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Suarez idolised, not blamed

2014-06-29 10:12

Rio de Janeiro - Dejected but defiant, and still defending Luis Suarez.

Uruguay's support of the banned, biting striker was steadfast on Saturday even as the team was toothless in his absence and went out of the World Cup with a 2-0 loss to Colombia.

Among the Uruguay fans in the stands, in the team dressing room and in the dugout, Suarez's global pariah status is still mystifying. To them, the 27-year-old player is not a pariah but a footballing hero, even if the bite on an opponent will prevent him representing the national team in competitive games for more than a year.

"People have been after him for a long time," Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said in the Maracana, echoing recent attacks on a perceived FIFA and English-language media campaign against Suarez.

World football's governing body acted swiftly after the bite on Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini during Tuesday's Group D finale, banning Suarez for four months, disrupting his Liverpool career, as well as nine international matches.

"It is an outrage," veteran defender Diego Lugano said. "It is a violation of human rights which is far beyond winning or losing a football game."

While Suarez was more than 1,000 miles at home, his usual No. 9 jersey was hung in the dressing room as usual, tweeted out for the world to see by the team. Outside the Maracana, some fans pretended to bite each other, inside many watched the game wearing Suarez face masks and "Ole, ole, ole, Suarez" was sung throughout.

"We all know the things that happened, but we had to take only positive things out of that situation," Tabarez said. "In fact, it gave us a lot of strength for this game. We really wanted to win."

But apart from Suarez's name, there was little to cheer as Uruguay fans were outnumbered by the swathes of Colombian yellow. Just like in the group stage opener when Suarez was still recovering from a knee injury, Uruguay couldn't find a way to win in this round of 16 match without the lethal marksman, who scored twice in the victory over England.

At 35, Diego Forlan made little impact up front during his 53 minutes on the pitch. Only in the closing minutes was there any intensity from the 2010 semi-finalists, but Cristian Rodriguez, Maxi Pereira and Edinson Cavani were all denied.

Still, though, no fan in a Uruguay shirt could be found blaming Suarez as they left the stadium.

"He is not a criminal, he is a good boy," said 43-year-old Santiago Pineyioz. "He has a problem."

Suarez has now been handed a third biting ban after previous incidents with Ajax and Liverpool.

But with the FIFA sanction preventing Suarez playing in next year's Copa America, a perception is growing in Uruguay that the country of around three million is being unfairly targeted.

"It's very easy for FIFA to punish Uruguay," 33-year-old Jose Maria Blanco said. "They wouldn't do it to Brazil ... we don't have the power."

It's a sentiment that's shared by Uruguay midfielder Egidio Arevalo.

"Right now I've got a bitter feeling," Arevalo said. "We really had to fight against all ... because the truth is that they wanted us out of the cup long ago."

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