Uruguay beat 10-man Italy 1-0 to qualify for the second round of the World Cup, but seconds before Diego Godin’s winner Luis Suarez should have been dismissed in disgrace after another biting scandal.
I decided long before the tournament started that England's match with Costa Rica would be of little importance, likely because both would have lost both previous matches and that Italy-Uruguay would decide the group winner.
My reasoning was only half-correct; as it stood, this match in Natal had even greater importance, a winner-takes-all clash following Costa Rica's surprise wins over the pair.
In the end, it was an even more important match, and not because any of the actual football on show.
At the time, it was impossible to see what had happened. From the seats I had, there was a coming together between Suarez and Giorgio Chiellini, with the former appearing to aim his head towards the latter, who reacted with an arm across the face.
The referee decided not to act. Clearly it was as hard for him to define the nature of the contact. All he had to go on were the bite marks shown to him by Chiellini - by themselves, not enough to brandish the red.
I initially thought it was a naughty little headbutt to the shoulder. But afterwards the replay appeared to clearly show that Suarez – for the third time in his career – had sunk his teeth into an opponent.
There was shock in the media tribune when we saw the replay. A group of journalists from French sports newspaper L'Equipe were sat next to me - they were screaming in disbelief, one in particular unable to comprehend that it had happened again, with his colleagues assuring him it had.
Fans did not have the benefit of the video replay - I spoke to some Italians at Natal airport a few hours later, and they had no idea.
"You're kidding me?" Claudio, who actually lives in Sao Paulo, said. "I thought they just collided. Still, we deserved to lose. We didn't play as a team".
That was the general consensus from Italians, with coach Cesare Prandelli offering his resignation, making no excuses while pointing out that his man had been bitten.
If only Uruguay showed such fair play.
Their coach and players had the nerve to claim that this was part of a vendetta against Suarez; Oscar Tabarez said it was a British media conspiracy; Diego Lugano said that Chiellini was the disgrace. Suarez simply denied responsibility. They should be sheepish enough when they see the replays later, but the likelihood is that they will continue to back their man.
There is no doubt that Suarez is the world’s form striker; he single-handedly ended England’s hopes at this tournament, and will probably join Barcelona this summer.
Maybe Suarez is delightful off the pitch. Unfortunately we know Suarez the footballer - a serial perpetrator of horrible behaviour who should not be allowed to continue at this tournament.
— OMB (@yombays) June 24, 2014
Once is bad enough (that incident at Ajax in 2010); twice is terrible (Branislav Ivanovic in 2013); but a third time? At the World Cup? He is not a reformed character, he has not learned his lesson.
Fans also give players the benefit of the doubt because they can kick a football.
But when British sports journalist Rob Shepherd bit a man in a bar fight, he was imprisoned, lost his job and saw his career suffer.
It is a shame because Suarez is a wonderful technician. But how important is that, in the grand scheme of things? How much value can we as a society place on someone’s ability to control a leather balloon, at the expense of the image of fairplay and brotherhood that FIFA is desperate to display at its tournaments? At the expense of basic natural law?
Hopefully world football’s governing body sees sense, and slaps him with a ban that will end his tournament, even if Uruguay reach the final. Six matches would suffice but, given this is a third offence, no-one could complain at a season-long international ban. And FIFA can do just that - the referee missed it, so retrospective action is on the cards. Go on FIFA, I dare you.
Poor Italy. They had hung on so defiantly, down to 10 men after Claudio Marchisio was correctly dismissed for a nasty challenge on Egidio Arevalo. That too initially seemed a nothing incident, but the referee saw the high boot to the knee, and made the right decision.
FIFA has finally introduced goal-line technology to this World Cup, and it has worked when called upon. But more is needed to help referees manage the morally ambiguous attitude some players take to their craft. A referee should be able to review an incident such as this, like in rugby, and take immediate action.
Italy cannot be retrospectively brought back into this competition, and Uruguay cannot be retrospectively kicked out. But Suarez can.
The irony is that for once Suarez was not a game changer. Chiellini had played him brilliantly, and on the occasions he did wriggle clear, Suarez was denied superbly by Gianluigi Buffon.
But, had he not been on the pitch, it is unlikely Uruguay would have won the set-piece converted with aplomb by Godin, a man whose knack for big goals borders on the astonishing. The defender scored the goal that won Atletico Madrid La Liga, then netted in the Champions League final.
This is a team which has not played particularly well at this tournament, but has got through by hook or by crook.
But, with Suarez’s latest act bordering on the criminal, anything less than a full tournament ban would stain what has thus far been a magnificent festival of football.
Send him home, and send him home now. He doesn't deserve to be here.
- Sports & Recreation
- Luis Suarez
- Giorgio Chiellini