BRASILIA (Reuters) - The furor over Luis Suarez’s heavy ban for biting filled the void of the first game-free day at the World Cup in Brazil on Friday, with his Italian victim Giorgio Chiellini leading the criticism of the Uruguayan’s record punishment.
The Italy defender feared the World Cup-record four-month ban and nine-match international suspension handed out by FIFA would alienate the controversial striker, who landed in Montevideo to be met by the his country’s President Jose Mujica.
As Suarez left Brazil, FIFA paved the way for former Germany World Cup-winning coach and player Franz Beckenbauer to arrive by lifting his 90-day football ban for failing to help an inquiry.
The 68-year-old German had rejected repeated requests to co-operate with an investigation into the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar but his manager said the “Der Kaiser” would now cooperate.
“As you know Franz is someone we all respect and was an amazing footballer and we would love him to have him here at the World Cup,” FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke told reporters in Rio de Janeiro.
Beckenbauer, however, has indicated he will not be attending the soccer showpiece and will watch from afar like Suarez, who was driven to the small coastal town of Solymar with his family to escape the world’s glare.
In the 27-year-old’s absence and continued silence, opinions flowed on the eye-catching verdict as his Uruguay team mates prepared for Saturday’s last-16 clash with in-form Colombia, which follows hosts Brazil against Chile.
Chiellini, back in Italy after being knocked out by Uruguay following Tuesday’s 1-0 Group D loss, feared for the future of Suarez, who has been found guilty of biting opponents on three occasions in a controversial career.
“Now inside me there’s no feelings of joy, revenge or anger against Suarez for an incident that happened on the pitch and that’s done,” the Juventus center back said in a statement.
“At the moment my only thought is for Luis and his family, because they will face a very difficult period.
“I have always considered unequivocal the disciplinary interventions by the competent bodies, but at the same time I believe that the proposed formula is excessive.”
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez accused FIFA of an indiscriminate use of power and echoed Chiellini’s use of the word excessive to describe the punishment on his striker.
Tabarez, reading from a prepared statement and refusing to take questions on the topic, said he would resign from his Strategy Committee and Technical Study Group positions at FIFA. He left Friday’s news conference after 14 minutes to loud applause from Uruguayan reporters.
Outspoken Argentine World Cup-winning great Diego Maradona took a similarly strong view of the ban, ridiculing its length which will see Suarez miss the start of the English Premier League season and Liverpool’s early Champions League campaign.
“Who did Suarez kill?,” Maradona said. “This is football, this is contact... They may as well handcuff him and bring him to Guantanamo (bay prison) directly.”
Valcke said Suarez should seek help for his disciplinary problems but stood by the severity of the punishment in the wake of mounting defense for the Uruguayan, who was dumped by sponsor poker brand 888.
The incident marred an enthralling group stage full of goals and attacking play, with FIFA President Sepp Blatter expressing his satisfaction at the opening salvo.
“I’m impressed,” said the Swiss, who has been booed at matches in Brazil by fans.
“What has changed from previous World Cups is that in the first matches of the group phase everybody played to win. The 16 remaining teams will give us a great spectacle.”
Saturday will see the 16 reduced to 14, with Suarez’s team mates taking on Colombia in Rio de Janiero.
For all his histrionics, the striker’s talents are undeniable and his absence makes Colombia strong favorites to progress to a first quarter-final.
The Colombians easily topped Group C with three wins inspired by the form of James Rodriguez, but they have vowed not to under-estimate their embattled opponents.
The winners will face the victors of Saturday’s first match between hosts Brazil and an eye-catching Chilean side, who dumped out defending champions Spain in the group stage.
The Chileans have a mental block to overcome against the hosts, who have knocked them out at this stage on their last two World Cup appearances.
Brazil’s own mental strength is being tested, however, with the weight of a nation’s demand for a sixth World Cup title and first on home turf weighing heavily.
“It is normal for us to feel that we have some problem, something that makes us anxious especially now in the knockout stage where we cannot lose,” Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said before the game in Belo Horizonte.
“We become more afraid, more nervous, it is normal.”
Editing by Ed Osmond