RIO DE JANEIRO : Luis Suarez exits the World Cup with one of the longest bans in tournament history, and his reputation once again in tatters. The Uruguay forward, widely regarded as one of the best players in the world, was banned by FIFA from all football for four months on Thursday for biting an Italian opponent in an incident that marred the team's victory and progression to the second round.
It's the third time he's served a suspension for biting an opponent after similar incidents at both Ajax in the Dutch league and Liverpool in England and the second straight World Cup where Suarez exits in disgrace.
The four-month ban will sideline Suarez for the first two months of Liverpool's season. He was also suspended for Uruguay's next nine matches, which extends beyond the four months and rules him out of next year's Copa America, where his team is the defending champion. The Uruguayan football federation said it would appeal.
Aside from Diego Maradona's 15-month suspension for a failed drug test at the 1994 tournament, it's the longest ban handed out to a player at the World Cup. FIFA also fined Suarez 100,000 Swiss francs ($112,000). Suarez bit the left shoulder of defender Giorgio Chiellini on Tuesday in Natal during Uruguay's 1-0 win over Italy, an incident that went unpunished by the referee but was witnessed by fans around the world on TV. Given Suarez's previous biting incidents, the images went viral immediately.
"Such behavior cannot be tolerated on any football pitch and in particular not at a FIFA World Cup, when the eyes of millions of people are on the stars on the field," Claudio Sulser, chairman of the FIFA disciplinary committee, said in a statement. The Uruguayan federation was preparing an urgent appeal, as Suarez headed home. FIFA even barred him staying with teammates ahead of their round-of-16 game against Colombia on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro.
"Luis in the next few hours will travel to Montevideo to be with the rest of his family to recover," federation president Wilmar Valdez told reporters.
Suarez scored both goals in Uruguay's 2-1 win over England, a performance that further enhanced a reputation that had gradually been rebuilt following a 10-game suspension for biting a Premier League opponent last May, and an eight-game ban for racially abusing an opponent in 2011. Suarez was voted the English league's best player last season after a campaign void of any disciplinary issues.
But now, the 27-year-old Suarez is the main actor in the World Cup's most damaging episode for a second time.
In the quarterfinals in 2010 in South Africa, his deliberate handball on the goal-line in the final minute of extra time denied Ghana an almost certain winning goal that would have made it the first ever African semifinalist.
Suarez was sent off, and then refused to apologize for his celebratory dance near the players' tunnel where he stayed to watch Ghana miss the resulting penalty. He also shrugged off criticism Tuesday of his bite.
As usual, Uruguay officials and players defended their star player Thursday.
"It feels like Uruguay has been thrown out of the World Cup," Valdez said, denouncing "a severe punishment."
Veteran defender Diego Lugano wrote on his Facebook page that Suarez's family should be "proud of him, he deserves it."
"A hug to Luis, who, as always, will rise," Lugano, captain on the 2010 team, wrote. "Outrage, impotence, I think that's what all of us feel. We all would like a fairer world, but that world simply doesn't exist."
Even Uruguay fans who agreed Suarez's action was "stupid" did not agree with the sanction.
"Uruguay is a small country that eliminated two big nations like Italy and England and it's not for FIFA's benefit to let Uruguay continue playing," supporter Juan Jose Monzillo said in Montevideo.
Suarez's ban extends one game more than Italy defender Mauro Tassotti's eight-match international sanction for elbowing a Spanish opponent in a 1994 World Cup quarterfinal. That incident was also missed by match officials.
By also banning Suarez from all football activities, FIFA also prohibited Suarez from entering a World Cup stadium. He cannot train with Liverpool until the ban ends in late October.
"Hopefully he will realize now that behavior of this type will not be tolerated under any circumstances," said FIFA vice president Jim Boyce of Northern Ireland.
The ban includes Liverpool's first three Champions League games in the five-time European champion's return after a five-year absence. Suarez will also miss the first nine Premier League matches.
Suarez would still be allowed transfer to a different club during the ban, Fischer said. He has been linked to a move to Barcelona.
Sports manufacturer adidas, which sponsors both Suarez and the World Cup, said it agreed with the ruling. The company said it will not use Suarez for "additional marketing" during the World Cup but would not immediately drop him as a client.
"We will again be reminding him of the high standards we expect from our players," adidas said in a statement.