Saturday, July 3, 2010

Luis Suarez

I cannot imagine what it is like to stare down the end of your dream.  The end of something you have worked your whole life to try and achieve, and now you watch it unfold in front of you without a means to stop it.  What would you do?

ESPN shows replays of key moments in World Cup games from almost every possible angle.  Sometimes I half expect them to cut to the 'under the turf cam' to show us the pitch's perspective on a ball when struck.  Yet with all those camera angles, they have not yet put up a replay showing the foul which won Ghana the free kick in the 119th minute.  From my excellent perspective over half the world away it appeared the Ghanian player simply fell down.  Portuguese referee Olegario Benquerenca didn't see it that way, giving the Black Stars a chance to swing the ball in for a final shot on goal.

And swing it in they did.  Uruguayan goal Fernando Muslera went for the ball and missed.  A point blank shot found the legs of Suarez and bounced back into play.  Before one of five Uruguayan defenders could get to it, Dominic Adiyiah put a head on the ball and sent it towards the back of the net.

Urguay had fought for 120 minutes.  For large stretches of this game they were the better side, but in the last 10 minutes of extra time Ghana made a furious push to win.  Uruguay could have won the game in regulation if Muslera had not been badly fooled on a shot from Sulley Muntari on the final play of the FIRST half. In fairness, Ghanian keeper Kingson should have stopped Diego Forlan's free kick that equalized.  Now they were watching their dream slip away.

On the goal line, two Uruguayan players had set up shop: Jorge Fucile, and Luis Suarez.  Their job is to stop the ball.  As the header barreled towards them, it was headed between them.  It was too high to get a foot on and too far to get a head on.  In a final act of desperation, Suarez blocked the ball with his hands and Uruguay cleared it.  Touching the ball with a hand by anyone but the goalie is a major no-no.  Referee Benquerenca ejected Suarez from the game.

Why would Suarez commit a foul sure to send him off the field?  Because he didn't have any other option.  If the ball goes in, the game is lost.  If he blocks it with his hands, at least Ghana has to make a penalty shot to win.  He gives his keeper a chance to stop the shot.  It should be said that only about 22% of all penalty kicks are stopped by the goalkeeper.  So it comes down to a simple choice:  If I don't use my hands, we lose.  If I do use my hands, they get a penalty kick and we most likely lose.

I doubt very much Suarez processed that logical an argument in the split second he had to make a decision.  He wanted badly, desperately, hopelessly to keep that ball out of the net.  So he blocked the ball with the only weapon he had - an illegal one.

A lot will be written saying Suarez cheated.  If Asamoah Gyan had put his penalty shot in the back of the net instead of off the crossbar, none of those words are written.  But because Gyan missed the PK, everyone thinks Suarez stole this game from Ghana.  I don't think he did.  I think he just reacted to what he saw in front of him, driven by his fear of losing and his desire to win the game for his team and his country.

Only Suarez knows why he did what he did.  Before we vilify him, ask this question - if you were watching your dream die, what would you do?

As an aside, my wife played soccer through college.  She says she was always trained, in that situation, if using your hands was the only way to keep the ball out, do it; even though it also meant you would be sent off.

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