In the first 20 minutes of France’s mind-numbing but practical nil-nil draw Wednesday, Les Bleus central defender Mamadou Sakho delivered an elbow to the face of Oswaldo Minda during a corner-kick skirmish in front of the Ecuadorian goal. It was deliberate and on target. It went unnoticed by the referee and so, the game went on.
This not to excuse the act, but these things happen. When referees see such infractions, off the players go. The red card issued Wednesday to Antonio Valencia, Ecuador captain and Manchester United winger, was not exactly swift (the referee took almost 2 minutes to brandish it). But ultimately it was sure, because it was seen.
What Uruguay’s Luis Suarez did to Italy’s own King of Capers, Giorgio Chiellini, on Tuesday, was certainly a red-card offense. But like Sakho’s no less deliberate but ultimately more painful offense, it went unnoticed by the referee, Marco Rodriguez of Mexico.
Look, what Luis Suarez did was really weird, even more disturbing when you consider his track record: He’s now apparently chomped on three guys in his illustrious and notorious career (there have been charges of racist taunts, too, for the record).
But you can’t ban a guy for being a nut case. This last bite was no worse, in a soccer sense, than Sakho’s elbow to Minda’s kisser (which wasn’t seen, nor called by the ref) or Daniele De Rossi’s elbow to Brian McBride’s face at World Cup 2006, which was. Slapping Suarez with an after-the-fact ban (covering subsequent World Cup matches presumably) seems arbitrary, though FIFA seems determined to do something; on Wednesday it “charged” Suarez with biting.
The fact that Suarez has bitten guys twice before, and was allowed to play in this competition (and all competitions for club and country in the buildup to Brazil 2014), argues against a ban. Biting an opponent is bizarre, but no more a rules infraction than elbows to the face or, in Valencia’s case, studs-up tackles over the ball.
One final word about Chiellini. Thick was the irony that it was he who played the foil here. The Italians are futbol’s champion practitioners of win-at-all-costs gamesmanship, and Chiellini pushes the limits of this dark genius further than any of the Azzurri. I wish FIFA kept records for the number of times players are whacked in the chest, inadvertently or otherwise, and fall to the ground clutching their faces. Chiellini would lead the league, as it were.
There’s a great Monty Python sketch that begins with a pan of some uninhabited meadow. The viewer is informed that, in fact, there are 40-odd people in this shot, including Mr. E.R. Bradshaw of Napier Court, Black Lion Road, London SE 14. The film’s narrator invites Mr. Bradshaw to show himself, which he does. At which point, he is shot dead.
“This demonstrates the value of not being seen,” the narrator points out.
Suarez bit another guy. The ref didn’t see it. It was Chiellini, which seems fitting. Next game, please.