In this tournament’s 80-year history, surely there has never been such agony for a country, and a continent.
Luis Suarez had used his hands to keep out a header in the last minute of extra-time but his red card will be no solace to the Black Stars after Asamoah Gyan’s spot-kick hit the bar and Uruguay triumphed in the shoot-out.
Soccer City was deathly silent as Ghana players collapsed in tears, while Uruguay celebrated their first semi-final appearance, in which they will play the Netherlands, for 40 years.
The South Americans’ goalkeeper Fernando Muslera was the hero, saving twice from John Mensah, the Sunderland centre-back, and Dominic Adiyiah, but there was a nasty taste left in the mouth as Suarez was carried shoulder high by his team.
This had been an exhilarating no-holds barred contest full of thunderous tackles and fierce commitment.
Sulley Muntari, almost sent home earlier on in the tournament after a bust up with Ghana’s Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac, had given his side the lead before Diego Forlan equalised with a viciously-swerving free-kick for his third goal of the finals.
Ghana carried the hopes of the continent with them, and especially South Africans, in their quest to become the first African country to qualify for the semi-finals.
Perhaps it was the burden of expectation, but Ghana looked nervous from the start while Uruguay, and Suarez in particular, emanated menace. It was the Ajax striker who first threatened, sweeping past Isaac Vorsah and firing in a shot that Richard Kingson parried.
Forlan’s dead-ball expertise was also causing Ghana problems and his corner deflected off Mensah’s back and Kingson made a reaction save.
Kingson continued his superb form this tournament with a stunning save to tip over from Suarez.
Ghana had done virtually nothing in reply when, inspired by Kevin-Prince Boateng, they suddenly began to play.
Two great chances came in as many minutes as Vorsah planted a header from Muntari’s corner just past the angle and then Gyan was inches wide after brilliant work by Boateng.
Then the German-born midfielder, still on the books at Portsmouth, who nearly conjured up a spectacular opener with an overhead kick before Muntari struck first-half injury time.
Inter Milan midfielder Muntari – himself ex-Portsmouth – hit a speculative shot from 30 yards out, Gyan ducked and Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera was caught flat-footed as the ball sneaked into the corner. The goal made for an open second half with Uruguay having to force the game, and the South Americans claimed a penalty when Edinson Cavani went down under Vorsah’s challenge but replays showed Portuguese referee Olegario Benquerenca was spot on to wave the appeals away.
It looked ominous for Ghana however when John Pantsil swept away Fucile’s legs on the edge of the box, and Forlan produced the perfect free-kick that went over the wall and dipped under the crossbar. Even Kingson could do nothing.
Boateng looked to be denied a legitimate penalty after a smart turn, with Muntari wasting the chance that presented itself afterwards.
Kingson kept Ghana in it with a sharp near-post save from Suarez, and ensured extra time.
Ghana finished stronger with Gyan and Boateng going close before Forlan flashed a last chance wide.
An incredible last minute saw Suarez sent off for saving Adiyiah’s header on the line with his fist, and Gyan smashing the penalty against the bar.
Then came the shoot-out, and agony for Ghana.
Subs for Uruguay: Scotti for Lugano 38, Lodeiro for Fernandez 46, Abreu for Cavani 76
Subs for Ghana: Appiah for Inkoom 73, Adiyah for Muntari 88.