Wednesday 17 January 2018

Suarez set to plead his innocence over 'bite'

Uruguay FA 'polishing off defence' and insist England and Italy conspiring against striker

Uruguay's Luis Suarez uses his mobile phone at a hotel in Natal, Brazil
Uruguay's Luis Suarez uses his mobile phone at a hotel in Natal, Brazil

Ben Rumsby in Rio de Janeiro

An unrepentant Luis Suarez last night hatched an audacious plot to escape a record World Cup ban after his lawyer branded his biting of Giorgio Chiellini "casual play" that saw him suffer a worse injury than his opponent.

Alejandro Balbi, a Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) board member, also claimed his client was the victim of an English, Italian and Brazilian conspiracy to expel the striker from the tournament for helping knock the former two countries out.

Suarez last night faced a heavy sanction if found guilty by Fifa of the third biting offence of his career, its disciplinary committee confirming he would learn his fate by the end of today following the examination of footage from Tuesday's Group D match between Uruguay and Italy in Natal.

Rather than apologise for an episode that has marred the most spectacular of World Cups, Suarez yesterday attempted to wriggle his way out of a ban, with Balbi and AUF president Wilmar Valdez travelling to Rio de Janeiro to plead his case.

"We don't have any doubts that this has happened because it's Suarez and secondly because Italy was eliminated," Balbi told Uruguayan radio, compounding the conspiracy theories being peddled by his country's media.

"There's a lot of pressure from England and Italy. We're polishing off a defence argument."

That argument was set to include accusing Chiellini of injuring Suarez's eye in fending off the striker as he apparently sunk his teeth into the Italian's shoulder.

Balbi, who also insinuated World Cup hosts Brazil may be part of any conspiracy against their old foes, said of the disciplinary proceedings: "There is a possibility that they ban him, because there are precedents. But we're convinced that it was an absolutely casual play, because if Chiellini can show a scratch on one shoulder, Suarez can show a bruised and almost shut eye.

"If every player starts showing the injuries he suffers and they open inquiries for them, everything will be way too complicated in the future."

"We're going to use all the arguments possible so that Luis gets out in the best possible way."

Were that to fail, Uruguay had the option of a cynical attempt to exploit the disciplinary system to enable Suarez to play in their last-16 encounter with Colombia at the Maracana.

Despite promising a decision on the case as a matter of "urgency", FIFA were yesterday unable to guarantee any appeal launched by the 27-year-old would not allow him to make further appearances at the tournament.

It did confirm its disciplinary committee, six of whom were sitting in judgment of Suarez, had the discretion to take the striker's previous seven-game and 10-game suspensions for biting into account when issuing any sanction, which could include a worldwide ban of anything up to two years.

Panel member Martin Hong said: "It's our duty to see justice done."

Suarez's repeat offending placed him at serious risk of being handed the longest suspension in World Cup history, exceeding the eight games sat out by Italy's Mauro Tassotti for breaking the nose of Spain's Luis Enrique in 1994.

The implications of any punishment were dire for the Uruguayan, who faced the wrath of Liverpool and his own and the club's sponsors. His employers kept their counsel yesterday, having stood by their talisman after he was banned for biting Branislav Ivanovic last year.

Liverpool's shirt sponsor, Standard Chartered, indicated they were awaiting FIFA's verdict, as did Suarez's boot supplier, adidas, amid talk of a meeting at which it was considering its future relationship with him.

Adidas warned Suarez about "the standards we expect" following his "unacceptable" attack on Ivanovic, suggesting they were not afraid to pull the plug on a deal reputedly worth around £1m to the player.

Bookmaker, for whom Suarez is an ambassador, confirmed it had already begun reviewing its relationship with him.

A lengthy ban that includes club football, meanwhile, could scupper Suarez's hopes of forcing an £80m summer move to Barcelona or Real Madrid.

The player was under armed guard yesterday as soldiers patrolled Uruguay's team hotel in Natal in response to the storm that has engulfed him.

The team were given strengthened security in and around the beachfront Serhs Hotel prior to their departure.

Individual guards lined the outside of the building, with two truckloads of troops also parked outside the team base.

Suarez was among those not to train yesterday when some of the Uruguay squad were put through their paces at the Maria Lamas Farache stadium.

Those asked about his bite continued to be in denial last night, with captain Diego Lugano responding to a question about the incident by scoffing: "What incident? The pictures don't show anything. They show an approximation."

That was despite the emergence of footage suggesting Suarez might also have attempted to bite Chiellini during last summer's Confederations Cup.

The English Professional Footballers' Association, whose members voted Suarez their player of the year this season, urged him to seek help to "eradicate" what appears to be a pathology from his psyche.

Chief executive Gordon Taylor said: "Issues with regard to biting is something not normally associated with senior players in the game. It can't be acceptable and from that point of view there are serious issues to be dealt with.

"They're health issues, counselling issues, mental health issues. It certainly needs that to try to eradicate this from his make-up. Otherwise, I fear for his career." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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