Despite another four World Cup fixtures, deciding two tightly fought groups, football news was dominated all day yesterday by other incidents. Unsurprisingly, it was Luis Suarez that captured the most headlines, facing the fallout for having bitten Italian defender Georgio Chiellini in Uruguay Group D playoff with the Azzurri on Tuesday. The Liverpool had been keen to brush the incident off as something that just happens on the football pitch, and not as a one-sided attack, but rather a collision between the two. Replays of the match though clearly showed that Suarez’ account of what happened was false however. In what was his third such attack, the Uruguayan, after some tussling from a corner, appeared to lean into the Italian’s shoulder, biting down, before falling to the floor with Chiellini clutching his face.
The images were damning, not only did Suarez quite obviously bite Chiellini, but also attempted, partially successfully, to deceive the referee into thinking that it was he that had been hurt. After convening for hours, and under intense pressure from sponsors, FIFA eventually announced that Suarez had been hit with a four month ban from all footballing activity, in addition to a nine match ban from international fixtures. It was a decision that pleased very few. The Uruguayan FA has been quick to condemn what it perceives as slur campaigns by the English and Italian media, whilst Liverpool fans, perhaps quite reasonably, at being punished for actions committed by their player on international duty. Others felt that for a third offence, by a player that is obviously not going to stop, warranted a longer punishment.
In reality, it is probably a fair punishment. A bite, although taboo, malicious and unhygienic, is not a leg breaking tackle, or a punch, or even a head-butt. It is shocking and vicious, and the intent by Suarez must obviously be considered, as must his attempted deception of the referee, and with all that taken into account, four months probably is reasonable. It was important that Luis Suarez not feature in the rest of this World Cup, and FIFA have ruled that will be the case, even if he does appeal. It now remains to be seen whether Liverpool will take action against either FIFA, or Suarez himself, although one positive the Anfield faithful can take is that the length of the ban means they will have their star man back by October, and although the ban does not prevent transfers, Real Madrid and Barcelona are now unlikely to follow up on interest for the Uruguayan. Remarkably, this latest ban means Suarez will have missed 34 matches for Liverpool since he signed, nearly 20% of all fixtures without picking up a single red card.
Manchester United fans always enjoy it when Liverpool are having a bad time, and their day only got better, with the much maligned Ed Woodward pulling off a surprise move for Altetico Bilbao midfielder Ander Herrera. It was perhaps a cathartic moment for the director, whose failed pursuit of the Basque player was the source of so much criticism last season. Rumours did not start circulating until Wednesday evening, and the deal was wrapped up by Thursday afternoon in what was the first signing of the Louis van Gaal era. Although Herrera will need to improve his pass completion percentages, his five goals and five assists will add a much needed goal threat to midfield that last term was sorely lacking. The good news did not end there though for United fans with Luke Shaw arriving at Carrington last night, with a deal expected to be announced if not today then over the weekend. Although some may balk at the excessive transfer and wage figures being quoted, there is no doubting the young left back’s potential. With two Premier League seasons and a World Cup under his belt at just eighteen, United fans will hope they have found a player who can be a fixture in the starting eleven for the next fifteen years.
Luis Nani is one Manchester United man though who did not have such a good day, after his Portugal side crashed out of the World Cup despite beating Ghana 2-1. In the end, the Portuguese paid the penalty for a slow start, losing heavily to Germany in their first match. The goals conceded in that game cost Portugal considerably as last night they bowed out of Brazil on only goal difference. They were up against a disharmonious Ghana side that had sent home both Muntari and Boateng the night before in two separate disputes. Arguments over win bonuses had marred much of Ghana’s experience in Brazil, and even a reported $3million being flown in by cash ahead of the match against Portugal could not prevent the infighting.
It was no surprise then that Portugal dominated the opening exchanges, Cristiano Ronaldo exerting greater influence than he had over Germany or the USA. The Real Madrid man saw an audacious effort crash against the crossbar, before heading straight at the keeper when he really should have scored. The pressure did eventually tell after half an hour gone, when Boye scored a quite bizarre own goal after good work by Moutinho and Veloso. Ghana did grow into the game after that though, and had chances despite Portugal controlling possession, Gyan going closest to an equaliser. The former Sunderland did eventually find the net, heading home a marvellous cross by Juventus’ Kwadwo Asamoah, surpassing Roger Miller as the all-time African goal scorer at the World Cup. Both sides continued to have chances, but both were guilty of profligacy. Eventually Ronaldo could no longer be supressed, putting Portugal ahead from a rebound.
It was for naught though; Germany could not inflict the heavy defeat over the USMNT that Portugal required to make up for their inferior goal difference. Thomas Muller continued his remarkable World Cup goal scoring record with the only goal of the game, as the US were once again hard to beat. The US public has taken an almost unprecedented interest in football (or soccer if you must), watching the World Cup in huge numbers, and have been rewarded with more than competent performances as their side has progressed from Group G second, despite being underdogs.
The last group left to be decided was Group H, in which no side has overly impressed. Leaders Belgium, who were fifth favourites heading into Brazil, have so far failed to live up to expectations, winning late on with a single goal in both their previous matches. It was a record they continued against South Korea last night, Jan Vertonghen slotting home after Divock Origi’s initial effort from distance. It was at least a resilient performance from the Red Devils, who despite going down to ten men due to a vicious tackle by Defour, did arguably have the best chances of the game. Other than Son Heung-min hitting the crossbar and having an effort cleared off the line, South Korea did not threaten Belgium enough, who had a decent penalty shout turned down and somehow managed to make it three wins in three. Belgium will have to improve in their next round tie against the USA, who are nothing if not resilient, and will be keen to fulfil their billing as potential winners.
In the other Group H match, Algeria held off pressure from Russia to secure a draw, and ensure that they finished second to progress to the next round. Capello’s men dominated possession, and the Italian got to see his team take an early lead, Aleksandr Kokorin left unmarked in the box, to head home Dmitri Kombarov’s left-wing cross. Russia were almost two ahead shortly after the halftime break, M’bolhi saving Aleksandr Samedov effor after good link up play with Kokorin. However, it was Algeria who got the next goal of the game. Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev continued his woeful World Cup, compounding his disastrous mistake against South Korea, with another for Algeria’s equaliser. Akinfeev will be unhappy that a laser pointer was being directed at his face, distracting him as he flapped at Brahimi’s free kick delivery, but nevertheless, should have done much better as Slimani put the ball in the back of the net. The Russians did push for a winner, Kerzhakov going closest, but it is the Algerians who will face Germany in the next round, and what will be the biggest match in the country’s history.