Uruguay football officials were fighting last night to prevent their star striker from receiving a lengthy ban.
Most immediately, though, they are battling to ensure Luis Suarez remains available for Saturday evening's World Cup second round game against Colombia, something that could happen even if, as expected, Fifa's charge against him in relation to his apparent bite on Giorgio Chiellini in Tuesday's game against Italy is upheld.
Fifa said a verdict was likely to be announced either last night or today, with the game’s governing body acknowledging it is under pressure to deal swiftly with the case so that any appeals process can be initiated and, ideally, concluded, ahead of the weekend.
The organisation, however, was unable to say Suarez would not be available for his team’s next game, assuming he is found guilty in the first place, with much depending on the scale of any punishment imposed and the timing of the inevitable appeals.
Fifa’s disciplinary committee has the power to ban the 27-year-old for up to 24 matches or two years; precedent suggests this would only apply to international games, although there is the potential to apply it to club football too.
For anything more than three matches, he has a right of appeal both within the organisation and to the Court for Arbitration in Sport (CAS). If the ban is shorter than that, CAS would be the Uruguayan’s only hope.
In both instances, the appeals would be expected to be heard very quickly, but the Uruguayans would inevitably need to be allowed some time to prepare their case on each occasion. Tat may yet allow them, at the very least, to string the process out beyond the weekend.
Suarez’s lawyer, Alejandro Balbi, a board member of the Uruguayan Football Association (AUF), was being rather feistier than that about the situation yesterday as he prepared to fly to Rio de Janeiro with AUF president Wilmar Valdez to present the player’s case to the initial disciplinary hearing.
“We’re polishing off a defence argument,” he told journalists amid suggestions yesterday that the association might go as far as to claim Reuters photographs of Chiellini’s exposed shoulder taken shortly after the incident had been digitally altered so as to frame the striker.
“We don’t have any doubts that this has happened because it’s Suarez, and secondly because Italy was eliminated,” continued Balbi. “There’s a lot of pressure from England and Italy and there is a possibility that they ban him, because there are precedents.
“But we’re convinced that it was an absolutely casual play, because if Chiellini can show a scratch on one shoulder, Suarez can show a bruised and almost shut eye. If every player starts showing the injuries he suffers and they open inquiries for them, everything will be way too complicated in the future. We’re going to use all the arguments possible so that Luis gets out in the best possible way.”
Additional footage and pictures of the incident that emerged in the hours after it seemed only to strengthen the case against Suarez.
Nevertheless, he protested his innocence, insisting at one stage that the contact with Chiellini had been “chest to shoulder”, despite having clearly clutched his mouth as he lay on the ground immediately afterwards.
The stakes are, of course, high for the 27-year-old. Apart from being acutely aware after the opening round games of the extent to which his team’s fortunes at this tournament depend on him, there is also his club future to think about.
The Liverpool striker signed a new contract with the club only last December and it is reported that this reportedly involved what would be a world record buy-out clause to prise him away from Anfield. Despite that, there have been persistent rumours that he would prefer to be at Real Madrid or Barcelona.
Clearly a ban that included club games would make the possibility of any such move more remote - although an international-only suspension could, ironically, have the effect of making the striker look more attractive to top level suitors.