FIFA World Cup 2010: Is Luis Suarez a Hero or Villain?

Luke TaylorCorrespondent IIJuly 7, 2010

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 02:  Luis Suarez of Uruguay handles the ball on the goal line, for which he is sent off, during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Quarter Final match between Uruguay and Ghana at the Soccer City stadium on July 2, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Michael Steele/Getty Images

With the Netherlands beating Uruguay last night to reach the World Cup final, the dust has most definitely now settled from Uruguay’s controversial win over Ghana and all is forgotten.


However, there is still a lot of debate over the Uruguayan victory in the quarter finals; in particular Luis Suarez’s role in the win.


The Ajax striker was not available last night due to suspension following his dismissal against Ghana, and he was definitely missed by his teammates, as he has formed the tournament’s most deadly strike partnership with Diego Forlan.


However, his suspension was deserved. The big question is whether Uruguay’s place in the semi-finals was?


Luis Suarez had deliberately cleared a goal-bound Ghanaian header with his hands. He was sent off, and Ghana missed the resulting penalty with the final kick of extra time. This led to a penalty shootout, and Uruguay prevailed.


Across the world there was uproar and a real divide appeared over Suarez’s actions. Some believe he is a hero, saving his nation from defeat. Other see him as a villain and a cheat, who cost Ghana a deserved place in the semi-final of the World Cup.


So, now the emotions have died down a little, it’s possible to have a reasonable discussion on Suarez’s actions, and look at whether FIFA should act to try and prevent this from happening again.


First, it’s important to make one thing clear. As an Englishman, there was no loyalty to either Ghana or Uruguay on my part, and most neutrals here simply hoped for a good game. There is no doubt that the two sides delivered this. However, following the handball, very few (myself included) wanted Ghana to miss the penalty. Unfortunately that’s football, and it can be the cruellest of mistresses.


The match itself was probably the most entertaining of the tournament, and so it was a disappointment that the controversy that followed overshadowed the game. Both teams showed great pride and passion, and can be proud of what they achieved, while both goals were excellent.


The teams should have both been commended for the effort and desire they showed, but instead Suarez stole the headlines, along with Ghanaian dreams.


So, should Suarez be branded a hero or villain?


His reaction to the header, be it instinctive or planned, kept his nation in the World Cup. He put the team above his own dreams and ambitions, knowing he would miss the semi-final of the cup at least. His selfless act came at a huge price for him personally, but allowed his team to progress, and in this respect, it is understandable why he became a hero in Uruguay, and other parts of the world.


Former England striker, Alan Shearer, told the BBC that any player would have done the same had they been in Suarez’s position. He claimed it was a “no-brainer”. You have to do what you can to keep your team in the competition.


In addition to this, it’s not as if Suarez was not punished. He was rightly sent off, and Ghana still had a penalty from his actions. As cruel as it may sound, it was Ghana’s own fault they missed the penalty (and the penalties in the resulting shootout).


In this respect, it is almost a non-story. Suarez cheated and he and his team were correctly punished for his infringement.


However, there are those who argue that Suarez’s handball cost Ghana the game, when they would have scored had he not cheated.


It’s difficult to argue that Uruguay would not have lost the game if Suarez had not handled. Ghana would have scored, and there would have been no time for Uruguay to equalise again. Regardless of the red card and penalty, Suarez cost Ghana a perfectly good goal. They missed the resulting penalty, meaning that this was little comfort for them, knowing they would have scored if not for Suarez.


However, is there that much difference between Suarez’s actions and a professional foul when a player is through on goal?


Both the handball and foul would likely cost the opposition a goal, both would result in a red card, and both would result in a penalty if inside the area.


Yet, if a professional foul is committed, there would be very little uproar. The man responsible would likely be hailed for “taking one for the team”, and would become an instant hero among many people.


Was the handball all that different?


Some argue that it was similar to Thierry Henry’s handball against Republic of Ireland, but there is a huge difference between the two incidents. Suarez was caught and punished for his actions. Henry cheated to score a goal for his side, similarly to Diego Maradona in 1986 World Cup. Suarez stopped the opposition from scoring, giving them a penalty in the process. There was nothing to compensate for Henry or Maradona’s actions.


While Suarez’s behaviour was unsportsmanlike, it was professionalism to some degree. The player knew the consequences of his action, and carried them out anyway. He did “take one for the team”, and he kept his team in the World Cup; without the handball, Uruguay would have lost.


In this respect, we have to appreciate that football is a game based on results. Nobody wants to lose; albeit very few want to win via cheating. As Shearer said, anyone would have done what he did in that situation. In the heat of the moment, instinct tells you to win at all costs.

It cost Suarez, but in the end he, and his country, won.


Situations such as the professional foul are no different to Suarez’s actions, yet they would not be chastised by the press for this. The handball carries a stigma with it, and as such, Suarez has received a lot of unfair criticism.


One thing must be said though, his comments following the handball should be criticised. Declaring that “the Hand of God now belongs to me”, Suarez referenced Maradona’s handball goal in 1986.


As a player, you would be pleased with your actions providing your team advance, but to speak about it in public with such pride, and without any remorse, is a real shame for football. It damages the integrity of the game, and FIFA should act to suspend Suarez for additional games now following the unsportsmanlike comments.


Suarez should have come out and apologised to Ghana for his handball. However, he should have made it clear that it was instinctive, and he believed any player would do the same, putting their country first. His post-game actions have been provocative and bring the game into disrepute. He should be punished for them.


With regards to preventing this sort of incident from happening again, there is very little FIFA can do unless they implement the “penalty goal” rule from rugby. When a player purposefully stops the opposition from scoring a try, a try is given regardless, and the player punished within keeping with the rules.


In this case, Ghana would have scored a penalty goal, and Suarez still sent off. However, by giving the goal, you are ignoring the handball, so should it still warrant a red card?


As the law currently stands, Uruguay were punished for Suarez’s actions, but were let off with the penalty miss. Changing the rules would unnecessarily complicate matters. For instance, would the same punishment take place for professional fouls? What happens if there is any doubt over whether the ball would actually go in the net?


A change in the rules would over complicate matters. As it stands, the rules punish the action to a very severe limit. It is unfortunate when cheating prevails, but there is nothing more that could feasibly be done. That will sadly be little consolation to Ghana.


Suarez cannot take back what he did. Perhaps he should be more humble about it, but when push comes to shove, he would do it again. Any player would. Your team is always more important than your own glory, and because of this, Suarez should not be chastised for his actions.

However, there will always be those who disagree, and the debate will rage on. Is Luis Suarez a hero, or a villain?


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