- Associated Press - Friday, June 27, 2014

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) - Luis Suarez quietly returned home to Uruguay on Friday following his expulsion from the World Cup, long after a crowd that had come to greet him as a national hero had drifted away.

President Jose Mujica was among some 1,000 people who went to Carrasco International Airport in Montevideo to meet Suarez Thursday night, but he left after being told that Suarez’s flight had been delayed.

A private jet carrying the star striker finally arrived at about 5 a.m., but Suarez left without making comments to the press.

FIFA threw Suarez out of the World Cup on Thursday with a nine-game and four-month ban for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini - a punishment that was overwhelmingly seen as unfair by Uruguayans.

“I came to encourage Suarez because Suarez is the God of the national team. He gives his soul to the team,” said Lucia Romanello, who came to the airport wrapped in the Uruguayan flag.

“With the world against him, we want him to know that Uruguayans are for him,” said student Clara Bragard, who also carried the blue-and-white-striped flag.

Many in the country of 3.4 million have accused FIFA of punishing the small country to ease the way for larger nations in the Cup.

Uruguay will now be without its best player for its second-round match against Colombia on Saturday.