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 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.
“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.
“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.
Suarez was suspended following biting incidents in the Netherlands in 2010 and in England in 2013. He also was suspended for racially abusing an opponent. British tabloids have teasingly called him a vampire, and social media artists have had fun manipulating his photo into images of Dracula and Hannibal Lecter.
And he was responsible for one of the most talked-about moments of the 2010 World Cup, when he purposefully used his hand to prevent a Ghana goal near the end of the quarterfinals. Suarez received a red card and was banned for the next game, but Ghana missed the penalty kick and was eliminated.