Knee-jerk Reactions: Day Thirteen, Uruguay 1-0 Italy (Group D, Natal)
Another one bites the dust. Italy, losing 1-0 to Uruguay, join fellow European powers Spain and, surely, Portugal in crashing out at the first hurdle. Oh, and England are out too.
For the Italians, elimination was especially painful. Having gone out at the first stage as champions four years ago, they depart this time having won their opening match. Successive defeats to Costa Rica and a Nosferatu-led Uruguay showed a lack of bite in attack, with Mario Ballotelli successfully muzzled by himself as much as by any defence he encountered. His greatest contribution to the tournament was a demand to be kissed by Queen Elizabeth II – on the cheek, no less – if he helped his team-mates beat Costa Rica. He didn’t and Her Majesty remains chaste.
Chewy Luis and the Blues. Luis Suarez seems almost certain to be banned after his latest “coming together” with Giorgio Chiellini. If the case against him is proven – and the evidence against him looks incisive – then the South American champions will be largely toothless for the challenges ahead. With Colombia next, the absence of Radamel Falcao is likely to keep things even: the footballing equivalent of misplacing your dentures before bobbing for apples. Get through that and Oscar Tabarez will have a de-fanged attack to take on hosts Brazil. As mentioned elsewhere on this site, everything is coming up roses for the Brazilians. Their terror of their little neighbours will surely be relieved by the absence of the recidivist man-eater. Convenient. More’s the pity that he’ll never get his gnashers into the Mannschaft for a shoulder of Lahm.
Leaving your mark. That said, Suarez is clearly deserving of any ban that comes his way. At least he made his, erm, mark – which is more than can be said for Balotelli or the World Footballer of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo.
This is the third tournament now where Ronaldo has been a peripheral presence. Yes, injuries restricted his effectiveness, but in the final analysis he’s never performed on the greatest stage. Blaming the quality of his team-mates – a group good enough to make the semi-finals of the European Championship just two years ago – is a cop out. When Argentina needed inspiration, Lionel Messi turned up trumps – twice. Ronaldo, by comparison, was missing in action. He has proven palpably incapable of dragging his team through.
This is why international football is so compelling. Star players are not always surrounded by fellow top-class talents – as they are at the top clubs – when they play for their national teams. Therefore, the best players have an extra responsibility – to lift their team and, sometimes, their entire nation. It requires character. Look at Diego Godin, yet again scoring from a set piece. Cristiano, undoubtedly, a magnificent player, has fallen short once more. Preening, narcissistic, and quick to pass the responsibility to the group, he will leave no World Cup legacy.