No Challengers?

by Nathan Adams ©Nathan Adams (November 15th 2014)

Nathan Adams at Wembley

Centurions

Manchester Unitedʼs Wayne Rooney marked his 100th appearance with a real captainʼs performance, which anchored the Three Lions to a 3-1 win against Srečko Katanecʼs Slovenian side. Nearly 300 male players have reached that milestone – the most recent being the Republic of Irelandʼs John OʼShea yesterday. Two more are due to join the club tomorrow in the same match Italy v Croatia – Romaʼs one club defensive midfielder Daniele de Rossi and VfL Wolfsburgʼs Ivica Olić. But this evening was about Rooney.

They have a long way to go if they intend to catch the man with the most caps, Egyptian great Ahmed Hassan on 184. They certainly wonʼt match the most capped international footballer of all time, the USAʼs Kristine Lilly, who is a full 51 caps ahead of her nearest competitor. Lilly boasts an incredible 352 caps!

Captainʼs Performance

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After a goalless and rather drab first half, the match sprang to life when Slovenia took the lead through a Jordan Henderson own-goal from Milivoje Novakovićʼs cross. Almost straight from the kick-off England attacked. Sloveniaʼs captain Boštjan Cesar inexplicably upended Rooney in the box, earning a booking and conceding a penalty which Rooney dispatched to settle Englandʼs nerves and keep the over 80,000 crowd onside.

Slovenia Celebrate

Mariborʼs goalkeeper Samir Hanadanović got a hand to it, but could not deny Rooney his goal, which brought him level on Englandʼs all time list with the great Jimmy Greaves. Only Gary Lineker and Sir Bobby Charlton ahead of him – he could claim third place in his own right against Scotland on Tuesday night in Glasgow. With nerves settled the stage was set for Arsenalʼs Danny Welbeck to grab some headlines of his own, netting a brace.

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Handanović denied Liverpoolʼs Adam Lallana with his legs, but it was headed out carelessly by Mišo Brečko to Welbeck who scuffed his shot past the crestfallen keeper. A neat interchange of passes with Liverpoolʼs Raheem Sterling got the finish it deserved from Welbeck to give England their third and the former Manchester United Striker his second.

False Dawn?

Slovenia made their presence felt by throwing in some very physical challenges early on. Luckily no England players were hurt as a result of the crunching tactics begun by Aleš Mertelj in the first 5 minutes. Lallana was left in a crumpled heap. Portuguese referee Olegário Benquerença had a firm word with the Mariborʼs midfielder after another rustic challenge on Rooney after 12 minutes.

Ales Mertelj

But that was to be expected. Slovenia came to spoil and smash and grab. England had to outwit these tactics and in the first half they didnʼt have an answer. Throughout the first half England seemed to have no sense of direction in relation to their play and unaware of the movement of their own team players around them.

What seems to be definitely missing from the team is a strong play-maker in the centre of midfield. Having Rooney up front is all well and good, but a player with the same influence and respect from both team-mates and opposition is a must for midfield. Through out the first half I donʼt believe there was any direct play from the England team. Over 90 percent of the crosses were very poor quality and incomplete.

Positives

There was a marked improvement in the second half, which saw an injection of pace with Sterling playing in multiple positions sometimes in front of midfield and others deep in midfield and being the centre of movement within the team. Slovenia took a shock lead after 57 minutes due to Henderson’s header. Joe Hart had no chance.

Slovenia Celebrate

Thankfully, due to the new Captain Marvel, we didnʼt need to wait very long for a reply, as he won the penalty and converted it. After 58 minutes game on! England seemed to grow in confidence with direct passing and fluent movement. Sterling continued his runs from a forward position and then deep in midfield.

Despite being named Man of the Match it seemed as though Wilshere is not putting in as much work as Sterling in midfield. I thought that Sterling, rather than Wilshere should have had the award. Another positive was the performance of Southamptonʼs Nathaniel Clyne who had a decent game and grew from strength to strength as the match progressed. Overall a well deserved 3-1 win for England, which established a substantive six point lead at the top of the group after four matches.

