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Suarez home after World Cup expulsion, length of ban questioned

By Malena Castaldi

LUIS Suarez flew home to Uruguay on Friday after being thrown out of the World Cup and banned from soccer for four months for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini, who criticized the punishment as “excessive”.

Liverpool striker Suarez was met by outraged President Jose Mujica when he landed at a military base next to Uruguay’s main airport before dawn, an air force spokesman said.

After his arrival, Suarez, his wife and other family members were driven to a home he has in the small coastal town of Solymar.

The 27-year-old striker has not spoken publicly since soccer’s world governing body FIFA ruled on Thursday that he cannot play in Uruguay’s next nine competitive matches and suspended him from the game for four months.

FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke defended the decision, saying that Suarez’s previous misdemeanours on the pitch had been taken into account. The player has been banned twice before for biting during club games.

“If it’s the first time, it’s an incident. More than once, it is not any more an incident,” Valcke told reporters. “That is why also the sanction, it has to be exemplary.”

He also said Suarez should seek treatment to help him avoid such incidents in the future.

The ban has sparked fury in Suarez’s homeland and his victim Chiellini came out yesterday and said he felt no anger towards the Uruguayan.

“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 centre back said in a statement on his website.

“… I believe that the proposed formula is excessive,” Chiellini added.

FIFPro, the international soccer players’ union, also questioned the severity of the punishment, which will mean Suarez misses the start of the season for his English club Liverpool.

“FIFPro believes all affected parties may benefit (from) more time to remove the emotion, reflect and re-establish the facts in a calm and considered setting,” it said.

The punishment immediately ended Suarez’s involvement in the tournament in Brazil, with Uruguay due to face an in-form Colombia in a round of 16 tie on Saturday.

Suarez’s ban is the longest ever imposed at a World Cup. It means he is unlikely to appear in competitive matches for his country until 2016.

“He is totally distraught. He never thought the punishment would be so severe,” said Alejandro Balbi, a member of the Uruguayan Football Association’s board and Suarez’s lawyer.

As well as affecting international appearances, FIFA’s ruling will have a major impact on Suarez’s club career.

After a brilliant season for Premier League runners-up Liverpool, the prolific striker will miss his club’s opening domestic and European Champions League matches.

Suarez’s value in the transfer market, estimated to be at least £50m, could be affected should Liverpool decide to sell him, and his endorsement deals have begun to unravel.

On Friday, poker brand 888 cancelled its sponsorship deal with Suarez just weeks after he became one of the company’s brand ambassadors.

“Regrettably, following his actions during Uruguay’s World Cup match against Italy on Tuesday, 888poker has decided to terminate its relationship with Luis Suarez with immediate effect,” it said in a statement.

German sportswear firm Adidas stopped short of axing Suarez, but will not use him in any further World Cup marketing.

FIFA ruled that Suarez bit Chiellini during Uruguay’s final group match on Tuesday, as his side knocked Italy out of the tournament with a 1-0 victory.

His team mates and most Uruguayans jumped to defend him, believing the punishment was disproportionate.

“There are different standards. That’s what infuriates and hurts us most,” Mujica said on Thursday night in an appearance on a TV show hosted by former Argentine star Diego Maradona.

The outspoken Maradona went further, saying world soccer’s governing body might as well handcuff Suarez and lock him up in Guantanamo prison.

“Who did Suarez kill?” Maradona said. “This is football, this is contact… They may as well handcuff him and bring him to Guantanamo directly.”

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