Bush League or Brilliance? Luis Suarez's Illegal Swat Save Saves Uruguay

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Bush League or Brilliance? Luis Suarez's Illegal Swat Save Saves Uruguay
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Soccer is a game filled with questionable decisions by players. Numerous times a game, players flop, trying to get cards for the opposing player, while gaining free kicks. Once even, Argentina's Diego Maradona used his hand to "head" a ball into the net and score a goal in the 1986 World Cup. While many ridiculed him for cheating, the referee didn't recognize the handball, and gave him the goal. 

So, I guess it's not cheating if you don't get caught, huh?

In today's most recent game, Uruguay vs. Ghana, a similar occurrence to Maradona's Hand of God goal occurred.

During the 122nd minute, Ghana put numerous shots on goal off of a corner. After two saves, a header was destined for the back of the net. That is until Luis Suarez reacted quickly, stuck his hand up, and saved the ball. It was a brilliant save; the only problem was, Suarez is not a goaltender. 

It was a handball in the box. Suarez was given a red card and Ghana was given a penalty kick.

Ghana's penalty kick specialist, Asamoah Gyan took the penalty, but missed. That play ended overtime and pushed the game into penalty kicks, where Uruguay wound up winning, to advance to the World Cup semifinals.

Suarez's handball in the box proved to save the game for Uruguay, and allow them to advance. Given the backlash of Maradona's handball goal in 1986, Suarez's play begs the question: is Suarez a cheater, or was his play brilliant?

Surely, from the vantage point of Uruguay, Suarez is brilliant. He had no option but to stop the ball. If Ghana had scored, it would have been game over and World cup over for Uruguay. It was a life or death situation, and Suarez did whatever it took to survive. He gave his team a new life, and a chance to win it in penalties.

For Ghana, it was a cheap play. A blatant handball is just not something that you do. Suarez faced his punishment, by being sent off and suspended for the next match, but the play had even more severe implications. Ghana should have scored, had it not been for this play. While Gyan could have, and perhaps should have scored his PK, he didn't. That clearly was a momentum shifter, which led to Ghana's demise.

If I was a Ghana fan, I'd be furious. Suarez's play clearly was cheap, yet brilliant in keeping his country's hopes alive.

Suarez's play can be equated to plays in other sports, albeit plays of lesser magnitude.

In basketball, sometimes a defender makes sure to foul an opposing player to prevent that player from scoring an easy basket. It's an intentional foul to stop a score. It's doing what it takes to stop a score.

The play can also be equated to that of a cornerback in American football, who blatantly causes a pass interference penalty to avoid a touchdown. In this case, the offense is given a first down, and more chances to try and score, even though they should have scored on the play in which there was a penalty. While it may have been a cheap penalty, it was necessary.

In each situations, the offenses have an opportunity to score—in soccer, Ghana had a PK; in basketball the player that was fouled has free throws; in American football, a first down a goal. The only difference - which happens to be a major difference - is that a goal is much more rare in soccer than a score is in American football or in basketball.

Given the increased magnitude of Suarez's play, I would expect him to receive some criticism from the rest of the world. However, I consider his incredible reaction one of the most brilliant plays I have ever seen in all of sports.

While he will forever be a goat in the eyes of the Ghanese, he will forever be a hero in Uruguay.

UPDATE - With the help of a few commenters, I realized in hindsight of writing this article that my analogies are not completely sound. Rather than deleting them and adding new analogies, however, i left them as something to think about, while adding this update.

For basketball, the correct analogy to this Suarez play would be goaltending - illegally stopping a clear score from occurring. In basketball, the opposing team receives points for the other team's goaltend; however, I would never expect a goal to be given in soccer, given the rarity of goals scored.

Also, in basketball, whoever goaltends does not receiver as much as a backlash as Suarez has received by some. But again, a score in basketball is not near the importance or rarity as a score in soccer.

In football, there really isn't as similar of a play. While pass interference prevents a touchdown, a touchdown is still not guaranteed prior to the pass interference, whereas the ball was clearly destined for the back of the net when Suarez swatted at it.

Nonetheless, upon a weekend of reflection of the play, I remain on the side that can't blame Suarez for reacting to save his team in a do-or-die situation. And in a game where almost everyone cheats (every team has floppers, players "need" to be carried off towards the end of the game to waste time, every team tackles hard, and tries to get away with as much as they can to win), maybe a play similar to Suarez's is something that we should be come accustomed to, unless FIFA steps in and rectifies some of the questionable occurrences of this World Cup. 

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