Life for Uruguay without Luis Suarez
So far, the focus has all been on Luis Suarez. The extremists on both sides have been concerned with whether he did anything wrong in the first place and whether he should ever be allowed to play again.
The more balanced have asked whether he deserved it -- the severity, if not the punishment -- whether he has a problem, whether he can be treated and cured, whether he is worth the trouble, whether Liverpool should protect him or whether Liverpool should sell him, whether Barcelona need him and whether Barcelona should want him.
LUIS SUAREZ BITE STORM
- FIFA bans Luis Suarez for four months
- PL chief: Suarez an accident waiting to happen
- No 'bite clause' in Suarez's Barca contract
- Toe Poke: Fan gets dodgy Suarez tattoo
- Thompson: Portrait of a serial winner
- Brewin: No sympathy for Luis Suarez
- Thompson: Uruguay comes to Suarez defence
- Marcotti: Suarez in another bite storm
Suarez feels he is a victim, a view supported by his teammates, his fans and his entourage. Despite the admirable clemency evident in his admission that he feels some sympathy with a fellow professional, Giorgio Chiellini no doubt feels he has a rather better claim to that status. Liverpool, who may yet have to pay Suarez 3 million pounds while he is barred from even training, clearly feel that they are collateral damage in an incident that, directly at least, has nothing to do with them.
The list of those who have suffered does not end there, though. Uruguay, too, are victims here. Not in the way that they have immediately assumed -- and not in the sense that they have been made the targets of a conspiracy that they have to put up with some sort of injustice -- but in the sense that it is Oscar Washington Tabarez's side that must now embark on the rest of their World Cup campaign without their best player.
Whatever you think of the ban; whether you see it as too harsh or too lenient, and whether you think biting is better or worse or the same as breaking a leg or elbowing someone or head-butting them a la Pepe as they sit on the ground, this is an unavoidable truth: Suarez's action was a selfish, irresponsible act that let his teammates down.
Not because it was a bite, but because it was so unnecessary. He might have been sent off had he committed any of the offences listed above; even if he had escaped immediate censure, he almost certainly would have been given a retrospective ban. Whether he acted impulsively or whether his act was premeditated does not matter: his loss of control and transgression of the rules is an abdication of his duty to his teammates.
That has been lost amid all of the claims and counterclaims. Suarez should not have done it. By doing it, Suarez, whatever the punishment, owes an apology to those most immediately affected: his team.
Now, his teammates must pick up his slack. Now, Tabarez must conjure up some scheme to cope in his absence. Uruguay looked blunt without Suarez against Costa Rica. That they were comparably blunt with him against Italy should not disguise quite how much of a difference he makes to this team. He is their all-time leading scorer, he led them to the Copa America in 2011 and he is the sort of player who can demand a hero's welcome at Montevideo airport even when he is returning home in disgrace. Suarez is central to Uruguay.
Whoever the victims are, you can be sure that Colombia, their opponents in the round of 16, are the beneficiaries.
Uruguay's strength has always been their sense of unity, their collective, their obduracy. That will remain. The back five will stay in place -- Jose Maria Gimenez looks a far surer bet than Diego Lugano, the country's captain, alongside the imperious Diego Godin -- with Arevalo Rios, a trouble-spotter of a player, in front of them. They could yet add more solidity by deploying Walter Gargano, a similar beast, alongside him, which would make them yet more difficult to beat.
The real question, though, is how they replace the threat that Suarez represents in attack. They do not have a player who can do that single-handedly, so they must look to spread the load between two or three, what sabermetricians in another sport might refer to as the aggregate of his effect.
The intent will have to come from Cristian Rodriguez and, possibly, Christian Stuani. It seems likely that Nicolas Lodeiro, impressive in the victory against England, will play in an advanced role at the tip of the midfield; he will be tasked with mimicking Suarez's creativity. That would leave Edinson Cavani to provide the final aspect brought by the Liverpool forward: the goals.
There are other options available to Tabarez, of course. He could draft in Diego Forlan or Abel Hernandez; though he does not need to play two defensive shields, it may not be a bad idea against a side as dangerous as Colombia. Gaston Ramirez, the occasionally brilliant but ordinarily frustrating Southampton midfield player, is another possibility, though whether he is dynamic enough to start seems unlikely.
The key issue, though, is Cavani. In theory, he should be the one player capable of making the country forget, however fleetingly, about their enfant terrible. He is a 56 million-pound striker, one of the most expensive players in history, a forward still sought after by Europe's biggest clubs, among them Manchester United. It is not like Tabarez is condemned to drafting someone in the crowd who has brought along a pair of boots.
The problem is that this has not been a good tournament for Cavani. It's not been a good tournament, in fact, for any of that clutch of strikers whose reputations are on the rise; you only had to witness the toil of Diego Costa and the struggle of Gonzalo Higuaín to be sure of that.
Cavani is just the same. He scored a penalty against Costa Rica but missed two good chances; he might have also seen off England immediately before half-time. Like Suarez, Cavani didn't menace Italy as much as may have been expected. There have been high points -- the ball for Suarez's first goal against England -- but they have been few and far between. He has looked a little like all talk and no, as the saying goes, trousers.
This is his chance to change that. With Suarez in the side, Cavani is often condemned to a secondary role, either working the channels or linking play. Without his partner in crime, he will be the main man and given the position where he enjoyed such success at Napoli. He has got used to functioning in the shadow, either of Suarez or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, his teammate at Paris Saint-Germain.
Now, Uruguay need him to come into the light. Suarez, more than anyone, needs him to come into the light.
Rory Smith is a columnist for ESPN FC and The Times. Follow him on Twitter @RorySmithTimes.