England Celebrate Goal

Upset

During the press conference I had the pleasure of asking England manager Roy Hodgson about my personal view of the teamʼs performance. “Do you feel that the lack of awareness and link up play was an issue as players are unaware of team-mateʼs movement”. Hodgson was neither impressed nor amused. “No”, he replied tersely before rapidly moving on to the next question.

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The Slovenian team were also upset with the FA as they were advised that the team were not allowed to walk from the nearby Hilton Hotel to Wembley Stadium. They had wanted to savour every moment of the Wembley experience, although it later emerged that they didnʼt really think that they could or would get a result at Wembley. They came looking for a point. Perhaps the occasion finally got to them as both Mertelj and Chievoʼs winger Valter Birsa implied afterwards.

Valter Birsa

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The Battle of Seconds

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 12th 2014)

Victory

Fazio

Tottenham Hotspurʼs Federico Fazio was happy with the win if his Argentina team beaten a second string Croatia 2-1 at the Boleyn Ground – home of West Ham United. Croatiaʼs second-string – the regulars remained at home to prepare for this weekendʼs vital Euro2016 qualifier against Italy – took a shock and against the run of play 11th minute lead, courtesy of Anas Sharbiniʼs first goal for his country in only his second match. Interʼs Mateo Kovačić provided the assist.

Despite dominating the first half Argentina, captained by Lionel Messi, back to his mesmerising best, trailed to Sharbiniʼs strike. The move began on the right flank before working it inside to Kovačić, who beat Christian Ansaldi and found Sharbini on the left of the area. The mixed-race – Croatian and Palestinian – midfielder finished with aplomb across Sampdoriaʼs Sergio Romero from 10 yard out.

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Astonishing

Argentina created chance after chance. Sevillaʼs Ever Banega wasted a glorious opportunity created by the first of many mazy runs by Messi from the right wing into the left of the area. Banega missed after 5 minutes. The normally clinical Sergio Agüero had one shot well saved by Croatian goalkeeper for the night Lovre Kalinić, another volleyed straight at the keeper, failed to collect a Messi pass and prodded two shots wide from Messi passes after mazy runs all in the space of ten minutes without scoring.

Premier League defences had best savour the moment. Rarely has the in-form Kun proved so profligate. Messi was also denied. Another mazy run treading the same path as before, a one-two with Ansaldi, resulted in Messi shooting into the side-netting. He also hit the post in the second half with the keeper well beaten. However both Messi and Agüero would not be denied, albeit in controversial fashion for Kun.

Reward

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When Agüero got his goal only the eagle-eyed noticed it – well them and the replays. 3 minutes into the second half Ansaldiʼs fierce shot from just outside the area was deflected in past Kalinić by Agüero taking protective action. It went in off his arm with Kalinić stranded.

12 minutes into the second half Messi found Agüero on the left of the six yard box. Kalinić brought him down, conceding a penalty. Messi converted it. 

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Returning Idols

The Hammersʼ fans got to see the great Lionel Messi in the flesh, but by far the biggest cheers of the night greeted the return of 2007 West Ham hero Carlos Tévez. Will you please welcome Argentina and West Ham legend, Carlos Tévez”, as , the announcer said after 62 minutes as Agüero was replaced. Tévez received a standing and loud ovation despite the sparse crowd.

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But West Hamʼs former idol could not provide the fairytale goal despite a glorious chance made for him by Manchester Unitedʼs Ángel di María, which Tévez pulled just wide of the post. He also spurned another chance by heading Pablo Zabaletaʼs cross straight at Kalinić.

Midway through the second half the other Argentinian returning Hammer from the 2007 season Javier Mascherano, unleashed a pile-driver, which Kalinić saved. Five minutes earlier Barçelonaʼs defensive midfield enforcer inflicted a crunching shin high tackle on Tin Jedvaj. Not only did Mascherano not receive a card – friendly or not – but referee Lee Probert didnʼt even award the Roma defender currently on loan to Bayer Levekusen a free kick.

