The image of Luis Suarez sitting on the ground holding his teeth remains one of the most abiding moments of the World Cup in Brazil.
Fresh from scoring two goals to help his team beat England 2-1 in a group match Uruguay needed to win, Suarez was expected to play a prominent role against Italy to spearhead his team’s advancement to the round of 16.
He did play a leading role — only not in the way most had anticipated.
Toward the end of the match, Suarez inexplicably bit Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder following a tussle in the penalty area. The referee didn’t see the incident, which proved costly for the Azzurri because Uruguay soon scored the only goal of the match.
Suarez faced severe retrospective action, however. He was suspended from all football-related activity for four months, slapped with a nine-match international ban and given a big fine.
Suarez wasn’t new to biting. This was his third offense on the field following previous incidents for Ajax and Liverpool. Suarez’s bad habit didn’t put off Barcelona, who weeks later bought the striker from Liverpool for about $130 million.
It was Suarez’s second controversial World Cup moment. In the last minute of extra time in a hard-fought 2010 quarterfinal match against Ghana, Suarez was sent off after he used his hands to keep out Dominic Adiyiah’s goal-bound header. Asamoah Gyan hit the bar on the ensuing penalty, and Suarez was shown celebrating on the sideline.
Ghana went on to lose the penalty shootout, thereby failing to become Africa’s first semifinalist as the continent staged its first World Cup.
Suarez says he is a reformed character and will be better behaved in Russia.
“I have a debt to repay to myself and Uruguay,” Suarez said recently, “to try to show a good image.”
Time will tell.