Oh boy, Luis Suarez does seem to thrive off playing the pantomime villain, doesn’t he? Newspaper headline writers up and down the country must have been ready to type out some “Italian Job” headline. Few would have imagined they’d have been writing about Jaws by the end of Italy v Uruguay. Both teams were in the same position, a terrific win against England and a poor loss to Costa Rica. This was winner takes all. Uruguay were the much better side, they deserved a win, but the manner in which they won the game was unsettling. Suarez had marred the World Cup in 2010 with his “Hand of Devil” antics against Ghana, but four years later in Brazil, he took it a step further. His crime wasn’t a football injustice, it was a physical assault. What’s a winner take all game without a little controversy though?
For two nations who were renowned for their beautiful style of play, this game devolved into World Cup Fight Club. Early on in the game Mario Balotelli was fouled by Cristian Rodriquez and Egidio Arevelo, with the latter seeming to stamp on Balotelli’s back as the players tumbled to the ground.
The rumble in the jungle stopped briefly for a rare moment of football quality. Andrea Pirlo hit a free kick from over 30 yards out with remarkable accuracy but, Fernando Muslera managed to tip the ball over the crossbar to keep the score at 0-0.
With one of the games rare moments of talent out the way, the fighting took centre stage once more. Mattia De Sciglio, Italy’s left wing back, was sprinting down the wing to collect a loose ball deep in Uruguayan territory. Jose Gimenez rushed across, first clipping De Sciglio’s leg, then nudging his body into the Italians. The contact wasn’t especially hard, but the pace at which Milan’s full-back was going saw him fall into an advertising board.
Balotelli was evidently getting riled up in this competitive battle. At one stage he challenged for a header by leaping over the head of Alvaro Pereira, clattering his knees into the back of Pereira’s head. Balotelli was given a yellow card for his antics, giving Cesare Prandelli a headache. His explosive striker was a red card risk at the best of time. Given that he had to play over an hour of this feisty game with a booking to his name, it was going to be a long one.
Back to a rare moment of actual football and Gianluigi Buffon pulled off a terrific double save to keep the score down. Suarez played a clever one-two with Nicholas Lodeiro, with the former receiving the ball wide on the left of the six-yard box. Suarez hit the shot low and hard, with Buffon diving low to save the first shot. The ball fell to Lodeiro who blasted it goalwards. The aging Buffon leapt up with the spring of a ‘keeper ten years younger than he was to slap the ball down, before finally gathering it in his arms.
There are few certainties in life. One is this: Everybody loves Andrea Pirlo. Another is, everyone hates Luis Suarez. It’s just the way it is. So when Suarez put in a nasty slide tackle on Pirlo in Natal, the world all came together in a moment of serenity to unite to call Luis Suarez a bastard. Even Suarez must have thought that about himself in that moment, immediately putting his head in his hands in shock. Pirlo merely stood up and shook his head, not in anger, but in disappointment.
Into the second half and Italy were immensely lucky not to concede a penalty. Maxi Pereira fired a cross into the box, which was headed away by Leonardo Bonucci. Alvaro Gonzalez headed the ball back into the danger zone towards Edinson Cavani. Neither Cavani nor Bonucci jumped for the ball, rather both players grappled with each other, with Bonucci getting a bit heavy handed, throwing Cavani to the ground. Staggeringly, the Mexican referee, Marco Rodriguez, signalled that Cavani should get up.
With an hour gone, the violence went up a notch. Claudio Marchisio saw red for a brutal, leg breaker of a challenge on Egidio Arevalo. Marchisio went in for a 50-50, his foot stamping just below the knee of Arevalo. The Uruguayan quite rightly crumpled to the ground in agony. The referee flashed the red card, Marchisio had the audacity to complain against the decision.
With a man advantage, Uruguay started to turn the screw. Cavani set up Suarez with a pass from just outside the box. The Liverpool striker drove into the area and hit a shot towards goal. Gigi Buffon had no intention of conceding though, throwing a strong left hand to deny Suarez. From the resulting corner, one of the World Cup’s most scandalous events occurred.
Two players bumped into each other at the front post, with the imposing centre-back Chiellini going to ground for seemingly nothing. The video replay showed Suarez putting his face unusually close to Chiellini’s shoulder. Chiellini got up and showed the referee marks on his shoulder which looked decidedly like bite marks. The referee opted not to take action, as he could not be certain that the marks were bite marks, and he was unable to use video replays. The players were absolutely furious, both at Suarez and at the referee.
As if things couldn’t get any worse, Uruguay scored from the resulting corner kick. Gaston Ramirez whipped the corner in and found the head of Diego Godin. Godin nodded the ball in and ran wildly towards the crowd in celebration. He knew that if he could keep his defence tight for less than ten minutes then his side would qualify for the last 16.
His job was remarkably easy, all things concerned. Italy were a man down and were so enraged by the happenings of the last ten minutes that they made sloppy mistakes. An Italian coach was sent to the stands for berating the officials. Andrea Pirlo had a free kick in the dying minutes to equalise, but the ball curled wide of the post. The final whistle went and the Uruguayans celebrated. They had been the better team, but their win was tainted to some extent. Who knows what would have happened if Suarez had been shown red?
It was an ugly game, with horrible tackles and malicious moments. Uruguay had the most chances, and probably were the better side overall, but then Italy’s game plan is often to absorb pressure and hit on the break. For the second tournament in a row, Luis Suarez dominated the headlines for all the wrong reasons. This was his third incidence of biting an opponent, with Giorgio Chiellini joining Branislav Ivanovic and Otman Bakkal. He would go on to serve a four-match ban as punishment for his antics. Uruguay lost to a punishing Colombia side in the next round, Italy exited in the shame of not qualifying for the knockouts for successive World Cups, with manager Cesare Prandelli resigning after the tournament. If only the referee had shown Suarez the red card he so rightly deserved, perhaps Italy would have defended the following corner. Maybe they would have gone on to win, to qualify for the knockouts. That referee call affected a lot of lives; World Cup 2014 may have been very different had Italy made it to the knockout rounds. All we know for certain is a momentous World Cup memory was created that day. Oh, and that Luis Suarez is a total bastard.
Tomorrow’s game: June 25th. Portugal v Netherlands. 2006.