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Argentina got the win and Croatiaʼs second team showed spirit that pleased the President of Croatian Football Federation Davor Šuker. “[They] need to give back to Croatian national team and I think we have great performance”, Šuker said, “and we have great future in the Croatian football federation”. Croatia face Italy at the weekend and Argentina will face Cristiano Ronaldoʼs Portugal at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

Second String

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by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 12th 2014)

Omissions

A full strength Argentina – the second best team in the World according to Croatian Football Federation President Davor Šuker – will play Croatia at West Hamʼs Boleyn Ground tonight, but the Croatians will be shorn of their stars. Mario Mandžukić, Ivica Olić, Luka Modrić, Danijel Pranjić and Dejan Lovren are among those who will not face La Abiceleste.

Croatiaʼs coach Niko Kovačʼs priority – understandably – was this weekendʼs Euro2016 qualifier against Italy. “My coach decide in that way and we will talk about [it] on Monday, after the game in Italy”, Šuker said explaining the omissions from the squad for tonightʼs friendly amid rumours that Kovač was far from happy with the choice of opponent. So why Argentina?

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Choices

What is the best teams in the world”? Šuker asks. “Playing the best teams and I think is Argentina. They are the second team in the World Cup and itʼs great to play a friendly game in London with big awareness and big players and just the young players can play against Messi and this is next step for these players”.

Kovač is said to have wanted to play the USA rather than Argentina tonight. The Americans play Colombia at Craven Cottage on Friday. Meanwhile, Croatiaʼs stars didnʼt come to London. The ʻfirst team squadʼ remained in the former Yugoslav nation. They are being trained by Kovačʼs assistants.

It could prove to be inspired. Youngsters with no fear and nothing to lose could come of age, or they could be torn apart by facing a precociously talented Argentina team.

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Gamble

Former Barçelona coach Gerardo Tata Martino replaced Alejandro Sabella after the World Cup. Martino has brought a full strength squad, which includes former West Ham hero Carlos Tévez – recalled after a three year absence.

Itʼs a gamble for Croatia. Some answers will come tonight when Šuker and Kovač find out if this untested squad come through the examination. But the real test is against Italy. Only then will it be seen if the gamble has paid off. “Thatʼs the big game and I hope we can surprise Italy of course and we will play a nice game”, Šuker said.

Drab

by Satish Sekar at Wembley Stadium © Satish Sekar (September 3rd 2014)

Below Par

There was more excitement in the normally unflappable Roy Hodgsonʼs press conference than on the pitch tonight. Hodgson was terse in his defence of a dreary performance with few positives. Nevertheless, Hodgson, true to form, found positives. The obvious were the displays of Man of the Match Raheem Sterling and his Liverpool team-mate Daniel Sturridge.

“Donʼt hit me with statistics”, Hodgson snapped. “Two shots on target? Donʼt give me that one. What about the ones they threw themselves in front of? We had that much possession and you talk about two shots on target. The performance was quite good”.

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The facts told a different story. Norway is ranked 53 in the world for a reason. Before the World Cup they were thrashed by France. Their main striking threat Joshua King is struggling to make an impact at Blackburn Rovers. Contrary to Hodgsonʼs claim that Norway was a good team, the rankings are not lying in this case. Norway are not that good. In a qualifying group that contains Italy, Croatia and Bulgaria, even Norwegians talk about fighting Bulgaria for third place.

An ambitious England team should be looking to win convincingly against such opposition. Hodgson thought they were a higher quality than Perú, but were they. Perú held their own in the first half before tiring and paying the price for tiredness and notable absentees. Norway have much to prove. Their tactics were obvious – they would absorb pressure and hope to profit later.

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Hodgson gets Retaliation in

You have just seen an England team dominate for 45 minutes against a good opponent, an opponent thatʼs hard to beat and you have seen them work very hard to create chances”, Hodgson said. “There was a lot of euphoria before the World Cup. We were getting 75,000 people to see us play Peru, who, with respect, were nowhere near as difficult an opponent as Norway. And now we have 40,000”.

Rooney scores

The normally placid England manager refused to take criticism of the performance, taking great exception to a question about just two shots on goal – Rooneyʼs penalty and Danny Welbeckʼs shot from just inside the penalty area, both in the final quarter of the match.

