The deadly Uruguayan duo had been broken up by an act of opportunistic villainy that still reverberates at Africa's first World Cup. When Luis Suárez slapped away a shot on his own goalline, he helped shape not only Ghana's chances of becoming the first African semifinalists but his own nation's hopes of raising the trophy for the first time in 60 years.

Suárez was vilified long and hard on the grounds that a suspension for the subsequent clash with Holland was a meagre punishment for denying Ghana their place in history. But the real slap was administered in Cape Town.

Here Suárez watched his teammates lose a World Cup semi-final from the doghouse as Diego Forlán, that relentless self-improver, was deprived of his usual accomplice. The Oranje boom goes on.

One of the Uruguayan side-functions is to deliver to this stage a country who have been waiting to regain the world title even longer than England.

In the patience game La Celeste lead the raddled mother country by 60 years to 44. So it was with good reason that English football would have watched through gated fingers as Forlán launched his first-half equaliser after Giovanni van Bronckhorst had scored from a comparable range.

Forlán's riposte swerved a bit but also maintained a sensible trajectory. It drew a rare miscalculation from Maarten Stekelenburg, the Holland keeper, who jinked the wrong way, was too slow to recover and tipped the ball into his own net.

As a heartbreaker Forlán defers to no one. If you want some grand project dashed, Diego is your man. In this year's Europa League, he scored home and away against Liverpool in the semifinals to hasten Rafa Benítez's demise and then struck the two goals that beat Fulham in the final. Then he landed the equaliser that put the skids under Ghana before temporarily negating Holland's obvious superiority in Cape Town with his left-foot drive.

Over the last two months Forlán has finally escaped the ignorant belief that his career should be defined by his unproductive stay at Manchester United. The shock news is that there is life before and after the Premier League.

Only the terminally myopic now cite the eight months, or 27 games, he took to break his duck in a United shirt as the most important statistic of his time in football. More pertinent are his fine record at Villarreal and the 66 goals he has scored in 102 outings for Atlético Madrid, together with two European Golden Shoe awards. His talent glistens and his enthusiasm never wavers.

Which was just as well for Suárez. With his illegal save the younger striker struck a Faustian pact. By piling what turned out to be unsustainable pressure on Ghana's penalty-takers, he warped the outcome but removed himself from the next test.

He was unpleasant about it, prattling about the new Hand of God. But the lord FIFA plucked him out, leaving Uruguay to start with El Matador, Edinson Cavani, alongside Forlán, in Suárez's place.

Cavani comes with a reputation. It was claimed by his club, Palermo that Tottenham had offered €35m (£29m) for him and Simon Kjaer, one of the game's most coveted young defenders, but this was denied by Spurs.

At any rate, he could not match Suárez's 49 goals in 48 games for Ajax or hope to replicate straight away the Forlán-Suárez partnership, which had started badly in the group stage, with the two playing too far apart.

At 31 Forlán knew this was his great chance to extend a family tradition. His father, Pablo, played for Uruguay in the 1966 and 1974 World Cups and the son was the country's inspiration here, leading the side, as captain, to their best effort since the fourth-place finish of 1970.

After the break Forlán was again Uruguay's prime threat, until he was replaced late on. But Holland had their own ghosts to exorcise. Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben landed new Dutch blows before Maxi Pereira aimed one back. The long Uruguayan journey from play-off win against Costa Rica to World Cup semi-final was ending and the Dutch were reaching back into their own distant story of Total Football from the 1970s.

To blame Suárez for Uruguay's defeat would be inane because Holland were on a higher level and displayed flashes of the old Dutch fluidity. Oscar Tabárez's side leave South Africa with dignity intact.

The crime found its punishment and his team are the tournament's top overachievers. But Ghana can at least know that a piece of instinctive cheating boasted about later by the perpetrator didn't prosper for long.

© Guardian News and Media 2010

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