Al Wakrah, Qatar, December 3
Giorgian de Arrascaeta netted twice in six minutes as a resurgent Uruguay beat Ghana 2-0 on Friday in a battle for their World Cup survival, only to crash out agonisingly on goals scored after South Korea's shock win over Portugal.
In Group H deciders that went right down to the wire, Uruguay had one foot in the last 16 before South Korea scored in stoppage time to go through by virtue of notching one goal more than the South Americans over their three matches.
Uruguay had left themselves with a mountain to climb, with their cast of big-name strikers unable to find the net in their opening games, leading to their first group-stage exit in two decades.
"Without doubt, we did everything we could. We paid dear," said De Arrascaeta.
"We are sad because we left our all in this game, we scored goals and the outcome didn't depend on us, it left us out." Veteran striker Luis Suarez, playing in his fourth World Cup, was recalled to the team as captain and was instrumental in both of the goals. At the final whistle, he was inconsolable and in tears after Uruguay's fate was sealed.
With South Korea tied with Portugal late in their match and Uruguay two goals up, La Celeste looked almost certain to go through before the pendulum swung agonisingly in the direction of South Korea.
Uruguay went on the attack right from the start of the match with front-three Facundo Pellistri, Suarez and Darwin Nunez combing seamlessly to create a succession of chances, and Nunez having a goalbound effort cleared away.
Uruguay finally broke the deadlock on 26 minutes when Nunez's cross was missed by two defenders and found Suarez, whose low shot was spilled by the keeper for De Arrascaeta to head home from close range.
They struck again six minutes later, when Nunez flicked the ball on to Suarez, who knocked it on to De Arrascaeta to volley brilliantly under the keeper.
The late drama overshadowed what was billed as a grudge match between the two teams, with Suarez - much reviled in Ghana and beyond - the architect of the African side's exit from the 2010 quarter-finals.
Suarez was famously given a red card in South Africa for using his hand to block an extra-time winner for Ghana, who missed the resulting spot kick and lost out to Uruguay in a penalty shootout.
In a painful twist, it was Ghana who could have scored first on Friday in Al Wakrah, with a penalty, awarded after a stinging shot from Jordon Ayew was parried by keeper Sergio Rochet, who pulled down the onrushing Mohammed Kudus.
Andre Ayew, the only survivor from the Ghana squad of 2010, fired tamely at Rochet, giving Uruguay the impetus to double down on their attack.
With a South Korean win still possible in the other simultaneous match, Uruguay battled hard for the decisive goals and sought more after the break, with Ferderico Valverde going close with a volley outside the area and substitute Edinson Cavani desperately trying to carve out chances.
Uruguay had a penalty appeal turned down after a VAR review showed Daniel Amartey getting the slightest of touches to the ball in a challenge that brought down Nunez.
But they struggled to further break down Ghana and boost their goal difference and fought desperately as news spread around the Al Janoub Stadium of South Korea's winner. Maxi Gomex fired off a shot that was saved by keeper Lawrence Ati-Zigi two minutes from time.
The Uruguayan bench erupted when Cavani went down in the box after colliding with Alidu Seidu, only for the referee to wave play on.
"For 80 minutes, we were qualified. We had many chances to do it but in the end it wasn't possible," Uruguay coach Diego Alonso said.
Suarez apologised to the people of Uruguay for the failure, but took a swipe at world governing body FIFA for denying his team penalties he said would have been awarded to other teams.
"FIFA is always against Uruguay," he said.
"We gave our best, every one of us, it hurts the situation. We were full of hope. It was not possible," Suarez said.
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