I canʼt put that right because I canʼt turn the clock back, but what I can do is analyse what I have seen and judge that through my eyes, and not judge it because someone is going to tell me: ʻWell, you only had two shots at goalʼ, because for me, that is absolute f*****g b******s, Iʼm sorry”.

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Satisfaction?

Hodgson praised new skipper Wayne Rooneyʼs performance, although barring the match-winning goal from the penalty spot there was little to enthuse about from Manchester Unitedʼs captain. In just over 20 minutes new Arsenal signing Danny Welbeck posed more questions than Rooney. A stinging shot from 15 yards out was parried by Norwegian goalkeeper Ørjan Håskjold Nyland and after a neat interchange on the left of the area with Sturridge, Welbeckʼs centre lacked only the finishing touch.

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Bar a twenty minute period in the second half Norway was content to defend. Joshua Kingʼs header from a corner brought a fine save out of Joe Hart – heʼd been little more than a spectator up to that point, bar a slight fumble of Per Ciljan Skjelbredʼs cross/shot. King almost punished Gary Cahillʼs error on the right flank. King cut into the area before shooting from an acute angle that Hart had covered.

A sumptuous pass by Sterling found Sturridge in the area, but his lob from 10 yards out nestled on the roof of the net. Jack Wilshere and Sturridge looked puzzled either side of the interval when sent tumbling to earth by Håvard Nordtveit. Portuguese referee Jorge Sousa was unimpressed on both occasions. However, after Norwayʼs most attacking period, it proved third time lucky. Omar Elabdellaoui fouled Sterling to concede a 67th minute penalty. Rooney converted it for the only goal in an uninspiring match.

Positives

Less than half full Wembleyʼs famed atmosphere was lacking – toned down by a defensive performance. Norway came to frustrate and they did. Hoping to grab something on the counter-attack, the plan almost worked, but for Hart. Manager Per Mathias Høgmo bemoaned the naïve defending that cost his team a penalty. His concern was to boost confidence – achieved – and learn the lesson when defending against quality attackers like Sturridge and Sterling.

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In defeat they claimed a moral victory. Few thought Englandʼs display – two shots on target, Welbeck and Rooneyʼs penalty – posed any threat to Switzerland next week, but Norway showed enough to suggest that despite losing they could frustrate Italy, Croatia and Bulgaria in a harder group than Englandʼs.

But Hodgson was having none of it. Allow me to be excited about what they can do and allow me to stand up and say I think my team played well at a press conference when I think they have”, Hodgson said. He was satisfied with the performance, believing in spite of the evidence to the contrary and other peopleʼs opinions that England had played well.

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Remembering Joseph Gaetjens – Archive

 

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 6th 2013)

A Great Idea

I agree”, the BBCʼs South America football correspondent Tim Vickery says regarding our idea that Brasilʼs World Cup should properly remember and appreciate the football legacy of Joseph Gaetjens at the semi-final of next yearʼs World Cup in Belo Horizionte – the scene of Gaetjensʼ triumph. “I think that would be wonderful. It would be wonderful and itʼs so appropriate as I say given the relationship between Brasil and Haiti. No Iʼm all in favour. I think itʼs a great idea”.

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Empower-Sport makes no secret of its belief that more needs to be done by football to remember Gaetjens. He was inducted into the sportʼs Hall of Fame in the USA, but so were the rest of the Miracle Team of 1950. Sixty years after his remarkable achievement in Belo Horizonte his son Lesly accepted a coveted award award on behalf of his murdered father. The National Soccer Coachesʼ Association of America gave its All America Award for 2010 posthumously to Gaetjens.

We believe that this recognition is far too little. Football and FIFA must make sure that Gaetjensʼ legacy is properly honoured. Brasilʼs World Cup is the ideal time and place to do this. At the very least the semi-final in Belo Horizonte on July 8th 2014 should begin with a minuteʼs silence or applause to honour the memory and legacy of Joseph Gaetjens. Vickery agrees.

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Seismic Shocks

Gaetjens sent a seismic shock through the world of football by scoring the goal that beat the mighty England – competing in their first World Cup – 64 years ago. A team of part-time footballers humbled a team thought to be one of the best in the world. It was so unbelievable that some refused to believe the score and reported that England had beaten the USA 10-0. In fact the impossible had happened. Gaetjensʼ 38th minute goal had beaten England.

