England's failure veiled by Suarez bite
Later today, a very large, very expensive bunch of flowers will arrive at the Uruguay team hotel addressed to Luis Suarez.
"Dear Luis," the card will read, "Thanks for taking the heat off me. Lots of love, Roy Hodgson."
At 18:40 GMT, the English media were sharpening their pencils and preparing to lay waste to Hodgson. At 18:41 GMT, there was a very different story to write.
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
Now, this blog has always been the sort that tries to hold back the mob and appeal for calm, so let's open with the defence. It's quite possible Suarez was merely trying to head-butt Giorgio Chiellini. And that's OK, isn't it? No? All right, all right, so there's a clear movement of the head, a visible tension in the jaws, an instant recoil of pain from the Italian and then Suarez falls over clutching his teeth. But that doesn't prove anything, does it? What? Oh.
FIFA have bought themselves some time by promising to investigate fully, but the more they look at the footage, the more they're going to realise that the only course of action is to boot Suarez's bottom right out of this World Cup and all the way to a counsellor.
To bite a man once is a bit weird. To do it twice is indicative of deep-rooted issues. To do it three times in four years is something that really demands serious attention. A short-term ban that allows him to play again in this tournament isn't going to cut it.
And Chiellini, who raged about the incident afterward, is right: If Suarez isn't kicked out, the only logical conclusion will be that FIFA are protecting the marketable superstars.
To call for a year-long global ban, as some have done, is overkill. Or overbite, if you will. This appears to be violent conduct, and a repeated offence at that, committed in front of the world. But you have to punish the offence, not the man. The temptation to lump every prior transgression into the pot and then ban Suarez for being Suarez must be resisted.
This wasn't doping, it wasn't match fixing and, for those of us still deeply uncomfortable with his refusal to apologise to Patrice Evra, it wasn't another count of racial abuse. Punish the bite. Punish it hard because it was a repeat offence. But perspective must be maintained. The World Cup will continue unhindered by one man's insistence on snacking between meals.
Seriously, though, what kind of grown-up bites people? Suarez needs to be punished, but then he needs help. Otherwise, opposing teams are going to have to start going out dressed like dog handlers.
Italy's failure to progress brought the immediate and very dignified resignation of manager Cesare Prandelli. The 56-year-old, who took his nation to the final of Euro 2012, made his announcement at the post-match news conference in spite of public support from his bosses. And you can understand why.
Italy are one of Europe's most successful nations and, while they were drawn into a difficult group, they squandered a good start, lost twice, were thoroughly outplayed by Costa Rica and are going home early. Which makes one wonder, where does that leave Roy Hodgson?
England's World Cup hasn't been as cataclysmically bad as some have suggested, but it was certainly worse than Italy's campaign. This blog was as impressed as anyone by England's desire and ambition against Italy, even if it did end in a defeat.
But the performance against Uruguay was markedly less pleasing and was pockmarked with hideous individual errors. Tuesday's dire goalless draw with Costa Rica was, in many ways, even worse. England put just a single shot on target all afternoon. Perhaps Hodgson would be in a stronger position had he not later told reporters that he, "couldn't have asked for a much better performance," because that's hardly the kind of verdict that reinforces faith in his judgment.
There were more unbelievable scenes in Group C when Greece scored a goal and then went and scored another, doubling their all-time total in this competition. Georgios Samaras hit a dramatic last-minute penalty to break Ivorian hearts and book a second-round clash with fellow surprise-package Costa Rica. That means that one of Costa Rica or Greece will be in the quarterfinals. This World Cup is amazing.
Elsewhere, the increasingly wonderful Colombians put four past a sorry Japanese side, including a goal of staggering class from James Rodriguez. They will play Uruguay in the next round.
After one unsavoury spectacle yesterday, another looms for today. If Nigeria lose 1-0 to Argentina and Iran beat Bosnia by the same score line, both teams will finish level on points, goal difference and goals scored, which means that lots will be drawn to decide second place. This is ridiculous.
The only lottery that should be used to separate two team is the time-honoured lottery (it's not really a lottery) of a penalty shootout. Can it really be so hard to get both teams to the same place at the same time and use at least some element of football to determine their fate?
Thankfully, there's no chance of that happening in Group E, where Switzerland must better Ecuador's result against France or just spank Honduras with such ferocity that they reverse their negative goal difference. If the Swiss go out, it means the end of Ottmar Hitzfeld, who retires this summer, and he deserves a better exit than that.