Luis Suarez couldn’t watch as his Uruguay team slid toward a painful World Cup exit. He put his hands in front of his eyes, then pulled his shirt over his head. When his face emerged again, there were tears.
The Uruguay captain sat in the dugout after being substituted as his team beat Ghana 2-0 on Friday but was still eliminated from the tournament by a stoppage-time goal in another game.
A late goal by Hwang Hee-chan secured South Korea a last-gasp 2-1 win over Portugal and a place in the last 16 from Group H at Uruguay’s expense because it scored more goals. After the most dramatic end to the group, Portugal advanced as group winner and South Korea clinched second.
Ghana, which came into the last set of games in second place, was also eliminated.
“It is sadness and disappointment that we feel,” said Suarez, who was playing in his last World Cup. “I was lucky enough to play my fourth World Cup, and I was thinking about my 4-year-old son, who is leaving with the image of sadness. It’s difficult, but it’s up to me to face the situation.”
When Suarez left in the 66th minute of the game, Uruguay was in a position to advance to the knockout stage for a fourth straight World Cup. He had played key roles in both Uruguay goals by Giorgian De Arrascaeta, which came after Ghana captain Andre Ayew missed a 21st-minute penalty.
A shot by Suarez led to De Arrascaeta’s opener in the 26th minute. Suarez then set up the second with a clever pass that De Arrascaeta volleyed in six minutes later.
By the time the final whistle blew, Uruguay’s 2-0 lead still stood but the 35-year-old Suarez’s World Cup career was over.
The realization that it might be heading that way came for Suarez when a screen at the stadium flashed up news of South Korea’s late goal against Portugal. Before that, Suarez was smiling in the dugout.
Uruguay desperately chased another goal through eight minutes of stoppage time. One goal would have been enough to advance on goal difference.
Substitute Maximiliano Gomez hit a shot that Ghana goalkeeper Lawrence Ati Zigi saved by diving to his right in the final minutes. Sebastian Coates missed a shot just wide. Uruguay also had two claims for a late penalty turned down. Several Uruguayan players angrily confronted the referee after the match as they were headed off the field.
“They broke their backs. They gave their best,” Uruguay coach Diego Alonso said.
At the end, the Ghana fans at Al Janoub Stadium chanted “Korea, Korea, Korea” and celebrated Uruguay’s exit, testament to the bitter resentment they still feel towards Suarez and the rest of the national team for one of the most contentious games in World Cup history.
Suarez was responsible for Ghana’s World Cup elimination in the quarterfinals 12 years ago. Then, his deliberate handball on the goal line denied Ghana a certain goal at the very end of extra time.
Suarez was sent off but celebrated wildly on the sidelines when Ghana forward Asamoah Gyan missed the resulting penalty. Uruguay went on to win in a shootout.
That 2010 game loomed over this rematch, stoked by Suarez’s refusal to apologize for his handball when asked to do so on the eve of the game in Qatar by a Ghanaian journalist, who said the player was now known as “el diablo” — a devil — in Ghana.
Ghana coach Otto Addo said the game wasn’t about revenge for 2010.
“What hurts the most is we are out,” Addo said. “It doesn’t matter who it was.”
But that sentiment was not shared by the majority of Ghanaians in the crowd, who booed Suarez every chance they got. One held up a sign before kickoff that read: “Revenge 4 2010.”
The same sign was held up again at the end as Suarez trudged off the field crying.
Ghana’s exit was also painful, and memories of the 2010 agony were revived with Ayew’s missed penalty. Ayew was the only member of Ghana’s current squad on that team, although he missed that quarterfinal match because of a suspension.
He went low to the bottom right corner with his penalty and Uruguay goalkeeper Sergio Rochet guessed right to push it away with his left hand.
“This is football,” Addo said. “Sometimes football is really, really beautiful. Sometimes it’s ugly. Today it was ugly for us.”
ADDO STEPS DOWN
Addo said he was stepping down as Ghana coach in keeping with a promise he’d already made that he would only lead the team until the end of the World Cup.
BOTH GOING HOME
Uruguay missed out on a place in the last 16 for the first time since 2006, when it didn’t qualify for the World Cup. Ghana, a four-time African champion, has exited in the group stage at the last two World Cups it has played.