Suarez joins Maradona, Henry in handball hall of infamy

The debate over whether Luis Suarez is a selfless hero prepared to sacrifice himself for the glory of Uruguay, or a villainous cheat who denied Africa a historic World Cup victory, is sure to continue for months.

But one thing is certain: when Suarez threw up his hands to block a goal-bound effort in Friday’s quarter-final in Johannesburg against Ghana, he assured his place alongside Diego Maradona and Thierry Henry in an unholy triumvirate of the perpetrators of football’s most infamous handballs.

In the dying seconds of extra time, Suarez, 23, palmed away a header that would have given Ghana a 2-1 victory and seen them become the first ever African nation to reach a World Cup semi-final.

The referee produced a red card, and off went a distraught Suarez.

But he was soon leaping around in delight as Asamoah Gyan crashed the resultant spot-kick off the bar. Ghana then lost 4-2 on penalties.

As with Henry and Maradona’s handballs, Suarez’s actions raise thorny moral questions about a game in which sportsmanlike conduct has become the exception rather than the norm.

Gyan, who was inconsolable after the game, said that the Uruguayan would now be viewed as a hero, while Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac called it a “sporting injustice”.

But Suarez showed no remorse.

“It was worth it to be sent off in this way,” he said after the game. “I was very sad because no one likes to be sent off but there was no other choice.” Many, however, feel there was a choice: he could have let the ball cross the line.

“Beautiful Game? The French got into the tournament by cheating ... and now Suarez is viewed as a hero for deliberately cheating as well,” one angry reader wrote on, summing up African resentment at the manner of Ghana’s exit.

Suarez’s red card means he will automatically miss the semi-final against the Netherlands, but he may miss the final should Uruguay triumph. FIFA on Friday said it would open a disciplinary committee to look into the incident. The committee has the power to extend the ban for “unsportsmanlike conduct”.

Millions will feel this punishment is not enough, but Uruguay boss Oscar Tabarez defended his player, saying his actions were “instinctive” — a flawed argument given that the word implies an unthinking reaction.

Had Suarez been anywhere but the goal-line, he would have let the ball pass. Instead — rightly or wrongly — he took the decision to handle, knowing full well the consequences of his actions.

The same can be said of Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal, which now faces the prospect of being eclipsed by Suarez’s effort. Suarez went so far as to lay claim to Maradona’s title, saying: “The Hand of God, it’s mine now.” The Argentinian legend drew the wrath of England when he leapt into the air and fisted the ball over advancing goalkeeper Peter Shilton during the South Americans’ 2-1 victory over England in the quarter-final of Mexico 1986.

Maradona was just as unrepentant as Suarez.

At least Thierry Henry had the decency to suffer a typically French existential crisis after his handball against Ireland in the qualifying play—off for South Africa.

Henry handled the ball twice to control it in the Irish penalty box before crossing for William Gallas to score the winning goal in a 2-1 extra-time victory.

The French icon later apologized for the handball and said it had led him to consider quitting international football as waves of criticism crashed down upon him.

Howls of Irish protest followed France all the way to the South Africa, and many felt Les Bleus got their just desserts when they descended into infighting and crashed out in the first round.

Given his immediate response, Suarez seems set to go down the route of Maradona in shrugging off the handball. But unlike Maradona, the moment is likely to define the Ajax striker’s career.

Four minutes after scoring with his hand, Maradona waltzed through virtually the entire England team to score what many regard as the greatest individual goal of all time.

This talent ensured Maradona is remembered for much more than one moment of shameless cheating. But Suarez, while a good player, is highly unlikely to achieve as much as Maradona.

No matter how many goals he scores with boot or head, it will be his hand he is remembered for, and ultimately this may lead him to regret his impulsive decision.

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Printable version | Sep 20, 2021 10:34:23 AM |

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