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Moments in Time: Suarez embraces his first global performance as pantomime villain

Luis Suarez v Ghana, Johannesburg, July 2, 2010

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RED CARD: Luiz Suarez (9) handles the ball against Ghana during the 2010 World Cup. AP Photo/Themba Hadebe

RED CARD: Luiz Suarez (9) handles the ball against Ghana during the 2010 World Cup. AP Photo/Themba Hadebe

RED CARD: Luiz Suarez (9) handles the ball against Ghana during the 2010 World Cup. AP Photo/Themba Hadebe

Perhaps it's appropriate that the sporting moment that lingers from the 2010 World Cup is devoid of footballing beauty.

With all due respect to the classy Spanish team that was crowned kings of the world, this tournament left a legacy of low-scoring games with a high-volume of vuvuzelas, in both senses of the word. A classic it most certainly wasn't.

That doesn't mean there was an absence of drama, though, and Friday, July 2 was the day that the tournament was temporarily elevated to the level of the great renewals.

The main event from a global perspective was the afternoon meeting of Holland and Brazil, the quarter-final where a brace from the inspired Wesley Sneijder allowed the Dutch to come from behind and send the South Americans packing.

But that stunning twist was relegated to a sub-plot by the end of the day, as a game which didn't scream classic on paper - the meeting of Ghana and Uruguay - gave us a conclusion that stirred the emotions of a continent and beyond.

Context

The context is important. As hosts, South Africa had floundered, shorn of the quality to truly make a lasting impact on the competition.

They did strike a blow on the way out, scoring a success over the French side that celebrated their controversial hand of Henry qualification by imploding in spectacular fashion, but there would be no lasting feel-good tale to pique local spirits.

But then Ghana stepped up to fill the void. Africa's maiden World Cup was enlivened by the Black Stars' advance into the last eight. All strands of the South African population adopted them, and there was significance in that.

Wealthy white families drove everywhere and lived in gated residences for valid security reasons. Hatred and distrust had been bred into a society inheriting the mistakes of previous generations.

The wealth divide meant that the profile of the crowd in the stadiums didn't necessarily reflect the face of the country. But without meaning to adopt a schmaltzy tone out of sync with reality, the Ghana adventure had captured imaginations.

Inside Soccer City, it was clear that all bar the pocket of Uruguayan fans in the 84,000 attendance were rooting for the underdogs.

They erupted when Sulley Muntari's stunner put them ahead, a goal that was cancelled out by a leveller from player-of-the-tournament Diego Forlan.

Chances at either end were spurned as the game went to extra-time and then crossed the 120-minute mark.

The Portuguese referee was preparing to blow the whistle and send us to penalties when Ghana made the push to become the first African side to reach the semis.

In a frantic goalmouth scramble, Dominic Adiyiah's header found a way past 'keeper Fernando Muslera but was palmed off the line by the hands of Luis Suarez, the firebrand Ajax striker who was rapidly stepping out of Forlan's shadow.

His calculated act of desperation denied Ghana victory, yet it appeared as though it was only delaying the Hollywood ending.

The distraught Suarez received a red card and was consoled as he made his way towards the tunnel, placing a jersey over his head to shield his face as the stadium waited for the historic kick from Asamoah Gyan.

You should know what happened next. Gyan leaned back and fired his effort into the crossbar. The final whistle was blown and Muslera kissed the woodwork in celebration.

Eyes were drawn to Suarez, maniacally celebrating Gyan's miss. His gamble had given his country a chance to breathe.

The atmosphere in the stadium was punctured. Gyan was crying while the teams gathered in huddles before penalties and while he admirably regained his composure to score, his colleagues were overwhelmed and a cheeky panenka from Sebastian Abreu confirmed Uruguay's advance.

Africa screamed injustice. Suarez embraced the role of villain. "The Hand of God now belongs to me," he said afterwards. "I made the best save of the tournament. When they missed the penalty, I thought, 'It's a miracle'.

Divine

Only in Uruguay was it viewed as divine intervention. Suarez's intervention cost him involvement in the subsequent defeat to Holland, yet in his nation's eyes it was noble sacrifice.

Before that match, coach Oscar Tabarez was asked if his team should be showing more humility because of how they'd got there.

He responded by saying that he was only embarrassed by the response of the English-speaking press. Suarez's actions were debated around the world, a forerunner of what was to come.

Instead of witnessing a triumph that might have ignited a flagging tournament, we were introduced to the mindset of a ferocious competitor with a natural instinct to win at all costs. This was episode one of the Suarez box-set.