Natal, Brazil • Biting opponents, racist comments — all that looked to be behind Luis Suarez, as soccer’s bad boy was maturing into a star for his club and country. Then, the old habit that most people leave behind in nursery school cropped up again in front of an audience of millions.
Faced with a smothering and frustrating Italian defense in a must-win World Cup game Tuesday, the Uruguayan superstar responded with his front teeth.
It came at about the 80th minute when Suarez and Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini got tangled up in front of the Italy goal. The apparent chomp happened in an instant, but caught by television cameras, it became a worldwide sensation and could lead to Suarez being kicked out of the World Cup.
The referee didn’t see a bite, and no foul was called despite Chiellini pleading and pulling down his jersey to show a red mark on his shoulder.
About a minute later, Uruguay scored the winning goal in a 1-0 game that sent Italy home.
Uruguay will continue playing, but the federation that runs the World Cup will investigate and may suspend Suarez, who has twice before been disciplined for biting opponents in league games.
Suarez didn’t confirm or deny the bite, but said he was angry that Chiellini — one of the best defenders in the world and known for his physical play — had hit him in the eye during the game.
"These are things that happen on the pitch. We were both in the area, he thrust his shoulder into me," Suarez said in Spanish. "These things happen on the pitch, and we don’t have to give them so much [importance]."
Suarez, 27, should be celebrating a career year. After asking to be sold before the season, he stayed with Liverpool, won the scoring title and was named English Premier League’s player of the year.
Now, he’ll have to try to start rehabbing his reputation again. Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez and Suarez’s teammates immediately defended their star.
"I want to say that if he’s attacked, as it has begun in this press conference, we’ll also defend him, because this is a football World Cup, not of cheap morality," said Tabarez, who said he didn’t see a bite.
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