Gaetjens never received US citizenship. He departed for France before eventually returning to his native Haiti where his story reached its tragic and deplorable conclusion. Gaetjens was kidnapped by the Ton Ton Macoutes – the notoriously brutal and venal thugs of Haitian dictator François (Papa Doc) Duvalier – on July 8th 1964. He was taken to the notorious Fort Dimanache Prison and was never seen alive again. There is no doubt that a football icon was murdered by cowardly thugs in order to steal his laundry business.

Legacy

I think itʼs such a fabulous story and you might think that it shows the United States at its most positive in the way that he was involved in the team and he had this role in scoring the goal and the fact that he was forgotten afterwards, I think is a shame”, Vickery told us.

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Gaetjens was remembered fondly by Brasilians – he was chaired off the pitch in Belo Horizonte by jubilant Brasilian fans who knew they had witnessed something special. Even Brasilʼs greatest player at that tournament remembers him. Gaetjens was playing in Paris at the time.

I remember talking once to Zizinho who was Brasilʼs star player in that World Cup in 1950 and he told me, ʻI was in Paris once and a fellow tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Oh Iʼm Gaetjens”ʼ, Vickery says, “and you know for someone who achieved something so wonderful to be so forgotten after the tragedy of what happened to him back in Haiti, now thatʼs especially pertinent given the fact that Brasil has a responsibility with Haiti because the United Nations Peace-keeping Force which is in Haiti is largely from Brasil”.

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The links between Haiti and Brasil are strong but controversial. “There are Haitian immigrants coming into the country – thatʼs another controversial subject because Brasilʼs perhaps not entirely happy about the quantity of them coming in”, Vickery said. “I was at the Italy Haiti game just before this tournament [the Confederationsʼ Cup] started and there were certainly a few Haitians cheering on their team, so given the relationship between Brasil and Haiti, given the fact that the World Cup next year, 64 years afterwards will stage games in the city where Gaetjens scored his goal, I think itʼs entirely appropriate that something be done”.

 

U-S-A! – The Aftermath

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 4th 2014)

The Tour

The USA topped their group to reach the semi-final of the inaugural World Cup. It was against Argentina, whose enforcer, later to become a World Cup winning Oriundo – an immigrant of Italian or Spanish descent – Luis Monti played hard and injured opponents. The USA lost 6-1, but that was in the days before substitutions. The Argentinians put their boots in and within four minutes goal-keeper James Douglas was hurt, but forced to play on. He wasnʼt the only American who played hurt. Argentina won easily, but the Americans were put at an early disadvantage.

Raphael Tracey suffered a broken leg with just ten minutes played. He bravely continued playing until forced off at half time. Argentina were 1-0 up at the time thanks to Monti. The US had to play the rest of the match with ten men – two of whom were also injured. They lost 6-1 – an early example of the failure of the officials to protect players from ugly play exemplified by the Argentinians and Monti in particular. He repeated the role for Vittorio Pozziʼs Italy

Argentina lost the inaugural World Cup Final to hosts Uruguay, then the best team in the world – a nation that punches ridiculously above its weight in terms of population. The USA stayed in South America and toured the continent. Bizarrely only their 4-3 defeat against Brasil at Rio de Janeiroʼs Estádio das Laranjeiras – the former home of Fluminense – on August 17th 1930 was recognised as an international.

Betrand Patenaude scored a brace for the Americans and Adelino (Billy) Gonsalves – one of the best players the USA ever produced – got the other. It was his only goal for his country. Before Pelé broke his record Carlos Alberto Dobbert de Carvalho Leite was the youngest footballer to play in the World Cup Finals – a record he set in 1930. He had only just turned 18. Carvalho Leite also scored in the friendly against the USA. Teóphilo Pereira, (João Coelho Neto) Preguinho – Brasilʼs captain at the 1930 World Cup and scorer of his countryʼs first goal in that competition – (Alfredo de Almeida Rego) Doca scored the others for Brasil. All of the Brasilians were part of Brasilʼs squad for the World Cup. Only Doca didnʼt play.

