The situation FIFA feared is here: The World Cup threatens to be overshadowed by an unsavoury controversy.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it involves Luis Suarez. For the third time in his career, the Uruguayan striker has been accused of biting an opponent and, just like on the last two occasions, the evidence appears very compelling.
Suarez certainly seemed to bury his mouth in the general direction of Giorgio Chiellini's nape towards the end of his country's match with Italy, as the defender went down clutching his shoulder in two parts disbelief and one part pain.
Not for the first time, Suarez got away with the infraction on the pitch—just as he did in the infamous run-in with Branislav Ivanovic just over a year ago.
In the World Cup he has similar form. Four years ago, he famously handballed on the line to keep his country in the World Cup, as his team-mates went on to win their quarter-final penalty shootout against Ghana.
This time, Suarez went unpunished and was on the pitch as Diego Godin rose highest to head Uruguay into the last 16. Whether he will be there to join his team-mates in the next round remains to be seen.
Suarez, for now, is denying any wrongdoing.
"These situations happen on the field," he told reporters (via The Guardian). "I had contact with his shoulder, chest against shoulder and I got a knock to the eye—nothing more."
That is not what the replays show. Considering the high-profile nature of his crime—let alone the fact he has done it twice before—the immediate speculation is that he could be banned for as long as two years.
Already 26, that would mean him missing out on the prime of his career, let alone prospective moves to Barcelona or Real Madrid.
It is unlikely that he will be punished that severely, but it also seems unlikely he will be permitted to play any further part in this tournament, perhaps even if Uruguay go all the way to the final.
But Liverpool will be anxious to discover whether his punishment will extend beyond international games to the domestic arena. Their jurisdiction extends that far, although they rarely use it.
Banning Suarez, even for two years, will not solve the problem, however. Bans are both punishment and deterrent against repeating the crime—but Suarez clearly does not have conscious control of his impulses in the heat of battle.
It is obvious that Suarez needs serious professional help to work through whatever issues there are that lead him to bite others when his frustration breaks beyond a certain point.
It is possible that the anger that makes him bite players comes from the same burning desire that makes him a great player, the same wild desperation that propelled him from a struggling player in his homeland to one sought after by the biggest clubs in the world.
But it is still an issue that needs addressing, perhaps even before he can return to competitive action.
Suarez should be banned, but he needs help, too. One without the other evidently does not solve the issue.
Results in brief—Day 13
Costa Rica 0-0 England
Italy 0-1 Uruguay
Greece 2-1 Ivory Coast
(Samaris, Samaras; Bony)
Japan 1-4 Colombia
(Okazaki; Cuadrado, Martinez (2), Rodriguez)
Colombia and Greece progress from Group C. Costa Rica and Uruguay progress from Group D.
Colombia vs. Uruguay (Saturday, June 28, Rio de Janeiro)
Costa Rica vs. Greece (Sunday, June 29, Recife)
1. Notes from Day 13
Out with a whimper... Almost overlooked in all the Suarez-based excitement, England's campaign came to an end with a dull 0-0 draw with Costa Rica. That meant Roy Hodgson's side finished bottom of Group D, with their opponents top. Who would have predicted that at the start of the tournament?
Too early to start thinking about... One of the major prizes awarded at the end of the tournament is the Golden Ball, given to the best player at the tournament. Past winners include Pele, Diego Maradona, Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane. A long run in the competition is something of a prerequisite to winning it, so it is perhaps too early to think about 2014 candidates. But, at this early stage, James Rodriguez has to be firmly in the running.
The Colombian has been scintillating so far, including two assists and a goal in a 45-minute cameo against Japan on Thursday. He faces stiff competition from the likes of Karim Benzema, Lionel Messi and Neymar (with more sure to emerge), but Rodriguez has done his reputation no end of good in the last two weeks.
Another failed golden generation!... It is not just England, then. For the third World Cup in a row, Ivory Coast have failed to escape from the group stages of the competition, despite possessing some of the finest players Africa has ever produced.
In the past, the team could point to difficult groups as a valid excuse for their premature demise but not this time. Greece and Japan should have been eminently beatable; as it was, a silly late penalty cost them dearly. With many of their key players now into their 30s, they might not get such a good chance again.
Emotions run high... In the aftermath of Italy's crushing defeat to Uruguay, coach Cesare Prandelli handed in his resignation—despite his contract having two more years to run. The tactician insisted his decision was final, although reports are that the Italian FA do not want him to go. It will be interesting to see if his mind changes once the emotion of the day subsides and a bit more perspective is gained.
2. Quote of the Day
You need to show me the incident, because I didn't see anything. Did you see it today or did you see what happened in other years? You couldn't have seen it today because nothing happened.
Chiellini’s attitude is worst of all. He's a great player, with an enormous status. It doesn't correspond with Italian football. As sportsmen leaving the field, crying and appealing against a rival.
As a man, he disappointed me totally.
- Diego Lugano, Uruguay captain (via Daily Mail)
Yes, that's right, Chiellini is the one who needs to buck his ideas up.
3. Tweet of the Day
4. Goal of the Day
Not the most important goal of the day—far from it—but a slick finish nonetheless from James Rodriguez.
5. A good day for...
Roy Hodgson. Thanks to Luis Suarez, it looks like a fair few column inches that might otherwise have been devoted to further addressing England's many failings will instead by directed in the Uruguayan's direction. The ex-Liverpool boss has perhaps never been so grateful to a player he missed at Anfield by just a few months.
6. A bad day for...
Didier Drogba. Okay, so it wasn't exactly in the realm of Luis Suarez's day, but at least Suarez had the consolation of reaching the next phase of the competition. At 36, Drogba will surely never get another chance at a World Cup—the poster boy of his country's "golden generation" ends his World Cup career with three group-stage exits in three appearances. A missed opportunity.
7. Tomorrow's schedule
Nigeria vs. Argentina (Group F: 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. EDT)
Avoid defeat and Argentina will top Group F, while Nigeria need just a draw to be sure they go through to the last 16. Could we see a convenient draw in this one? Unlikely, if only because Argentina surely need to find some form after relying heavily on Lionel Messi for their opening two wins.
Bosnia & Herzegovina vs. Iran (Group F: 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. EDT)
Only Iran are still alive in this one, but they need to win to have any chance of reaching the knockout rounds. But with exactly zero goals in two games so far in this tournament, do they have the firepower to fulfil their side of the bargain? Bosnia & Herzegovina have lost their two games, but they will surely be fired up to leave Brazil with something to show for their efforts.
Honduras vs. Switzerland (Group E: 9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. EDT)
Do Honduras have anything left to offer? After showing plenty of effort but very little end product in their opening two defeats, the Central American side can no longer progress from the group, but they can derail Switzerland's ambitions with a win. Currently missing out on knockout qualification on goal difference, Ottmar Hitzfeld may well figure a win will be enough to see his side through.
Ecuador vs. France (Group E: 9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. EDT)
France are reportedly set to rotate their starting XI somewhat, with qualification already assured and top spot unlikely to be stolen from their grasp. Ecuador can do that with a big win, but they will be more preoccupied with beating Switzerland's result against Honduras and escaping from Group E.
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