In scenes reminiscent of that all-time great World Cup clash, Andre Ayew followed in the footsteps of Asamoah Gyan, missing a penalty that would have given Ghana a 1-0 lead.
Two first-half goals from Giorgian de Arrascaeta secured the win for Uruguay, but it wasn’t enough for a place in the round of 16, as South Korea’s shock 2-1 win over Portugal helped it edge through on goals scored.
Ghana never recovered from the sucker punch of that missed penalty and the quickfire De Arrascaeta brace, as Uruguay saw out the second half with relative comfort. News of South Korea’s winner filtered into the stadium five minutes before the end of the match, forcing Uruguay onto the offensive once again.
However, the breakthrough never came and Uruguay exits the World Cup at the group stage for the first time since 2002.
It will come as some small comfort to Ghana that Luis Suárez, the villain from its 2010 clash, was reduced to tears at full time as Uruguay’s players lost their composure, surrounding and manhandling the officials as they walked off the pitch.
Uruguay felt aggrieved that referee Daniel Siebert didn’t award the team a penalty for Daniel Amartey’s tackle on Darwin Núñez in the second half, but VAR showed the defender got a toe on the ball in what was a brilliant last-ditch tackle.
No love lost
Make no mistake, this fixture was one of the biggest grudge matches at the Qatar World Cup.
Many Ghanaians still haven’t recovered from the heartbreak of that night in Johannesburg, which saw Suárez block a Ghana winning goal with his hands and then celebrate wildly after Asamoah Gyan missed the penalty.
Ghana went on to lose the penalty shootout and Suárez’s role as Uruguay’s savior that night made him persona non grata in Ghana, even earning him the nickname ‘El Diablo,’ or ‘The Devil.’
It was evident early on that there is still no love lost between these teams and there was drama inside the opening 20 minutes at the Al Janoub Stadium, with Siebert awarding a penalty to Ghana after Uruguay goalkeeper Sergio Rochet brought down Mohammed Kudus.
It’s difficult to imagine the pressure that Ayew would have been feeling in that moment, stepping up to the spot 12 years after compatriot and former teammate Gyan missed that crucial penalty, and it certainly seemed like it weighed too heavily on his shoulders.
Ayew’s penalty was weak and low, giving Rochet one of the easiest saves he will likely make in his career.
That miss gave Uruguay a visible lift and La Celeste started playing its best football of the tournament so far; passes were accurate and crisp and the movement became sharp, with Ghana struggling to get a grip on the game.
The increasingly inevitable breakthrough came just five minutes after Ayew’s penalty miss, as De Arrascaeta nodded the ball over the line after Lawrence Ati Zigi had only partially saved Suárez’s effort.
Then, seemingly in the blink of an eye, it was 2-0 and Ghana’s World Cup hopes were once again evaporating against Uruguay.
Suárez was again the provider, playing a pass into De Arrascaeta’s path and the Flamengo midfielder struck a brilliant volley that squeezed underneath Ati Zigi and into the back of the net.
Uruguay fans had been calling for head coach Diego Alonso to include De Arrascaeta in the starting lineup for this match, and he was certainly repaying the faith shown in him for this huge game.
As it stood, Uruguay – somehow – was advancing through to the knockout stages.
It was a first half that had everything – drama, tension and no shortage of nerves – and was more than living up to the pre-match hype.
Ghana needed an all-time great second half performance to turn the game around and exorcise the demons of 2010, but based on its first-half performance, it wasn’t looking likely.
The Black Stars did at least begin the second half with more energy, as Osman Bukari flashed a shot across the goal inside the opening 60 seconds.
Head coach Otto Addo made the surprise decision to substitute brothers Jordan and Andre Ayew at half time, which perhaps blunted his team’s attack. Given what was at stake in the second half, it was a timid display from the Black Stars as the team rarely troubled Rochet in the Uruguay goal.
One long-range strike from Kudus that forced Rochet into a smart save was all Ghana could muster as Addo’s side bowed out of Qatar with a whimper.
News of Hwang Hee-chan’s 91st-minute winner against Portugal began to filter through the stadium around the 85-minute mark, causing Suárez to tear up and pull his shirt over his head on the bench.
It made for a frantic end to the match as both teams desperately went in search of the goals that would see them make it through to the round of 16.
Despite much huffing and puffing, neither team found the crucial breakthrough with Ati Zigi denying Uruguay a place in the knockout round with two brilliant saves.