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Uruguay’s Luis Suarez was hit with the biggest ban imposed at a World Cup yesterday as FIFA threw the book at one of soccer’s most talented but controversial players for biting an opponent.
The sport’s governing body suspended Suarez from all football-related activity for four months and ruled he could not play in Uruguay’s next nine competitive games, immediately ending his involvement in the World Cup in Brazil.
The ban means the striker is unlikely to appear in non-friendly matches for his country until 2016.
“Such behaviour cannot be tolerated on any football pitch, and in particular not at a FIFA World Cup when the eyes of millions of people are on the stars on the field,” Claudio Sulser, chairman of FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee, said.
The four-month ban means Suarez will have to sit out the first two months of the next English season and he will miss Liverpool’s opening Premier League and Champions League matches.
The 27-year-old striker left his Uruguay teammates shortly after FIFA’s announcement, depriving them of their most outstanding player two days before a do-or-die match against Colombia in the second round of the World Cup.
FIFA also fined Suarez 100,000 Swiss francs (£65,188) after ten hours of deliberations by its Disciplinary Committee.
Uruguay’s president summed up the indignation in the South American country where Suarez is considered a hero, a stark contrast to his image as a hothead for many in Europe where he has been involved in two previous biting incidents.
“We didn’t choose him to be a philosopher, or a mechanic, or to have good manners—he’s a great player,” said President Jose Mujica. “I didn’t see him bite anyone.”
The Uruguayan FA will appeal against the ruling, but Suarez cannot play even if a challenge is lodged. The imposition of the fine could be delayed pending the appeal.
Suarez is one of the most gifted players in world football, scoring 31 league goals in 33 games for Liverpool last season.
He returned from a month on the sidelines with an injury to score twice in Uruguay’s 2-1 win over England last week, transforming the team’s World Cup which began with a shock defeat by Costa Rica in a game Suarez missed through injury.
But he is also one of the game’s most troubled players. As well as two previous bans for biting, Suarez was accused of racially abusing a player in England in 2011.
Former Brazil striker Ronaldo had no sympathy.
“Football must set an example and show examples of good players,” he told reporters. “People who are out of line must be punished.
“If my little children bite me, they are sent to the dark room with the big bad wolf. This is football’s equivalent.”
Suarez cannot even train or attend matches with Liverpool until late October, a big blow to their domestic and European ambitions.
Although FIFA has banned many players for life and issued other lengthy playing suspensions, this is the record punishment imposed for wrongdoing at the World Cup, surpassing the eight-game ban handed to Italy’s Mauro Tassotti for breaking the nose of Spain’s Luis Enrique in 1994.
As well as the biting cases, Suarez was banned for one match at the last World Cup in South Africa for a deliberate handball that cost Ghana a match-winning goal in a quarter-final.
The latest incident occurred in the tense final minutes of Uruguay’s last Group D match against Italy, shortly before the South American champions scored to seal a 1-0 win and knock Italy out of the tournament.
Suarez clashed with Giorgio Chiellini and the defender pulled down his collar to show the mark on his shoulder to the referee, who took no action.
Reuters photographs show what FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee accepted were bite marks. Pictures also showed Suarez sitting on the ground holding his teeth.
The ruling may have long-term repercussions for Suarez off the pitch. His sponsors had said they would decide on their relationship once the outcome of the investigation was known.
German sportswear firm Adidas stopped short on yesterday of axing Suarez but said it would not use him in any further World Cup marketing.
“Adidas certainly does not condone Luis Suarez’s recent behaviour and we will again be reminding him of the high standards we expect from our players,” a spokeswoman said.
Suarez’s value in the transfer market, estimated to be at least 50 million pounds (US$85 million), could also be affected should Liverpool decide to sell him.
He served a 10-match ban last year after biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic in a Premier League match and in 2010 he was suspended for seven games for biting PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal while playing for Ajax Amsterdam.
The other major controversy of his career came in 2011 when he was alleged to have racially abused Manchester United’s French defender Patrice Evra during a Premier League match.
He was banned for eight matches and fined 40,000 pounds for that and was then handed a further one-match ban for making a gesture at Fulham fans. When Liverpool played United in the return match he refused to shake Evra’s hand before the game.