By Mark Gleeson
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan's penalty miss in the dying seconds of extra time against Uruguay on Friday cost the African side a place in the World Cup semi-finals and broke hearts across the continent.
Uruguay's 4-2 shootout win after a 1-1 draw took them into the last four for the first time in 40 years where they will face Netherlands, who earlier shocked Brazil 2-1, and stopped Ghana becoming the first African side to reach the semis.
Gyan blasted his spot kick against the bar with the last kick in added time on a night of pulsating drama at Soccer City that not even a Hollywood scriptwriter would have penned.
Uruguay made the most of being let off the hook to progress with Fernando Muslera saving two of Ghana's penalties before a cheeky chipped spot kick from Sebastian Abreu that was full of Latin bravado and panache delivered the spoils.
Uruguay celebrated their good fortune with unbridled joy on the pitch while Gyan broke down and wept. Ghana's Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac struggled to hold back the tears at the post-match news conference.
"At the end we had a historic opportunity. It would have been a fairytale. We didn't deserve to lose in this way," Rajevac said, his eyes swollen as he bit repeatedly at his bottom lip.
The difference between the sweet taste of victory and bitter defeat turned on a handball by Uruguay forward Luis Suarez on the line that denied Ghana a goal in the final seconds.
While he was sent off for the offence, and will miss the semi-final, Uruguay got an effective lifeline that they snatched to book a meeting with the Dutch in Cape Town on Tuesday.
"We did what we had to do to win without playing brilliantly," was Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez's response to a question about the credibility of his side's success.
Ghana had taken the lead on the stroke of halftime when Sulley Muntari, restored to the starting lineup after an earlier bust-up with the coach, fired a speculative shot from long range that deceived Uruguay keeper Muslera.
It came after the Africans had weathered a jittery opening spell as Uruguay's much vaunted attack of Suarez and Diego Forlan set up three good early chances.
Uruguay equalised 10 minutes into the second half when Forlan struck a wicked swerving free kick over the top of the defense and keeper Richard Kingson.
But it was the Black Stars who had the better of the late chances in a flowing game that taxed the physical conditioning of both sides.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)