JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Africa’s millions of soccer fans mourned the agonizing exit of Ghana, their last hope for World Cup glory, while four more nations stepped up to battle on Saturday for the remaining longed-for semi-final berths.
Diego Maradona’s Argentina face an equally attack-minded Germany in a hard-to-predict grudge game on Saturday while Spain are favored to overcome Paraguay in the day’s second game to complete the quarter-final round.
Few will ever forget the drama in Johannesburg’s Soccer City on Friday night where Ghana came within a few centimeters of becoming the first Africans ever into a World Cup semi-final.
With the score at 1-1 in the dying seconds of extra time, Uruguay’s striker Luis Suarez stopped a certain goal by handling on the line. He was sent off and Ghana were awarded a penalty, but Asamoah Gyan hit the bar and the match went into a shootout.
Despite fanatical support for Ghana among the 84,000-strong African-majority crowd, Uruguay held their nerve and won the penalty shootout 4-2. Gyan and others wept uncontrollably.
“We didn’t deserve to lose in this way,” Ghana’s coach Milovan Rajevac said. “All I can say is this is football.”
Sharing Ghana’s misery are five-times champions and perennial crowd-pleasers Brazil, who lost 2-1 to Netherlands in Saturday’s other quarter-final.
“I have to take most of the blame,” said Dunga, bowing out as coach after his talent-packed side were upset.
Old rivals Germany and Argentina have been goading each other in the run up to Saturday’s first game at Cape Town’s Green Point stadium.
Argentina, the tournament’s top scorers with 10 goals in open play, are seeking to avenge defeat by Germany on penalties at the same stage of the last World Cup. That game ended in an ugly brawl.
Germany midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger has tried to wind up the Argentines by accusing them of antics. “If you see how they gesticulate, how they try to influence the referee... that is not part of the game, that is a lack of respect.”
Maradona, trying to cut a more statesmanlike figure these days than during his wilder youth, hit back dismissively: “What’s the matter with you, Schweinsteiger, are you nervous?”
On the pitch, Maradona’s men have looked happy and settled during four straight wins. But they face their sternest test against a German side also boasting an attacking flair that belies their past reputation for machine-like organization.
Both teams will be looking to exploit a perceived defensive vulnerability in the other.
“I expect an unbelievably tight match,” said German coach Joachim Loew. “But Argentina can be hurt... We will not be shivering in the changing rooms.”
Few beyond Paraguay’s 6 million people expect them to have any chance of halting talented European champions Spain in the evening clash at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park stadium.
Paraguay’s last two games ended in uninspiring 0-0 draws with New Zealand and Japan, though they put out the Asians on penalties. Yet Paraguay have only conceded one goal in open play in their four World Cup games, and Spain are hardly on fire.
Paraguay are unashamedly setting out to nullify the tournament’s joint top scorer David Villa, and his strike partner Fernando Torres, who looks likely to start again over Fernando Llorente.
“Their way is about creating and ours is more about stopping them and then taking our chances,” said Paraguay goalkeeper Justo Villar.
A shock result for Paraguay would give them a first World Cup semi-final place. A win for Spain would put them within two games of lifting a trophy that has always eluded them despite fielding some fantastically-talented sides over the decades.
If he comes on, Spanish striker Llorente will hope that a skin-tight shirt giving him a passing resemblance to The Incredible Hulk may help intimidate the Paraguayans.
The powerful, 1.95 meters-high player said his shirt has drawn plenty of attention. “Everyone was laughing because it was very tight on me and I looked like Hulk,” he said.
“But I feel very comfortable with it and it also helps my physical performance.”
Reporting by Reuters World Cup team; Editing by Ossian Shine