There were tears for all the teams involved on Friday – tears of joy for the Netherlands and Uruguay, and of despair for Brazil and Ghana, as the first two quarter-finals at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ served up almost unbearable drama and tension. The Dutch beat five-time world champions Brazil 2-1, while Uruguay needed penalties to overcome brave Ghana.
A continent cheered for the Black Stars as they bid to become the first African team ever to make the FIFA World Cup semi-finals. It was looking good for Ghana at Soccer City in Johannesburg when Sully Muntari blasted his side in front from fully 35 yards in first-half stoppage time. However, Diego Forlan levelled for Uruguay early in the second half, and the South Americans could easily have gone on to win in normal time.
Ghana boss Milovan Rajevac's men more than matched the Uruguayans in extra time, though, taking the fight to their skilful opponents and coming within inches of winning it in the dying seconds, only for Asamoah Gyan's penalty to hit the bar and fly over. Then, dramatically, the African Brazilians – a nickname earned by Ghana in the 1990s for their ebullient attacking flair – were beaten in the shoot-out by the composed Celeste penalty-takers.
The first clash of the day in Port Elizabeth was shorter on drama but equally long on excitement, as the Netherlands and Brazil squared off for the fourth time at the FIFA World Cup. The Europeans had only won one of those past meetings, back in 1974, but they doubled that tally and booked a fourth semi-finals appearance, keeping alive their hopes of emulating the legendary Cruyff-inspired team of the 1970s and progressing to the Final.
As for the Brazilians, Felipe Melo would be delighted to erase the memory of a horror second half. After missing the Round of 16 tie with suspension, the 27-year-old returned to the starting line-up and laid on Robinho's tenth-minute opener with a slide-rule pass. But just five minutes after Wesley Sneijder had handed the Oranje a 68th-minute lead, Melo was shown a red card for kicking out at Arjen Robben. A Seleção were headed for the exit, and must now wait four long years before launching their quest for a sixth triumph on home soil.
Netherlands 2-1 Brazil
Uruguay 1-1 Ghana (aet, 4-2 pso)
Goal of the day
Netherlands 2-1 Brazil, Wesley Sneijder, 68 minutes: Sneijder is unlikely to forget his fourth goal at these finals. An Arjen Robben corner was flicked on by Dirk Kuyt to the Netherlands playmaker, who nodded home from three yards to seal a 2-1 win over Brazil. Headed goals are a rarity for the midfielder, who stands just 1.70 metres tall, and he underlined the fact by repeatedly slapping his forehead as he charged off to celebrate. "For the goal I just had to get my head on the ball – it was a great feeling," Sneijder said afterwards.
One to remember
It was a moment to make history, and for a player to earn himself footballing immortality. It was the last minute of stoppage time in extra time at the quarter-final between Uruguay and Ghana. Luis Suarez had just been dismissed for deliberately handling a goalbound shot on the line. The score was 1-1, and the Africans had a penalty. Gyan, with two converted spot-kicks to his name at the finals, stepped up for the last kick of the match. He took a five-pace run-up and shot; the ball smacked the top of the bar, flew out of play, and the final whistle blew. Had he scored, Ghana would have been the first-ever African team to make it through to the semi-finals. But the beautiful game can be cruel too: the South Americans held their nerve and won the shoot-out. Coolly converting Ghana's first penalty in the shoot-out will prove to be no consolation at all for Gyan.
Quote of the day
"We've not come here to settle for the semi-finals. Of course what we're experiencing now is fantastic because we've beaten one of the favourites, but the tournament starts for real from now on," Arjen Robben, Netherlands winger.
Stat of the day
24 – The Netherlands' long and successful run just keeps on going. The Elftal are unbeaten in 24 matches. They last tasted defeat back on 6 September 2008 in a 2-1 reverse against Australia in a friendly in Eindhoven. That was also their solitary loss in 26 matches under coach Bert van Marwijk.
Voice of the fans
"Nothing but respect for Gyan. He misses the penalty and then seconds later, he steps in first to shoot and scores...brave man!" FIFA.com user FOne1979.
Have your say
Can the Netherlands emulate the legendary generation featuring Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Rob Rensenbrink and Co, finalists in 1974 and 1978, and reach the FIFA World Cup Final for the third time?