Luis Suarez flew home to Uruguay on Friday after being thrown out of the World Cup and banned from soccer for four months for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini, who criticized the punishment as “excessive”.
Liverpool striker Suarez was met by outraged President Jose Mujica when he landed at a military base next to Uruguay’s main airport before dawn, an air force spokesman said.
Mujica had joined hundreds of fans who gathered at the airport on Thursday night to show their support for Suarez but they left after a few hours when it became clear he had not yet left Brazil.
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After his arrival on Friday, Suarez, his wife and other family members were driven to a home he has in the small coastal town of Solymar and the player appeared keen on maintaining a low profile. The 27-year-old star striker has not publicly spoken since soccer’s world governing body FIFA ruled on Thursday that he cannot play in Uruguay’s next nine competitive matches and suspended him from all soccer-related activity for four months.
Excessive, says Chiellini
The ban has sparked fury in his homeland and even Chiellini, whose shoulder Suarez sank his teeth into, came out on Friday and said he felt no anger towards the Uruguayan. “Now inside me there’s no feelings of joy, revenge or anger against Suarez for an incident that happened on the pitch and that’s done,” the Juventus centre back said in a statement on his website.
“At the moment my only thought is for Luis and his family, because they will face a very difficult period. I have always considered unequivocal the disciplinary interventions by the competent bodies, but at the same time I believe that the proposed formula is excessive,” Chiellini added.
The punishment immediately ended Suarez’s involvement in the World Cup, with Uruguay due to face an in-form Colombia in a round of 16 tie on Saturday. “He is totally distraught. He never thought the punishment would be so severe,” said Alejandro Balbi, a member of the Uruguayan Football Association’s board and Suarez’s lawyer.
FIFA ruled that Suarez bit Chiellini during Uruguay’s final group match on Tuesday, as his side knocked Italy out of the tournament with a 1-0 victory. Suarez’s ban is the longest ever imposed at a World Cup. It means he is unlikely to appear in competitive matches for his country until 2016 and he will also miss the first two months of the Premier League season in England.
Although it was the third time Suarez has been banned for biting, his team mates and most Uruguayans jumped to defend him, believing the punishment was excessive. “There are different standards. That’s what infuriates and hurts us most,” Mujica said on Thursday night in an appearance on a TV show hosted by former Argentine star Diego Maradona, who also said FIFA had over-reacted.
‘Who Did Suarez Kill?’
The outspoken Diego Maradona went even further, blasting the ban as “criminal” and saying that FIFA might as well handcuff the striker and lock him up in Guantanamo prison. “Who did Suarez kill?” Maradona said during his soccer commentary programme broadcast on Venezuela’s Telesur and Argentine public television on Thursday night. “This is football, this is contact,” the Argentine legend said. “They may as well handcuff him and bring him to Guantanamo directly.”
Maradona, who like Suarez emerged from a poor background to rise to global fame, fervently defended “Luisito” throughout the programme, at the end even unveiling a T-shirt with “We’re with you Luisito” scrawled on the front.
“If he made a mistake, fine, they should punish him, but they shouldn’t exaggerate, they shouldn’t be moralistic.”