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12th Jun 2018

World Cup Moments: Luis Suárez’s handball vs Ghana

A moment of madness that encapsulated Suarez's essence like no other

Reuben Pinder

A moment of madness that encapsulated his essence perfectly

One of the great things about World Cups is that they provide a platform for previously unknown players to announce themselves. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa was a prime example, as Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil helped Germany rip through England like a tornado, earning themselves moves to Real Madrid.

But the winner of the breakthrough star award has to go to Luis Suárez. He wasn’t exactly coming straight from his hometown of Salto – he had been smashing goals past hopeless Dutch defences for three years already – but to uninitiated Premier League fans, this was the first we had seen of him. And we saw every side of him. The goals from impossible angles, the relentless, terrier-like pressing, and of course, his win at all costs mentality.

Suárez had fired Uruguay through the group stage and scored a brace in a second round win over South Korea, giving his nation the opportunity to reach their first semi-final since 1970. Their only obstacle: a Ghana side who had also taken the tournament by storm. Asamoah Gyan, John Pantsil, Sulley Muntari and co. had made a mockery of everybody’s predictions, proving the bonkers nature of World Cups that makes them so enthralling.

Ghana took the lead through an audacious shot from Muntari. Very much a ‘fuck it, there’s a gap there, why not?’ sort of shot. A shot that would have been derided as ridiculous if the goalkeeper had picked it up like he should have, were it not for his abysmal positioning.

Uruguay levelled the scoring through a Diego Forlán free kick; another goal that never should have gone in. It was on the goalkeeper’s side, but as the Jabulani tended to do, it swerved away from the ‘keeper at the last second, as if Forlán’s mind was willing it into the goal.

1-1, most of the second half to go, both teams played out a draw, right until the last minute of extra-time.

Ghana had a free kick, the ball dropped into the box and Muslera – Uruguay’s goalkeeper – found himself in no man’s land, helpless to claim the loose ball. Suárez covered his goal-line as his teammates all simultaneously tried to put their boot through the ball. Both teams equally desperate to win in the dying seconds, but nobody as desperate as Luis Suárez.

Uruguay’s match winner became their saviour, as he made a goal-line clearance during the scramble. Crisis averted, almost. Ghana weren’t finished. As another headed shot flew goalwards, Ghana were ready to throw their arms up in celebration. But then, with a split second to make a decision, Suárez did it instead.

Amidst the chaos, it all happened too quickly for the mind to register. What just happened? Did he head it off the line? And then the red card comes out. Oh wow. He’s gone.

People call it cheating, which is a fair assessment given that handling the ball is not allowed, but there is more nuance to what Suárez did here. His reaction tells you everything; the shock on his face, the tears as he walked off. It was as if a greater power had taken control of his body in that moment, for the sake of his country.

Suárez might have prevented the loss in that moment, but suddenly Ghana had a penalty and were one kick away from a World Cup semi-final. Enter: Asamoah Gyan. Come on, no messing about, hard and low. Deep breaths.

Of course. He only went and hit the bar. Suárez was vindicated. His tears of despair turned into tears of joy. Riddling guilt became euphoric relief.

Uruguay went on to win on penalties, and Suárez went on to become public enemy number one in Ghana.

It was a moment of madness that encapsulated Suárez as a footballer. Little did we know at the time, the Premier League would be blessed with this level shithousery for the next four years.