World Cup One-Hit Wonders: The Asamoah 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 when 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. The regular times 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 then lose at the penalty shootout roulette and are eliminated. 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 was El Maestro Oscar Washington Tabarez’s Uruguay to make it to the Semi Finals. What is worse, is that Gyan did score his penalty during the shootout lottery…

The Ghanaian striker played a few seasons in Italy during his career, wearing the Modena and Udinese jerseys. As of 2021, he was still active, playing in his native Ghana for Legon Cities. How many times in the last 12 years must Asamoah Gyan have thought again about that 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, who 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 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.

Check out the other World Cup One-Hit Wonders in our countdown:
10) Ahn Jung-Hwan, the Korean Killer of Italy
9) Stephan Guivarc’h, the Goalless World Champion