It seems almost impossible to consider, almost inconceivable to fathom. A soccer player, one of the best in the world, jockeys for position in a World Cup game and, at just the right moment as to be out of view of the referee, leans in to take a bite out of his opponent’s shoulder as if it were a piece of beef jerky.
Pure madness, to be sure, but wait for the unbelievable part: This was not his first in-game snack. And not his second, either.
For the third time in the past four years, Uruguay’s star striker, Luis Suárez, appeared to bite a player on the other team when he clashed with Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini late in the second half of Uruguay’s 1-0 victory here. As in the previous two incidents, Suárez’s apparent chomp went unnoticed by the game officials. Chiellini raced toward the Mexican referee, Marco Rodriguez, immediately afterward, pulling his jersey to the side in an effort, it seemed, to show Rodriguez the bite marks. Other Italian players also yelled at the official, who did not respond.
Suárez, meanwhile, retreated upfield. Just moments later, Uruguay’s captain, Diego Godín, headed home the game’s only goal to eliminate the Italians and ensure La Celeste’s place in the knockout rounds. It is unclear, though, whether Suárez will play in the Round of 16 or beyond. While he was not punished during the game, it is possible that FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, could suspend him anyway. In each of his previous two biting incidents, Suárez received lengthy bans after the fact.
A history of petulance
Perhaps most stunning about the apparent bite was that Suárez, in recent months, had made a public attempt to rehabilitate his image. In addition to his previous biting episodes, he was also suspended for allegedly making insensitive comments to an opponent during a game. He seemed intent on showing the world that he had changed. In an interview with The New York Times in May, Suárez, who led Liverpool to a second-place finish in the English Premier League this past season, expressed remorse about his past petulance.
“Obviously, it’s not the most attractive image that I can have for myself,” Suárez said. “But that’s not what I want to be remembered for. I want to do things right. I really, really do.”
The Suárez incident was the nadir in a game that, for the most part, lacked quality. Initially, this game was picked by many as one that would settle who won Group D. Costa Rica’s surprising demolition of Uruguay and Italy in its first two games, however, quickly rendered that line of thinking irrelevant, and it instead turned into a deliberate battle for tournament survival.
Both teams had battled inconsistency during the group phase. Italy was unconvincing in its opening victory over England in Manaus before being beaten by Costa Rica, while Uruguay followed the reverse path, getting a late winner from Suárez in São Paulo to earn its three points against the Three Lions.
There was hope that the stakes of the game might prompt the sides to open up, but even with Suárez and Italy’s star striker Mario Balotelli on the field, there was little flow to the first hour. Italy Coach Cesare Prandelli started with a lineup that included Ciro Immobile, the top scorer in Serie A this past season, but that did not translate to any more attack.
The first half was dull, with both teams clogging the midfield and more fouls than real chances. The opening to the second half brought more of the same, but a pulse was found on the hour mark after Rodrigeuz, the referee, showed a red card to Italy’s Claudio Marchisio for a reckless tackle on José María Giménez.
The Italians were enraged: Gianluigi Buffon, the team’s goalkeeper and captain, raced 60 yards from his penalty area to protest, but Marchisio could have few complaints. He put his studs into Giménez’s leg and the referee was perfectly positioned to see it. Italy was reduced to 10 men. From there, the Uruguayans picked up the pace of their attack and – after Suárez’s apparent return to nibbling – Godín provided the goal La Celeste needed to advance. All that remains to be seen now is whether Suárez, their enigma, will join them.
Italy coach resigns
NATAL: Italy coach Cesare Prandelli says he is resigning after his team was eliminated from the World Cup. Prandelli, who criticised a red card decision on Claudio Marchisio in the second half, announced his resignation at the start of his post-match news conference. Minutes later, Italian Football Federation president Giancarlo Abete, sitting next to Prandelli, announced he was also resigning. (AP)