Luis Suarez, the player from Uruguay red-carded in the 121st minute of the Uruguay-Ghana game in the Word Cup quarterfinals, has turned from a goat into a hero, at least in his home country. While his handball was a blatant foul, it put his team into the semifinals of the World Cup.
Cheating is never a good thing, but there are times when a player must sacrifice himself for the team. And for Luis Suárez, who plays as a forward, this was one of those times.
The situation was this: in the waning moments of the second overtime, with Uruguay behind by one, Suárez, positioned on the goal line, used his knee to block Stephen Appiah’s attempt at a goal. Then Dominic Adiyiah headed the ball. As it rushed high toward Suárez, he used his hands to slap the ball away from the goal.
The referee immediately blew his whistle and issued Suárez a straight red card, which he deserved for such a blatant foul in the box. The ref awarded Ghana a penalty kick.
As Suárez headed for the locker room, Ghana star Asamoah Gyan pinged the ball off the crossbar and the realization must have come to a distraught Suárez that he had saved the game, at least for the moment, giving his team the chance to win in penalty kicks.
I can’t say if Suárez made a calculated decision. But I do know if he hadn’t committed the foul, his team would have lost the game right then. The headed ball, which Suárez saved by illegally using his hands, was going to be a goal. Ghana would have been ahead by one in the final moments of the game, virtually assuring that Uruguay would be sent home.
So, what of Suárez’s behavior? Some call it cheating and others say it’s part of the game—and it’s probably some of both. After all, Suárez had used his hands illegally. But, he did what a player sometimes has to do—sacrifice himself for the team.
You’ve probably seen it several times over the course of the World Cup. A defender trips a striker, grabs his shirt as he races to the goal, or pushes a player in the box to prevent him from heading a corner kick. The offending player might get a card, and the striker gets a free kick—or if it occurred in the box—perhaps a PK. But, the carded player made a strategic decision (at least some of the time) to take the card and penalty rather than have the other team score. Of course, sometimes players just shove and trip out of pure thuggishness, but that’s another story.
Suárez did what he had to do for his team. And yes, what he did was illegal, but after his penalty the game was still Ghana’s to lose. At the point of his infraction, Suárez just stopped them from having a sure win.
The awarding of a yellow or red card is meant to be a deterrent. A yellow card is a warning; a second one in a single game (or in this World Cup, a player who receives his second yellow of the tournament in the quarterfinal will be banned from the semifinal, but players face no consequence for a single yellow card in the semifinal so that teams can be at full strength in the final.) So two yellows in different games in the early stages of the World Cup equals a red card and the player misses the next game.
A straight red card as Suárez received requires the team of the player who received it to play down a man the rest of the game, giving the other team a one-man advantage. And the player receiving the red card is not permitted to play in the next game.
In this instance, the penalty of a red card made little difference. The game was in its final seconds. There was no time for Ghana to have the advantage of playing a man up, so except for the penalty kick taken by Ghana, there was no penalty at all. Suárez saved the ball, disallowing a definite goal. Ghana was given a penalty kick, which was blocked, allowing Suárez’s team to win in penalty kicks. Ultimately, Suárez saved the game for his team.
Was the illegal use of his hands a strategic decision or a reflexive reaction? Who knows?
But drawing a card is sometimes a defensive tactic—of desperation, perhaps—but a tactic that sacrifices the player for the good of the team. Is it cheating or poor sportsmanship? Perhaps. Thuggish? At times.
But in this case, Suárez is the one with a penalty. He will sit out the semi-final game against the Netherlands, unable to play in this key game. Is it penalty enough?
I can’t say, but I do know he took one for the team.