Uruguay go through but Luis Suarez in the dock again
Striker at the centre of another biting controversy as Italy knocked out in Natal after Godin winner
The Uruguayan forward may be out of the World Cup if Fifa decide to take disciplinary action against him after an apparent bite on Italy’s defender Giorgio Chiellini - which would be the third such offence Suarez has committed since the last World Cup.
Chiellini confirmed after the match that he had been bitten. “It was ridiculous not to send Suarez off,” he said. “It was clear, clear-cut, and then there was the obvious dive afterwards because he knew he had done something he shouldn’t have done.”
A group eliminator between Italy and Uruguay was always going to be as close as football gets to a prison fight with improvised shivs, though nobody expected it to get as weird as it ultimately did.
It was bad-tempered from the beginning. First, the two teams circled warily. Then they started kicking each other. Barzagli on Suarez. Rodriguez on Chiellini. Alvaro Pereira on Verratti. Balotelli on Arevalo. The last of these brought the first booking, though there could have been several by that stage. Balotelli stalked around the pitch fuming and looking likely to draw a second yellow card at any moment.
Cesare Prandelli evidently feared that Balotelli would get sent off because he withdrew him at half-time. What happened after 59 minutes hinted at the futility of trying to second-guess fate, as instead one of the Italian coach’s most trusted and experienced players succumbed to a moment of madness.
Claudio Marchisio was dribbling through midfield when a heavy touch allowed Arevalo Rios to intercept. Perhaps frustrated at his poor technique, the Juventus midfielder lunged studs-up at Arevalo’s shin, and referee Rodriguez produced a deserved red card.
At least now Italy understood their objective. Before the game they had perhaps entertained doubts over whether to protect the draw, or go for the win. Now it was about getting a clean sheet at all costs. Uruguay hadn’t looked like scoring when Italy were pretending to try to win the game. Would they look any more dangerous against blanket defence?
On 70 minutes, Uruguay had their best chance thus far. Cavani’s shot at the edge of the box ricocheted fortunately for Suarez, who darted forward and stabbed a shot goalwards with the outside of his right foot. Buffon read his intentions and saved low to his right. Suarez should have scored.
Prandelli made a defensive substitution on 71 minutes, replacing the exhausted Immobile with Cassano. Four minutes later Italy suffered more misfortune, as Marco Verratti went down and indicated he could no longer continue. Thiago Motta replaced him.
The controversy erupted five minutes later.
Chiellini had been alternately dealing out physical punishment and crying wolf to the referee all game. On 80 minutes, Suarez, who is equally as hard on opponents’ nerves, pursued the Italian into the area. Chiellini blocked his run, Suarez closed with the Italian and dipped his head towards his shoulder in a familiar manner. Chiellini flung out his arm, and both players fell to the ground and rolled around affecting injury.
Chiellini, however, quickly leapt up with a look of outrage and ran towards the referee. He was pulling his shirt down off his shoulder and seemed to be drawing attention to it - confusingly at first - was he trying to show that Suarez had pulled his shirt so hard he’d ripped it? Slowly, the true meaning of Chiellini’s gesture became clear. In a comical counterpoint, Suarez could be seen gingerly rubbing his front teeth.
The Italian protests drew no action from the Mexican referee, and before they had time to compose themselves, the decisive moment of the match was upon them. A Uruguay corner was swung over from the right. Their captain, Diego Godin, had headed the opening goals in the Liga decider against Barcelona and the Champions League final against Real Madrid. He did it again in Natal, rising highest to head powerfully into Buffon’s bottom-left corner.
Italy knew they were done and created nothing at the death. The focus by then, however, was all on Suarez. He played terribly in those last few minutes, wasting a late three-on-one Uruguay break through unusual indecision. With the final whistle a great roar went up from the Uruguay support. Within half an hour of the whistle, Chiellini confirmed that Suarez had bitten him. Uruguay’s number nine may have played his last part in this World Cup.