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Uruguay Leaves Its Mark: Three Thoughts on its 1-0 win over Italy

Uruguay is through to the knockout stage of the World Cup following a 1-0 win over Italy, taking second place in Group D behind upstart Costa Rica. Will Luis Suarez join the Celeste in the round of 16, though? After appearing to bite an opponent for the third time in his career, Suarez surely has stolen the spotlight from Diego Godin, scorer of the winning goal that saved Uruguay from the brink of elimination.

Here are three thoughts on the match:

Suarez will hog the headlines again

Argentina has been so desperate for Lionel Messi to emulate the achievements of Diego Maradona in 1986, but the more pertinent comparison seems to be with Luis Suarez and Uruguay. Suarez plays more like Maradona than Messi; both are pibes who exist on the edge (and sometimes the wrong side) of the rules; the personification of a nation, and the symbol of its hopes. When Suarez plays, Uruguay wins; without him, it loses.

Watch: Luis Suarez appears to bite third opponent, Italy's Giorgio Chiellini

Suarez was up to his old tricks again here, though: as the game headed to a goalless conclusion, after Suarez had one shot brilliantly saved by Gigi Buffon, he appeared to put his head into the back of Giorgio Chiellini’s head. Chiellini threw his arm back and it appeared that both men could be heading for red cards. Replays then suggested the unthinkable – that Suarez had actually dug his teeth into Chiellini’s shoulder.

Infamously, Suarez has done the same at Ajax and Liverpool, but this, if Chiellini’s claim was correct, was unbelievable. At a World Cup! Chiellini was convinced: he pulled down his shirt to show the official apparent the marks on his shoulder. What happens next may be up to FIFA: if Chiellini goes public on the incident after the game – and replays do not look kindly on Suarez – then Suarez’s last year of good behavior will be forgotten in an instant. And he may even face a retrospective ban for the next game in the tournament. 

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This game was one from the old-school

So much for the spirit of the Brazil: this game was more about reminding us of national stereotypes from about 40 years ago. Italy, needing only a 0-0 to progress, was happy to play a defensive game while Uruguay lacked ideas up front, and its players took it turns to rile Mario Balotelli with late tackles, sly digs and general wind-ups. “Dull violence,” is how football writer Simon Kuper described it. 

It stopped being dull on the hour mark, when referee Marco Rodriguez sent off Claudio Marchisio for a studs-up challenge on Arevalo Rios. Italy was livid, captain Gigi Buffon running 60 yards to remonstrate with the official. And though it looked an innocuous challenge, and Marchisio had the sympathy of his teammates and coach as he walked off, replays showed it was the correct call.

Italy had been in control before then, so comfortable with coach Cesare Prandelli’s formation change to three at the back that Uruguay tried three times to lob Buffon from the halfway line. 

But the extra man pushed Uruguay forward: Buffon made a superb save to deny Luis Suarez’s shot but could do nothing when, with 10 minutes to go, Diego Godin headed home sub Gaston Ramirez’s inch-perfect corner. Godin scored the goal that won La Liga – a header from a corner against Barcelona – and did the same in the Champions League final. For him, this header might have been the most important of the bunch. 

Farewell to Andrea Pirlo

Andrea Pirlo always said he would retire from international football after this World Cup but had told his friend Daniele De Rossi that he wants to play at the Maracana on July 13, the date of the final. That will no longer happen now. The midfielder described what it would feel like to stop playing for Italy in typical lyrical style: “I’ll be hanging up my heart.” (Not quite as good as his feelings about warming up for a match, which he compared to lying next to a naked supermodel, winking at her and telling her not to move.) 

While his influence against Uruguay was limited, mainly because Edinson Cavani dropped so deep to nullify his threat, there was the odd moment of magic. Perhaps more significant was the performance of Marco Verratti, Pirlo’s successor in midfield, who was excellent until his PSG teammate Cavani stamped on his foot and ended his involvement. It was that type of game.