Italy join the likes of Spain and England on their way home from the 2014 World Cup finals today. This, of course, should be the story of the final round of matches from Group D of this most extraordinary of tournaments this morning, but yet again this morning’s newspaper headlines have been written by one Luis Suarez, who, for the third time in his career, has been caught red-handed biting another player on a football pitch. If a wise man once said that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes, then Suarez is not a very wise man at all.
The incident came with ten minutes left to a play of a match that had long been a tetchy war of attrition between two teams who seemed to take a considerable amount of time to realise what they needed to do in order to get out of this group in the first place. When Suarez leaned in Giorgio Chiellini and aimed his mouth downwards, there was a split second of silent disbelief that Suarez could possibly have done this yet again, before a gale of laughter swept across social media that could quite probably have been heard within the stadium itself. The gift that just keeps on giving had done it again.
Such an incident overshadowed all else that could have taken place on the pitch in Natal yesterday afternoon. Barely a minute after Suarez left his imprint in Chiellini, Diego Godin bundled the ball over the line for the only goal of the match, and focusing on the Suarez incident, it might be argued, even lets Italy of the hook a little for a World Cup performance that stumbled and stuttered after their opening win. Coach Cesare Prandelli resigned his position almost immediately after the match with Italy having tumbled out of the competition at the first hurdle for the second time in a row, but such is the nature of modern media coverage of the game that few will be paying a great deal of attention to that this morning.
FIFA have announced this morning that they have charged Suarez, and that the Uruguayan football association has until this evening to file its defence. What sort of defence they could offer would certainly make for interesting reading. The vast number of television cameras inside the stadium itself offered multiple different views of the biting incident itself, and it can hardly be said that this player doesn’t have a track record for this sort of behaviour. The media in Uruguay already seems to have decided that the fuss that has blown up around this incident is somehow the faul of the British media, while Suarez himself has offered a somewhat empty-sounding denial of what seems quite obviously to have happened before our very eyes, whilst the comments of captain Diego Lugano and Oscar Tabarez were similarly predictable in their empty-headedness. Everyone, it can sometimes feel, is a conspiracy theorist these days when it suits them.
There is, perhaps, no need for any moral opprobrium over this particular incident. Luis Suarez has written another chapter in his own legacy as a player who will be remembered as mercurial talent tarnished by his own inability to rein himself in, and the overwhelming reaction in this country seems to have been incredulity that he could put himself in this position yet again rather than any sort of moral outrage, as such. Whether he needs psychological help over this sort of behaviour is a question for others to answer, but there seems little question this morning that yet again, for reasons entirely of his own making, this player will be taking no further part in this competition.
Meanwhile, England drew their final match against Costa Rica, a game of little consequence that hinted little at what future the team might have. If there is an obituary to be written about their worst ever performance in a World Cup finals, then perhaps it should be that at the top end of professional sporting endeavour it’s a fine line between winning and losing. Spritely and a little unlucky in their opening match, doughy and careless in their second, England weren’t as bad as their many critics have repeatedly claimed but still merit their early elimination from the tournament. Against a Costa Rica team which didn’t give much of an impression of wanting to engage too much having already qualified as group winners, England might have snatched a goal and won yesterday, but such an empty win wouldn’t have counted for much in the grand scheme of things. The entire structure of English football has been bent out of shape to suit the Premier League over the last two decades, and English failures at international level are one of the inevitable costs of that.
Costa Rica, deserved group winners, will play Greece for a place in the quarter-finals of the competition after a night of even greater drama which saw Cote d’Ivoire eliminated from the competition. The legacy of former coach Otto Rehhagel has cast a long shadow over the Greek national football team, but last night, needing a win to edge through to the next round, they pulled an extra something out of the bag. They hit the woodwork on three occasions last night, broke with menace and kept going to the very end. It may not be a particularly popular view to hold, but they deserved their win.
Cote d’Ivoire were elegant and fluid in midfield, but seemed to run out of ideas once they reached the final third of the pitch. On the one occasion that they did get it right, Gervinho rolled the ball inside for Wilfred Bony to bring them level with less than a quarter of the match left to play. A place in the Second Round of the competition was within their grasp, but in the second minute of stoppage time at the end of the match a clumsy challenge granted Greece a late, late lifeline in the form of a penalty kick which Georgios Samaros , displaying what can only reasonably be described as “testicles of titanium”, greedily dispatched. The 2014 World Cup finals, from last minute penalty kicks to weird, apparently semi-feral man-children, continue to surprise and confound at every turn.
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