Uruguay confirmed its place in the round of 16 with a 1-0 victory over Italy in Natal, but those collectives were once again eclipsed by the questionable behavior of Luis Suarez.
Suarez overwhelmed Diego Godin’s brave winner nine minutes from time by embroiling himself in controversy yet again after a conflict with Giorgio Chiellini moments earlier. Replays showed Suarez bending his head into Chiellini and appearing to bite his opponent on the shoulder.
Suarez immediately grabbed the front of his teeth and Chiellini pulled his shirt down to plead his case, but Mexican referee Marco Antonio Rodriguez did not send Suarez off. Additional angles offered no substantive, clear-cut proof of the bite, but FIFA will likely investigate the incident and render its verdict in the coming days.
After the match, Chiellini confirmed he had been bitten and told Italian broadcasters RAI, “It was clear-cut. It was ridiculous not to send him off…. There is a desire to protect the superstars and FIFA allows it because they want them to play. Referees say they read up on the players, and Suarez has a history,” Chiellini continued. “The referee must blow the whistle and give him a red.”
Uruguay will face a nervous wait over its star as it prepares for a knockout round match at the weekend after finishing second in Group D behind Costa Rica. Godin capped an excellent performance with his winner and punished Italy for Claudio Marchisio’s dismissal just before hour, but the discussions will undoubtedly focus on Suarez in the aftermath nevertheless.
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The late drama perked up a game with little excitement for most of the 90 minutes. The players spent most of the first half angling for tactical superiority and scything each other to the ground. The lack of rhythm stemmed from the similarities in the 3-5-2 shapes and the inability of the gifted individuals comprising them to combine neatly enough to alter the equilibrium.
Italy controlled most of the play in midfield by pushing its wingbacks higher and relying on Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo and Marco Verratti to dictate terms in the middle third. Verratti’s willingness to close earnestly allowed Pirlo to find the ball and try to supply Mario Balotelli and Ciro Immobile. Those efforts produced a handful of set piece opportunities, but they ultimately yielded few genuine chances.
The frustrations ultimately led Balotelli to start throwing himself about and trying to alter the dynamic. He procured a deserved booking for his wild aerial challenge on Alvaro Pereira just before the half-hour and strayed ever closer to a second booking as the first half progress. Cesare Prandelli opted to replace his dynamic and volatile striker at the interval to ward off potential disaster.
Suarez finally flickered to life after the break. He forced Gigi Buffon to block a sharp-angle effort in Uruguay’s best move of the first half, but he produced a more genuine chance for Cristian Rodriguez as the hour approached with a clever flick over the line. Rodriguez skewed his shot wide with the onrushing Buffon quick to close down the angle.
The dynamic of the match changed just before the hour after an impudent challenge from Marchisio reduced Italy to 10 men. Marchisio left himself little room for sympathy after planting his studs into Arevalo Rios. Referee Rodriguez produced the red card immediately to alter the course of the game and invite Uruguay forward.
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It took a bit for Uruguay to warm to the task against its organized opposition, but Suarez prompted a fine stop from Buffon as the pressure increased. Edinson Cavani’s blocked shot fell kindly to Suarez on the edge of the penalty area. Suarez collected and fired, but Buffon reacted brilliant to push away with his right hand.
The match descended into controversy 10 minutes from time with Suarez once again suspected of vile behavior against an opponent. Suarez and Chiellini clashed inside the penalty area with Suarez ducking head into Chiellini’s shoulder. Chiellini swung out his elbow afterward as both players eventually tumbled to the ground Suarez started to grab his teeth in the aftermath, a reaction explained by replays suggesting Suarez may have bitten yet another opponent.
Chiellini pulled down his shirt over his shoulder to illustrate his contention to the referee, but Rodriguez opted to keep his cards in his pocket. The drama from the incident amplified moments late when the Uruguayan snatched their winner from a corner kick.
Second-half substitute Gaston Ramirez delivered his inviting set piece into the mass of Uruguayan bodies at the back post. Godin rose highest and turned the effort inside the far post with his back to give the South Americans the goal they needed to go through.
Italy attempted to produce its response with 10 men, but it failed to find a way through in the late stages. The final whistle dispatched the Italians from the tournament, guaranteed the Uruguayans a place in the Round of 16 and paved the way for more debate about Suarez’s behavior in the ensuing days.