So FIFA spoke, and when they did, it was with a mighty, vengeful wrath. Luis Suarez’s World Cup is over, and Uruguay is apoplectic over the decision, with both journalists and the public crying foul play over the decision to ban Suarez from all football related activities for four months and from his country’s next nine international fixtures. On the basis of evidence taken from anything like am objective viewpoint, however, there is little upon which to base a conspiracy theory of much merit.
Arguing over the justice or otherwise of the length of the ban would seem to be a particularly fruitless exercise. After all, the very nature of these exceptional hearings will produce inconsistencies, and perhaps in this case the length of the ban itself is something of an irrelevance in comparison with the fact that he was found guilty of what he was charged with in the first place. The easy option for the governing body might have been to blame perfidious Albion for the furore that blew up over this matter and to state that because the referee didn’t seem to spot it their hands were tied. In this case, however, FIFA have acted commendably quickly and decisively. Even a stopped clock, we might reflect, tells the right time twice a day.
The conspiracy theorists, from Merseyside to Montevideo, were only going to be pacified by a Not Guilty verdict, of course. It’s a common enough trope for such people to perform logistical gymnastics in order to fit a sequence of events to match their worldview, but what has been a little surprising has been the extent to which people who we must presume are otherwise sane will allow the their own reputations to be put on the line to defend a professional footballer whose behaviour on the pitch frequently seems so far beyond the pale to anybody else. That a player can have this effect upon people says a great deal about the quasi-religious nature of supporting a football team. Suarez is an exceptionally talented footballer, of that there is no doubt whatsoever, but why is this enough for some to look at their moral compass and decide that north is south after all? There’s a psychological study there waiting to be written about this.
Meanwhile, elsewhere on day otherwise clouded by a distinct feeling of deja vu, some football took place. In the both of the groups to conclude yesterday, one European nation which might have expected better will be taking an early flight home. After two straight defeats, Portugal finally snapped into gear with a late Cristiano Ronaldo goal being enough to beat Ghana, who earlier that day had sent home both Sulley Muntari and Kevin Prince Boateng over separate incidents of indiscipline. If Ghana’s chances of progression carried the faint whiff of death about them following this, then it turned out that the seeds of Portugal’s elimination from the competition had been sewn considerably earlier, during the first half of their opening match against Germany. The goal difference lost that day proved to be an obstacle too many for Portugal to stay in the competition.
The beneficiaries of this were the United States of America, for whom defeat by a solitary goal at the hands of Germany proved to be enough to squeeze through to the second round of the competition. The gulf of the goal difference gap was wide enough for nerves to be a major factor for American supporters, whose team were, as they had been in their previous two matches, a little technically limited but wanting for nothing in terms of hard work and honesty. This, of course, will be the cue for a further slew of opinion pieces suggesting that association football has finally “cracked” the American market. The size of the support that the team has taken to Brazil suggests that this happened a long time ago. The USA thoroughly deserves its place in the last sixteen in exactly same way that supposed the European ‘heavyweights’ of Spain, England, Italy, Portugal and Russia emphatically deserved their early exits from the competition.
Russia made their exit last with a tame draw against Algeria which sent the North African team through at their experience. As the hosts of the next tournament, alarm bells may well be ringing in Moscow this morning. After all, they only have qualifiers for – and, possibly, the finals themselves – of the upcoming European Championships as genuinely competitive football left before 2018 – and no, we’re not counting the next Confederations Cup in this. For Algeria, however, this qualification may be interpreted as the scratching of a thirty-two year old itch. In 1982, they were squeezed out of the competition by West Germany and Austria, who played put the precise result required to qualify both of those nations at Algeria’s expense. It was the match that led to FIFA scheduling final group matches to be played simultaneously, and it became known as “The Shame Of Gijon.” And who are Algeria’s opponents in the next round? Germany. Revenge, they may well be thinking in Algiers today, is a dish best served cold.
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