Sports

It's easy to jeer Uruguay's flawed hero. But just imagine cheering for him

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Uruguay's Luis Suarez reacts after clashing his teeth with Italy's Giorgio Chiellini's shoulder during their 2014 World Cup Group D soccer match at the Dunas arena in Natal June 24, 2014.

Credit:

REUTERS/Tony Gentile

In the World Cup, all the talk right now is on the teeth of Uruguay's star striker, Luis Suarez.

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

For those who haven't turned on, well, anything, in the last 24 hours, here's what happened: during his World Cup match Tuesday, Suarez bit into the shoulder of the Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini.

Yes. He bit an opposing player. Bit. As in what toddlers do with their teeth.

The head referee of the game, Marco Rodriguez, whose nickname, by the way, is Dracula, didn't catch the incident. This despite Chiellini showing him a bite mark on his shoulder.

The BBC interviewed fans watching the game in Rio and the incident didn't surprise them. It's the third time Suarez has bit another player during a match. "He's a pit-bull," said one fan. "He has to be out of the World Cup, period."

Here's a Vine collection of his bites:

While Uruguay advanced to the round of 16, Suarez' bite may force him out of the tournament. The governing body of world soccer, FIFA, has opened disciplinary proceedings against him.

Roberto Belo of BBC Mundo says the bite left him shaking his head.

"I was like 'oh, not again. Not again,'" he says. "That was quite disappointing to be honest."

Belo is from Uruguay. He wants people to know up front that biting is not a common thing in his country. He jokes it's just something Suarez tends to excel at.

"The guy has quite prominent teeth, so even if he didn't intend to cause any harm, you know, you're probably going to get hurt just getting in contact with him."

It's perfect fodder for social media. Even McDonald's in Uruguay couldn't resist, tweeting out that Suarez should eat a Big Mac the next time he's hungry:

The New Republic's Luke Dempsey even gave the Suarez bite the Shakesspeare treatment.

When Suarez bit The Chiellin'.
From forth the fatal teeth of that sick dunce
A pair of star-cross'd players doth bump and bore;
Till a misadventured toothy munch
Did end L. Suarez's World Cup evermore.
The fearful passage of his pock-mark'd skin,
And the continuance of Chiellini's rage,
Killed focus at the next set piece—helped Uruguay win—
And now is the focus of each back page;
The like of which, if you missed it then,
You'll see over and over on ESPN.

The bites certainly contribute to Suarez' dubious reputation as a villain in soccer. But in Uruguay he's got a different reputation. He's a family man. He's a hero. Belo says you see all aspects of Suarez in Uruguay and you always see him as a really good guy. "There's nothing wrong, except, maybe he would benefit from some kind of counseling," Belo says. "But everything else you see around the guy ... there's nothing wrong with him."

That's why Belo says you see his face all across the country on posters and signs. He's also the reason you'll see Liverpool kits on the streets of Montevideo. People love to cheer for him because he is an unstoppable force on the pitch. He scores from every angle. He sucks the life out of the opposition and their fans. And that's before he uses his teeth.

But his antics are his downfall. So cheering for him is a difficult task. You get the very best and the very worst.

Belo thinks this is the last we will see of Suarez in the 2014 World Cup. But his suspension might give other members of the squad an opportunity to shine. They'll be out from under the shadow of their best player. And while playing without him will most likely decrease Uruguay's chances of advancing in the tournament, Belo thinks from the bad will come good. At least, that's what he hopes for.

Whatever happens, somebody in Uruguay ought to buy their star a mouth guard.