Uruguay scratches, claws, bites its way past Italy
Underscoring a power shift away from Europe, Uruguay fought – and apparently even bit – its way to a 1-0 victory over Italy Tuesday to move to the World Cup’s next round with Costa Rica, which sent England home without a single victory after a goalless draw.
South America’s strength was further highlighted when Colombia capped its perfect record in Group C with a 4-1 win over Japan. Europe did get one team through when Greece converted an injury time penalty kick for a 2-1 victory over Ivory Coast which eliminated the African team.
The evening excitement though could hardly match yet another controversy to haunt Uruguay striker Luis Suarez. Around 80 minutes in, Suarez and Giorgio Chiellini tangled, with replays showing Suarez seemingly biting the shoulder of the Italian defender. It would make Suarez, amazingly, a triple carnivorous offender on the pitch in four years.
“It was absolutely clear. There’s even a mark,” Chiellini said.
The referee didn’t see a bite, and no foul was called. Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez only had eyes on the result. “For me, and for all the people in Uruguay, we had more important things,” he said.
About a minute later, the decisive goal was scored on a powerful thrust of head and shoulder from captain Diego Godin that somehow had perfect direction. Italy was down to 10 men since the 59th minute, when Claudio Marchisio received a red card for putting his boot into Egidio Arevalo’s knee.
It was the second straight time that Italy, a four-time champion, went out in the first round.
“When you’re coming off two defeats without even scoring a goal, we clearly also have to take our share of that blame,” said goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who played on his fifth World Cup squad. After the game, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli immediately resigned and midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo retired from international play.
The draw against England gave Costa Rica, the surprise team of the competition, first place in Group D over three former champions, and gutted more of the European contingent at the tournament.
The Central Americans reached the second round in 1990. But this time they did it as group winner, beating top-rate opposition.
And after an opening loss to Costa Rica, Uruguay recovered with two victories to keep its tournament alive, four years after a surprising run to the semifinals.
After beating England with two great goals to start the comeback, Suarez turned into the villain on Tuesday. The mercurial forward had already been banned twice for biting over the past four years, once in the Netherlands and once in England. FIFA can sanction players for biting with bans of up to two years.
Uruguay will now play Colombia in an all-South American encounter, with Costa Rica taking on Greece. If anyone had said before the World Cup that either Greece or Costa Rica would be a quarterfinalist, there would have been precious few believers.
But beyond goals, it also takes upsets like the runs of Costa Rica and Greece to make a World Cup truly great. And with each passing day, the 2014 edition is drawing nearer.
Often chided for being super defensive, Greece needed to go out looking for a win over Ivory Coast and did so from start really right up to the finish. It doubled its total scoring tally at World Cup tournaments with two – the second coming through an injury-time penalty that secured a 2-1 victory and sent much of the crisis hit country into a frenzy, celebrating its first passage ever in the second round.
After Spain already landed back home after a disastrous defense of its title, Tuesday was also the day to wave England out, and not even with a victory. It lost its first two games and also failed to deflate an ebullient Costa Rica in a 0-0 draw. The English created several chances, but the end result was another bitter setback.
“We are so disappointed not to finish with a victory, but I don’t think I have asked for a much better performance,” said coach Roy Hodgson.
And finally, showing that high-stakes football still has time for sentiment, Colombia gave a few minutes of play to 43-year-old substitute goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon, making him the oldest player to compete at a World Cup.
“Faryd has been a very important player for us … so we gave him the chance,” said Colombia coach Jose Pekerman.
Mondragon broke the record set by Cameroon striker Roger Milla, who was 42 when he played in the 1994 finals in the United States.
Colombia already had a safe two-goal cushion over Japan. And Pekerman needn’t have worried. Even at 43, Mondragon still made one good save.