Gonsalves and three others, including the teamʼs captain Tom Florie, also represented the USA four years later in Italyʼs first World Cup. They beat México 4-2 in Roma on May 25th 1934 three days before the tournament opened to clinch their place in the finals. Aldo Donelli scored all four of the USAʼs goals.

Their stay was not a long one and despite the dark arts used later by eventual winners Italy there was no controversy over Italyʼs first round win – a 7-1 thrashing of the USA that could have been even worse, but for goal-keeper Julian Hjulian. Donelli scored the Americanʼs goal, but they were three down at the time.

Argentine-born Raimundo Orsi got a brace, although he had switched allegiance to Italy in 1929, so unlike Luis Monti he didnʼt play for Argentina in the 1930 World Cup. Bolognaʼs Angelo Schiavio got a hat-trick, and Italian legends Giovanni Ferrari and Giuseppe Meazza.

The Huddled Masses

Immigrants played a great part in the USAʼs success in football in both 1930 and again in 1950. It has its roots in the generation of immigrants who came to America in the two decades before the World Cup. Football had a following in the factory teams and it was reflected in the national team too before the Great Depression destroyed football in the USA. People had other priorities – life and survival was more important.

Six of the starting team for the USA were born in Britain – one Englishman and five Scottish-born players. The next generation of American heroes came twenty years later. They included foreign born players too. Among them was a Belgian war hero and they were captained by a Scot while the iconic goal that made them heroes was scored by a Haitian – Joseph Gaetjens. The current generation has five German-Americans in Jürgen Klinsmannʼs squad. It was controversial before they arrived in Brasil, but Klinsmann has earned the right to take the sport to the next stage.

 

 

Suárezʼ Alleged Bite Mars Uruguayʼs Win

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 24th 2013)

Third Bite

Atlético de Madridʼs Diego Godínʼs 81st minute winner put Uruguay into the last 16, almost certainly to face fellow South Americans Colombia. The story should have been about their performance, but it wonʼt be. FIFA will examine footage of an incident two minutes earlier as Liverpoolʼs Luis Suárez and Juventusʼ Giorgio Chiellini clashed.

Both should have been dismissed, but the fall-out is likely to be far more serious as Suárez appeared to bite Chiellini. If the footage confirms it it will be the third time Suárez has bitten a fellow player and will surely lead to a very lengthy ban. Chiellini certainly believed that Suárez had bitten him and tried to show the officials his shoulder.

It was ridiculous not to send Suárez off for biting me”, Chiellini said to RAI TV, but the Méxican referee Marco Rodríguez Moreno was unmoved by Chielliniʼs attempt to show him the bite marks.

Actions

FIFA will investigate further. If confirmed as seems likely Suárez will miss the rest of the World Cup and face further sanction. FIFAʼs Disciplinary Code allows it to be reviewed and its maximum sanctions are 24 matches or a 2 year ban, even though the harshest punishment imposed in a World Cup was the disgraceful elbow in the face of Spainʼs Luis Enrique by Italyʼs Mauro Tassotti in 1994.

It would be the third time that Suárez has bitten a player. In 2010, while playing for Ajax he was banned for seven matches for biting PSV Eindhovenʼs Otman Bakkal. Last year the FA banned Suárez for 10 matches for biting Chelseaʼs Branislav Ivanović. He missed the start of the season and then played so well that he became the Player of the Year and deservedly so.

Controversy

Italy began the match needing just a draw to progress to the last 16. Despite rough treatment of Mario Balotelli – he was withdrawn at half time – Italy were inn pole position until just before the hour mark. Claudio Marchisio was shown a straight red card for a studs up challenge that connected with Edigio Árevalo Ríos shin. Italians protested vociferously, but it made no difference.

They held on until two minutes after the bite Gastón Ramírez Pereyra crossed for Godín to powerfully head across Gianluigi Buffon – advantage Uruguay. They held on to set up a last 16 clash against the winners of Group C. Italyʼs second consecutive elimination in the first round proved too much for coach Cesare Prandelli. He resigned immediately after the match.