World Cup 2014: Italy vs. Uruguay @ Natal – June 24, 2014

italy vs uruguayIf you decided to stay home on the St. Jean Baptiste holiday (with due to the heavy at times rain that was going on all day wasn’t such a sacrifice) then you were rewarded with an interesting, hotly contested and in the end heartbreaking for fans of the Italian side game.  Unfortunately it won’t be discussed because of the play or even the end result as much as it will be talked about because of another biting of another player by Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez.

Italy went into the contest in good shape needing just a tie to go through to the round of 16.  It was Uruguay who needed the win to advance.  Surprisingly it was the Azzurri who had some controversy in their line-up and more surprisingly it was over the keeper position.  There were some that felt that long time keeper Gianluigi Buffon looked shaky in the game versus Costa Rica, especially on the goal.  Some were daring to say out loud that Salvatore Sirigu should have been Italy’s starting keeper.  Buffon took the criticism and proceeded to play a very strong game against Uruguay.  Probably only because of him Italy had a chance to go through.

Uruguay was dressed all in white while the Italians were in all royal blue.  Surprisingly considering they needed the victory, Uruguay ceded possession to the Italy in the early going and was just getting back behind the ball.  If you knew the team, though, it was not too surprising because the South American side plays a counterattacking style.  They play strong defense and wait for opportunities to catch you shorthanded on the counterattack.  Uruguay has been opportunistic in that up until this game they had scored 3 goals on only 5 shots.  Italy was going for it more playing with 2 strikers up front with Ciro Immobile alongside Mario Balotelli.

Speaking of the Italian striker, what was obvious in the 1st half was that every time Italian striker Mario Balotelli got the ball there were several Uruguayan defenders on his heels.  A good strategy against a player who is known to frequently lose his cool.  It worked for in the 22nd minute he did a crazy and reckless leap right into a Uruguayan player and was issued a yellow card.  That meant he would miss the next game if Italy went through.  Mission accomplished as the early yellow kept Balotelli off balance for the rest of the 1st half and not wanting to risk him getting a red card reducing the Italians to playing with 10, coach Cesare Prandelli subbed him off in favour of midfielder Marco Parolo.  On his day Balotelli is a match winner.  Not on his day and he is a frustrating teammate.

In the 1st half most of the play happened in the middle of the pitch with neither goal being seriously threatened.  That is except for the 33rd minute when Uruguay had a couple of good scoring chances and it was up to Buffon to keep it 0-0.  Nicolas Lodeiro played a short pass into Suarez inside the 18 yard box.  In alone on Buffon, but at a severe angle, the Uruguayan striker took a shot.  Buffon came out and made himself large to make the save with his hand.  He then had to collect himself and make another one on the rebound off of Lodeiro.  That moment really cemented Buffon’s selection as the starter.  Only Dino Zoff (17) has played more World Cup matches in the Italian net than Buffon (14).

All in all it was a cautious 1st half for the two sides.  What you could say about it was that it was a physical contest with a World Cup record 24 fouls in the 1st half.  Lots of contact between players meant lots of whistles and stopping and starting leaving no flow.

The 2nd half had a little bit more going for it.  The first real chance came in the 58th minute when a little one-two between Suarez and Cristian Rodriguez sent Rodriguez in with a chance on Buffon.  He wasted the opportunity by sending his shot wide of the far post.  Should have done better.  Italian fans could breathe again.

Just after that chance in the 59th minute came the first of what I would call game changing decisions by the referee, Marco Rodriguez of Mexico.  As a referee you are there to protect players and the integrity of the game.  You are not there to make decisions that alter the outcome.  Mr. Rodriguez committed that sin not once, but twice in this contest.  First was when he gave a straight red to Italian midfielder Claudio Marchisio.  Yes, Marchisio’s studs did make contact with Egidio Arevalo Rios’ shin, but there was not deliberate stomp or anything of the like.  A straight red to a player not known for this type of play is very harsh.  No matter what I think as the Italians had to play one man down for the remaining 31 minutes of the game.

Italy was rattled as they were angry about the call and they knew that their chance to move on to the round of 16 was seriously compromised.  The Italian side also knew they would face a barrage of attacks from Uruguay, who had to win the game to move on in the competition.
italy vs uruguay2The second decision by the referee (and to be fair his team) happened in the 80th minute.  Italy had resisted the Uruguayans and the game was still knotted up 0-0.  It was then that Italian central defender Giorgio Chiellini and Suarez came together inside the Italian penalty box.  It happened away from the play, but still either the referee or his assistant in that end should have seen what happened.  The players collided and shockingly Suarez did what he has done at least twice before in that he took a bit out of Chiellini’s shoulder.  Both went to ground and the whistle was blown because of that.  Even with Chiellini showing the referee the obvious bite marks on his shoulder and the fact that Suarez was holding his teeth did not persuade him that something had gone on.  As a result Suarez was allowed to remain in the game instead of receiving a red card and a sure suspension.

This behaviour is astonishing.  Especially since he had received 5 and 10 game suspensions for the same infraction.  Luis Suarez had impressed many with his play in the tournament so far.  The mercurial striker was just 5 weeks off of knee surgery after completing his season in the English Premier League with Liverpool.  Not at 100% he still managed 2 goals in Uruguay’s last group game against England.  Now he had marred his tournament and his reputation.  There is no place for this in soccer.  FIFA has to do something.
Italy v Uruguay: Group D - 2014 FIFA World Cup BrazilOne minute after that incident Uruguay took a corner.  Suarez swung the ball in and it deflected off one Uruguay player before hitting Uruguayan captain Diego Godin in the back of his shoulder and deflecting into the empty side of the net.  Uruguay had their goal (partially created by Suarez) and was off into the next round.  Italy was out and the Italians, I’m sure, felt robbed.

Bottom line is that Italy was going home.  Italy did not get out of their group 4 years ago and the same result happened in Brazil.  As a result Italian coach Prandelli assumed the blame and resigned immediately after the game.  They are a side that is going to have to regroup before the Euros in two years.

Game Stats:

-Referee:  Marco Rodriguez (Mexico)

-Goals:  2nd Half:

81st minute:  Uruguay – Diego Godin

-Shots on Goal:  Italy – 5

Uruguay – 9

-Corners:  Italy – 3

Uruguay – 3

-Man of the Match:  Diego Godin – Uruguay

-Final Score:  Italy – 0

Uruguay – 1

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