Saturday 25 January 2020

Ghana may feel cheated but try telling that to Luis Suarez

The Black Stars, like the Irish, have only themselves to blame, says Richard Sadlier

Winning is without value if victory has been achieved unfairly or dishonestly. Cheating is easy, but brings no pleasure. Playing fair requires courage and character. It is also more satisfying.

FIFA Fair Play Code

Who am I? I am a goalscorer of immense talent worth millions in the transfer market. I illegally used my arm to ensure my country would avoid elimination from the World Cup. I am seen as a hero by some, as a cheat by others. Though I have been hammered for doing what I did, I have yet to meet a player who said they would have acted any differently given the opportunity.

Yes, you guessed it. I'm Luis Suarez.

Though he was sent off for deliberately handling the ball in the final minute of extra-time in Friday night's World Cup quarter-final between Uruguay and Ghana, Suarez is now a national hero.

Held aloft by his team-mates, he was then paraded in front of the Uruguay fans following the team's penalty shootout victory over Ghana. Having denied a certain goal that would have eliminated them, his intervention meant a semi-final appearance was still a possibility. Had he not done what he did, Ghana would have become the first African nation to reach a World Cup semi-final.

They are understandably outraged and disappointed, as Irish fans have been feeling since our play-off defeat in November. And just like us, they've nobody to blame but themselves.

Though the focus of their elimination will be on the apparent injustice of it all, they are no longer in the World Cup because they failed to score from the penalty-kick in the final minute, and because they missed two more during the shootout that followed.

Many in this country have found great consolation in attributing our absence from South Africa to Thierry Henry, the referee in Paris, or even FIFA president Sepp Blatter. But we are not there because we failed to beat Italy on two occasions, and we failed to outscore France over 210 minutes of football. Both nations finished bottom of their groups in the finals, neither won a game while there, and both went home in disgrace. An inconvenient truth to most of us. It seems it's easier to play the victims.

Ghana are going through the very same, though no blame can be directed at any officials or, indeed, at FIFA. In fact, what happened in the final minutes of the match was a demonstration in how the game should be refereed. Suarez received the correct punishment for what he was adjudged to have done, and the Black Stars got the penalty they deserved.

What transpired beyond that was solely down to the players who remained, but there are now calls in some quarters for FIFA to lengthen Suarez's ban to ensure the integrity of the game at the very highest level is upheld in the way it should. I'm afraid the ship sailed on that particular notion long ago.

In my career, I was never encouraged by coaches to cheat, but I was often criticised for not falling down in the penalty area if a challenge was made by an opponent. None of us were taught to injure others, but if fouling a player denied a scoring opportunity, most of us would have acted accordingly. We always spoke about respecting referees, but we were often instructed to deliberately intimidate and badger officials as much as we could. On no occasion were we ever encouraged to help a referee reverse a favourable decision in the interest of fair play, and I'm certain every one of us would have done what Suarez did on Friday.

Giovanni Trapattoni, among others, has often said that performances are discussed for a day or two, but results are remembered for years. The phrase is used to appease those unimpressed with levels of entertainment in victories, but it can be applied to this debate also. Suarez may be a cheat, and Henry could be one too. But both are responsible for pleasing their supporters and delighting their team-mates, and neither cares for the hurt inflicted on others. It is not their job to concern themselves with such issues. It is their job to achieve success. Those who say otherwise are usually on the receiving end. Very few have such principles following victory.

While it can be argued Suarez's actions were the epitome of professionalism, his public comments can be seen as the opposite. "The 'Hand of God' now belongs to me. Mine is the real Hand Of God. I made the best save of the tournament. Sometimes in training I play as a goalkeeper so it was worth it."

Given he was awaiting FIFA's decision on the length of his ban when he made these remarks, it may not have been wise to taunt Ghana in such a brazen way.

Ghana is in mourning, but the reality is they have only themselves to blame. In time, we will come to the very same conclusion about our own situation. I just wish we would get there a bit quicker.

Sunday Independent

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