Uruguay are through to the knockout rounds of the World Cup after defeating 10-man Italy 1-0 in a controversial encounter in Natal on Tuesday.
Diego Godin's 81st-minute header was enough for the Celeste to leapfrog their opponents to finish second in Group D, with Costa Rica having secured top spot in the group by virtue of their draw with England in the day's other meeting.
But it was a game full of controversy, with Italy angry after Giorgio Chiellini accused Luis Suarez of biting him—in similar circumstances to the infamous Branislav Ivanovic incident—moments before Godin's decisive strike.
Italy had already had one run-in with the referee after Claudio Marchisio received his marching orders on the hour mark for a poor, high challenge on Egidio Arevalo Rios. But Chiellini appeared particularly irate that Suarez did not meet with a similar fate.
In a game of few clear chances, Italy had been relatively comfortable throughout, at least until Godin rose highest to meet substitute Gaston Ramirez's outswinging corner.
They immediately pushed everyone forward in a late bid to grab the equaliser they needed, but Fernando Muslera was not asked to make a save of note as the Azzurri, winners in 2006, slipped out of the competition with something of a whimper.
Uruguay, meanwhile, will now prepare to play the winner of Group C—likely to be Colombia—in the first knockout round, although whether they will be able to call upon their key striker depends on the haste of FIFA's disciplinary process and the decision they reach.
Italy showed very little ambition here in Natal. Didn't deserve to go through. Not sure Uruguay do either after that. Never dull.— Ben Smith (@BenSmithBBC) June 24, 2014
Coach Cesare Prandelli threw something of a surprise with Italy's starting lineup, reverting to the three-at-the-back system they operated against England but playing two strikers up front for the first time in the tournament.
Uruguay, meanwhile, were much more as expected, with Suarez and Edinson Cavani once again tasked with creating much of their attacking threat by their coach, Oscar Tabarez.
Their initial approach seemed to be similar to the one they applied to winning effect against England, with Cavani—who man-marked Steven Gerrard in that 2-1 win—this time told to focus his intentions on Andrea Pirlo.
That limited the veteran's effectiveness to a certain extent, although the Azzurri still had Marco Verratti to dictate the tempo of the play.
It was a slow, cagey opening 45 minutes, one of few threatening forays and even fewer clear-cut chances.
Italy dominated possession throughout but only had the odd half-chance to show for it. Pirlo forced Muslera into a straightforward save from a long-range free-kick before Ciro Immobile wildly mishit a first-time snapshot from just inside the box.
Uruguay spent long periods of the half chasing the ball, but when they had it, they occasionally looked threatening. Alvaro Gonzalez's header forced Gianluigi Buffon into the first save of the game after eight minutes, and only a good challenge from Leonardo Bonucci prevented Cavani from getting on the end of Alvaro Pereira's low cross.
It was towards the end of the half that Uruguay would come closest to breaking the deadlock, however, forcing Buffon into two smart saves.
Cavani played in strike partner Suarez inside the box, but Buffon rushed from his line to smother the forward's effort. The ball rebounded back to Cavani, but the goalkeeper was on his feet in time to deflect away the scuffed follow-up.
At half-time, both sides made changes, with Maxi Pereira—who was sent off in the opening loss to Costa Rica—replacing the ineffective Nicolas Lodeiro and Mario Balotelli being withdrawn for Parma winger Marco Parolo following a first-half yellow card.
The change seemed to improve Uruguay, with Pereira giving them a bit more width on the right. They looked to be increasingly dangerous on the ball, with Cristian Rodriguez coming very close to an opener after getting on the receiving end of a one-two, before skewing his volley wide of Buffon's goal.
Shortly afterwards came a major talking point, as Italy were surprisingly reduced to 10 men. There appeared to be little controversy when Marchisio ran into Arevalo in midfield, but the referee was unwavering in his decision to produce the red card.
Subsequent replays suggested the official had made the correct call; Marchisio clearly drove his studs into his opponent's shin in a clumsy attempt to retain possession of the ball.
Tabarez immediately threw on Christian Stuani, an attacking player, for Pereira, signalling his team's intent to now go for the win. Soon after, Suarez found a large gap in the middle of Italy's defence, only for Buffon to deny him in impressive style.
Uruguay continued to push forward with greater and greater intent, but Italy—the country of catenaccio, after all—looked relatively comfortable clearing their lines, even with the numerical disadvantage.
With 10 minutes remaining, Uruguay's frustration was evidently growing, but it seemed to boil over when Suarez got involved in a tangle with Chiellini.
Both men fell to the floor, Chiellini holding his shoulder and Suarez his face, as the referee struggled to sort out what had happened. Chiellini was adamant he had been bitten on the shoulder, baring the injury for the world to see, but it was an accusation replays struggled to prove conclusively.
It was either a bite or headbutt, one FIFA are sure to investigate in the days to come after the referee ultimately decided to take no action.
If that was the enduring talking point of the game, then its decisive moment was to come seconds later.
Uruguay won a corner, and substitute Ramirez ran over to take it as the South Americans poured men into the box. The delivery was pinpoint, and there was Godin to take advantage, the central defender giving Buffon almost no chance with his textbook downward header.
Suddenly forced to go for broke themselves, Italy rushed forward while leaving huge gaps at the back. It resulted in a frantic, end-to-end finale, with only some fantastic last-ditch defending preventing either side from creating a clear opening before the five minutes of injury time began.
Italy threw the ball desperately into the box, but Uruguay's defence held firm. Italy are out and Uruguay—after that shocking opening defeat to Costa Rica—are into the last 16.
|Player||Half-time rating||Full-time rating|
|Mattia De Sciglio||6||6|
|Player||Half-time rating||Full-time rating|
|Egidio Arevalo Rios||6||7|
Afterwards, Chiellini told Italian television station Rai TV (via BBC):
It was ridiculous not to send Suarez off. It is clear, clear-cut.
Then there was the obvious dive afterwards because he knew very well that he did something that he shouldn't have done.
I assume full responsibility.
It's absurd to be left with 10 men in a match like this. There were no ugly fouls worthy of being sent off. You can't (ruin) a match like that. The referee ruined the match.