In Italy, we call “meteora” (meteor) a football player who lives a short period of glory before fading away, back into anonymity. The World Cup is full of such stories, of players who in some way managed to find their edge right during those 30 days, once in four years, when the whole world revolves around a foot ball. They shone on the most important stage, and then quickly turned back into regular journeymen, or even worse disappeared from the calcio che conta (“football that matters”). Like a broken spell. Like a dream from which they suddenly woke up.
Antonio Guarini takes us through a journey among the Top 10 “one-hit-wonders” in the recent history of the World Cup. Some of them helped Italy climb to the top of the world, some others recall painful memories for the Azzurri. But all share the same fascinating meteora status, all found the magic formula to sparkle and shine just when it mattered most.
They may not have been Ballon d’Or winning champions, but we are sure that these names will ring a bell or two to all football lovers.
8) Asamoah Gyan’s Penalty Nightmare
It is said that, just one moment before dying, a person relives their whole life in an instant. In the case of Asamoah Gyan, one of the top images will likely be that moment in which he hit the crossbar from a penalty kick that could have consigned him to the history of African football.
World Cup 2010 in South Africa: Ghana and Uruguay are battling for a spot in the Semi Finals. Regular time ended on a 1-1 tie. With just one minute to go during extra time, Ghana keep pushing and force Luis Suarez to “save” a shot, parrying it back with his hand right on the goal line. El Pistolero is sent off, and the Black Stars are awarded a penalty.
Asamoah kicks from the penalty spot, but his shot hits the woodwork. Ghana will be eventually eliminated after a penalty shootout roulette. Had he scored his golden chance, Gyan would have sent an African team among the top four in a World Cup for the first time in history. Conversely, it will be El Maestro Oscar Washington Tabarez’s Uruguay to make it to the Semi Finals. And what is worse, is that Gyan will score his penalty during the shootout lottery…
The Ghanaian striker played a few seasons in Italy during his career, wearing Modena and Udinese’s jerseys. As of today, he is still active, playing in Turkey for Kayserispor. How many times in the last eight years must Asamoah Gyan have thought again about that damned penalty? Uruguay lost their Semi Final march against the Netherlands, and Suarez missed the game due to the expulsion he suffered for parrying back Ghana’s dreams.
One could say that the Quarter Final between the Black Stars and La Celeste was the sliding doors moment of World Cup 2010. It had the same effect on the career of Asamoah, whom back in the days was playing with Rennes in France. Scoring a last-minute goal during the extra times of a World Cup Quarter Final would have given him an immense visibility. Maybe he would have ended up playing in more important clubs than Sunderland, Al Ain, Shangai SIPg, Shabab, and Kayserispor.
Maybe he would have even made much more money. Perhaps Ghana would have ended up being the first African country to reach a World Cup Final. But a South African crossbar decided that all this was not going to happen. Still, as Italian singer Francesco De Gregori put it, non è da questi particolari che si giudica un calciatore (“you can’t judge a football player from such small details”).
Even in the case of Asamoah Gyan, the missed hero of Ghana.
Translated by Matteo Carnevale