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Published Jul. 5, 2010

Times wires

JOHANNESBURG - The heartbreak lingered, yet Ghana's team exited from the World Cup in heroic fashion after coming within an inches-too-high kick of advancing further than any African team in history.

A day after their devastating shootout loss to Uruguay in the quarterfinals, the Ghanaian players had a South African version of red-carpet treatment, visits Saturday to the homes of former president Nelson Mandela and his ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, icons of the anti-apartheid movement.

"It's a dream come true," said MDerek Boateng after the team met Mandela at his mansion in an affluent Johannesburg neighborhood. "He is a legend, you know, and everybody is talking about him. It is the first time we have met him."

Earlier, the team visited Madikizela-Mandela at her home in the black township of Soweto. Sowetans applauded and cheered the players as they got off their police-escorted bus, which bore a sign reading "The Hope of Africa."

The Black Stars' loss Friday night was agonizing. With seconds left in extra time and the score tied at 1, a handball stopped a certain Ghana goal. A penalty kick by Ghana's Asamoah Gyan that would have won the match hit the crossbar. Uruguay won in a shootout 4-2.

"I'm okay. I'm all right," Gyan said outside Madikizela-Mandela's house, looking like he'd shaken off some of the despair that had overcome him after the missed penalty kick.

ARGENTINA:Diego Maradona cast doubt about his future as coach, saying he'd been drained of all his energy in the 4-0 quarterfinal loss to Germany, an experience he likened to being floored by Muhammad Ali.

"I may leave tomorrow, but I'd like that these boys continue showing who they are and keep playing real Argentina football," said Maradona, looking exhausted and heartbroken.

Argentina's Diarios y Noticias newspaper reported on its website that Maradona had a verbal confrontation with some German fans behind the Argentine bench right after the game.

URUGUAY: The sport's governing body suspended F Luis Suarez for one match - which would have been his penalty anyway for drawing a red card - for his deliberate handball to deny Ghana the winning goal Friday. He can return for the next match, either the final or the third-place game.

FOR SALE: Nearly 1,900 tickets are available for Tuesday's Uruguay-Netherlands semifinal at Cape Town's 64,100-capacity Green Point stadium. Overseas fans must pay $200-$600. South African residents can pay $91 for one category of tickets. Some seats were released by Brazilian fans after their team was ousted.