It was the chomp that rang out across the world – except for in Uruguay.
The nation’s top player, and someone who is emerging as one of the best footballers globally, Luis Suárez, put his hunger for a win against Italy last night on full display.
Mr. Chiellini pulled down his jersey to show off the bite mark on his shoulder (a panicked teammate of Suárez's desperately tried to pull the shirt back up) while Suárez grasped at his teeth, implying an unexpected blow to his pearly whites. No penalty card was issued.
Soccer players are infamous for their theatrics on the field – but this incident has highlighted a big divide between Latin American fans and those watching in Europe.
While US and European media immediately lambasted Suárez’s behavior with headlines like The Many Crimes Of Luis Suárez, Soccer's Notorious Supervillain; Uruguay’s Suárez, Known for Biting, Leaves Mark on World Cup, and Luis Suárez needs help after biting Giorgio Chiellini – what he did was not just rash but entirely self-destructive, in the Uruguayan press the incident is framed much differently.
The story line in Uruguay appears to be collective denial – with the Montevideo-based Ultima Noticias website referring to it as the “alleged bite” in its coverage, despite video footage that shows clear contact. Television station Tenfield ran a story saying the high definition television recordings of the event weren’t clear enough to imply any wrongdoing. The report says the collision didn’t become an issue until the British media – which has long disliked Suárez, who has played for Liverpool since 2011 – started making a big deal out of it.
In the TV replay, as viewed in the press area, it appears that Luis’ face comes in contact with Chiellini without it being clear whether he bites him as was claimed by those – especially the English – who were keen to play down Uruguay’s victory….
In our view the TV image isn’t clear as to whether or not Suárez bites the shoulder of the Italian defender. Note how Suárez stumbles after jumping for the ball and how his face hits the shoulder of the Italian player on his way down.
British reporters, in the press conference, asked Óscar Tabárez three times about the incident, saying that: ‘Suárez bit Chiellini.’ Their intention was FIFA should expel Luisito. It would be good if these Englishmen remember how they won the World Cup in 1966 with a ball which was not a goal.
Meanwhile, one of the top read stories on Uruguayan sport site, Ovación, focuses on the fact that Chiellini is no angel, noting that “Luis Suárez is on the tip of everyone’s lips with his supposed biting of Giorgio Chiellini,” but the Italian defender “doesn’t have a history of good behavior on the pitch.”
The story goes on to cite examples of dirty plays by Chiellini, like the time he fractured an opponent’s leg – and only received a yellow card.
The thing is, Suárez has a track record. He’s been busted for two previous biting incidents while playing in European leagues. He’s now under investigation by FIFA and is at risk of at least a two-game ban and up to a maximum of 24 months off the field.
Fans ok with biters
Fans are defending Suárez as well, though frequently they're doing so while acknowledging the bite took place.
"We needed to win, so if you have to hit you hit, if you have to bite you bite," Barbara Giordano, a law student in Montevideo told Reuters.
"It's the 'Garra Charrua'!," she said, referring to Uruguay's legendary fighting spirit.
One Uruguay fan on Twitter, @sofipeixoto, wrote, “And all the talk about Suarez’s supposed "bite" and not anything on the Uruguayan victory, and how it eliminated 2 European teams in just 5 days.”
Mexico's version of The Onion had fun with the news, linking it the prevalence of bribes there, referred to in Spanish as "small bites." ElDeforma.com wrote Suárez was looking into becoming a Mexican national since he heard Mexico liked "small bites" so much.
Uruguay fans may think the European media has an agenda against Suárez, but Chiellini says FIFA’s the real problem:
"Suarez is a sneak and he gets away with it because FIFA want their stars to play in the World Cup,” Chiellini told Sky Sport Italia. “I'd love to see if they have the courage to use video evidence against him."