of the goal may result in a save by the keeper. Thus he chose the safer option, a shot above the ground, down the middle, so that even if the goalkeeper guesses correctly and outstretches his leg, the ball will be in the net.

Source -
Source –

Gyan’s shot was above the ground, not exactly down the middle, but may be a foot towards right from the middle of the goal. Muslera dove to his right, and saw that the ball was travelling towards middle of the goal as he was falling to the ground. But the ball was six  inches higher than the liking of Gyan, and the whole Ghana nation. The placement was almost right, but the power was a bit too much. The trajectory of the ball should have been six  inches low. The ball hit the upper part of the crossbar and went out of the ground. Uruguay survived; a jubilant Suarez went inside the tunnel knowing that his “innovative” and “impromptu” action has managed to save Uruguay from going out of the world cup. Gyan was in shambles, being consoled by the team members. History would have to wait for Africa.

The match went to penalty shoot-out. Diego Forlan gave Uruguay lead but Asamoah Gyan, brave man he is, walked up to take the first spot kick for Ghana. This time he struck it towards the left upper corner of the keeper, and despite guessing the direction correctly, Muslera had no chance of saving it. Gyan did not celebrate the goal, only thinking that had he made similar decisions a few minutes ago, this penalty shoot-out would not have happened.

Fate is a cruel thing. This time John Mensah and Dominic Adiyiah missed penalties in the shoot-out, both the shots being weak grounders which were saved by Muslera. The whole nation cried, the whole Africa cried. Uruguay celebrated. Ghana lost out of the world cup losing 2-4 on penalties, after the match was tied 1-1.