Where to start? When Uruguay slumped in the second-half of their opening tie to lose 3-1 to Costa Rica, the World Cup dream looked to be over. Confidence was low and contests against England and Italy, two former champions, looked onerous.
But after beating England they completed the climb back off the canvas here on what was a suffocatingly tense and controversy-laden afternoon. Italy had been reduced to 10 men after an hour when Claudio Marchisio left the imprint of his studs on Egidio Arévalo Rios. Italy would complain bitterly about that decision.
Cesare Prandelli’s side were hanging on in the second-half and their resistance was finally broken when Diego Godín, the Uruguay captain, emerged from a cluster of bodies to head home a late corner.
By then, however, Luis Suárez had already ensured that the headlines would be his. In the 79th minute, having tussled with Giorgio Chiellini, the Uruguay striker leaned into the defender with his forehead and, moments later, there was Chiellini, pulling down his shirt over a shoulder to reveal what, on the evidence of close-up photography, looked like a bite mark. Why always him? The over-worked Mexican referee, Marco Rodríguez, took no action.
The nerves had jangled throughout. No player had wanted to make the mistake that might prove decisive and it was scrappy, disjointed and extremely niggly. Every decision was contested. And there were plenty for Rodríguez to make. There was squabbling between the players and the benches.
Oscar Tabárez had sprung the surprise. Italy’s switch to three central defenders had been widely expected; Uruguay’s was not. The approach was partly designed to combat Andrea Pirlo’s influence. When Italy, and the playmaker in particular, had possession, Edinson Cavani dropped deep to harry him. At times, it looked as though he was performing a man-marking job. As ever, Cavani’s industry was impressive.
Mario Balotelli, the Italy striker, was foolish to pick up the 23rd minute yellow card that meant he stood to miss the last 16. Alvaro Pereira appeared to misjudge a bouncing ball, which reared up high on the dry pitch, but not as badly as Balotelli, who over-committed to the aerial challenge and found himself clattering into the back of Pereira’s head. It looked bad. Rodríguez certainly thought so.
Uruguay made one chance in the first-half but it was the best chance. Cavani touched through for Suárez, in an instinctive combination only for Gianluigi Buffon to get out and block from the Liverpool striker. Nicolas Lodeiro hooked the rebound acrobatically at goal; Buffon saved again. Uruguay knew that they might need only one moment.
Pirlo tested Fernando Muslera with an early free-kick, Marco Verratti showed eye-catching quick feet and Ciro Immobile snatched at a volleyed half-chance from Mattia De Sciglio’s cross on 29 minutes.
Balotelli laboured – the shackles of Godín were unforgiving – and he was substituted at half-time, as Prandelli switched to a midfield diamond in support of Immobile. Perhaps the manager had been right all along. Balotelli and Immobile struggle as a partnership.
It went to a 5-3-1 formation after the red card. Marchisio will argue that his challenge on Rios was not violent and that he did not leave the ground with both feet. But the moment when he crashed his studs high into the inside of Rios’ knee was both needless and reckless, and it invited the ultimate censure. Marchisio was distraught.
Uruguay had already taken charge of the second-half. They shouted loudly for a penalty when Leonardo Bonucci wrapped an arm around Cavani while, on 58 minutes, Suárez released Christian Rodríguez, who dragged wastefully wide of the far post.
Suárez had been denied by Buffon when he courted controversy of the highest order. There has already been plenty of psychoanalysis of the mercurial star and it will now ramp up once again. What was his thinking about? Godín would win it for Uruguay and at full-time, as the South Americans celebrated wildly, Suárez slumped to the turf. Once again, the spotlight burns.
Report by The Guardian