Unforgettable World Cup Moments: Suarez takes a bite out of Chiellini

With the 2022 World Cup in Qatar due to get underway in November, we're taking a look back through the history of the World Cup at the good, the bad and the amazing moments that remain in our memories to this very day and will live on forever.

It’s often said that footballers, and indeed sportspeople in general, must be hungry in order to succeed. When it comes to success, factors such as desire and determination often separate the weak from the strong. And such traits are often typified by hunger.

But Uruguay striker Luis Suarez took this concept to a whole new level at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil when he sunk his teeth into Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini in an act that shocked the globe.

Almost 40,000 watched on at the Arena das Dunas as Uruguay and Italy went head-to-head in their final match of Group D. After a quiet first half, the crowd was finally awarded some action as Claudio Marchisio saw red just before the hour mark for a rash challenge on Egidio Arevalo.

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Despite the one-man advantage, Suarez and strike partner Edinson Cavani couldn’t find the breakthrough for some time. With some simply phenomenal goals scored throughout his career, Suarez was used to leaving his mark on games, but here he found himself frustrated in the final third.

Such frustration was undoubtedly caused by a classically sturdy and strict Italian back three, consisting of Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci, who were proving very difficult to get past. Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was also on top of his game, with the shot-stopper going on to win the Man of the Match award for his display between the sticks.

But something had to give, and the Uruguay attacker was going to be the man to turn everything on its head.

Suarez leaves his mark on Chiellini

In typical Suarez fashion, he took matters into his own hands in the 79th minute when, after a very brief tussle in the box, he bundled into the rock that is Chiellini and bit the left shoulder of the Italian. Whatever crossed his mind in the moment of madness, only the forward will know.

With VAR now a regular part of the modern-day game, there is simply no way the striker would have walked away from the scene without a red card, but Mexican referee Marco Rodríguez had very little help that day. Missing the incident, and indeed ignoring the bite marks left in Chiellini’s shoulder, the referee had no option but to allow Suarez to continue as if nothing had happened. Perhaps the attacker helped himself get away with the blatant bite with his usual rolling-on-the-floor antics.

The drama by no means stopped there, with Uruguay going ahead shortly after thanks to a goal from Diego Godin. Plenty of scuffles both on and off the pitch followed, but a 1-0 victory was secured by Uruguay, who progressed to the round of 16 in second place, with Italy going home due to their spot in third.

What happened next?

As is often the case in football, the sneakier players can get away with just about anything. That was very nearly the situation for Suarez, who as mentioned got away with his shameful act on the pitch, but was shortly after looked at under a very close lens by FIFA officials.

The governing body, which itself was perhaps acting as equally unethical as Suarez, albeit in different ways, handed the striker a nine-game international ban, along with a four-month suspension from all football-related activity. The mischievous forward was also fined CHF100,000 by the football’s governing body.

FIFA explained that the length of the ban – the longest in the history of the World Cup – was based not only on the incident with Chiellini, but also on Suarez’s previous biting offences, of which there were two.

Uruguay did their best to appeal the decision, but unsurprisingly it was quickly rejected. Suarez was, however, later allowed to take part in training and indeed play friendly matches for his new club Barcelona.

With the decision, the striker’s World Cup was officially over, and he was followed soon after by his teammates, who succumbed to a 2-0 loss to South American rivals Colombia in the round of 16.

More Suarez controversy at World Cup and beyond

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Remarkably, the infamous bite may not even be the most controversial moment of Suarez’s rollercoaster career so far. In fact, it wasn’t even his first major moment of madness in the World Cup.

Four years prior, the striker became an instant villain in the quarter-final meeting with Ghana, when in extra-time he saved a goal-bound shot with his hands in fantastic, but obviously illegal fashion. Heartbreak followed for Asamoah Gyan, whose spot-kick bounced back off the crossbar, much to the delight of Suarez, who at this stage was galavanting down the tunnel in glee. The match went to penalties, with Uruguay coming out on top.

Back to the biting, however, and, as mentioned, the coming together with Chiellini was certainly not Suarez’s first time in such hot water. While playing for Ajax in 2010, the hot-headed forward was initially suspended by his club for two matches for biting PSV’s Otman Bakkal. The Dutch footballing authority quickly increased the ban to seven league matches.

A similar incident occurred just three years later, with the now-Liverpool forward sinking his teeth into Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanović. Much like the incident versus Italy, officials missed the bite, with the striker going on to level the game in injury time.

But he couldn’t escape this one either, as the FA sent a message to footballers everywhere with a 10-match ban going the way of the Uruguayan.

Luis Suarez bites Branislav Ivanovic in 2013

Away from biting, there was also the racism storm around Suarez in 2011, when he was found guilty by the FA of racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra. An eight-match ban and a £40,000 fine went his way, with the striker then refusing to shake the full-back’s hand ahead of the next meeting between the two sides.

Suarez was also the recipient of a one-match ban for an obscene gesture towards Fulham fans, while many Premier League followers will also be familiar with his tendency to take a tumble in the box without actually being touched by a defender.

Chiellini holds no grudges

Somewhat amazingly, Chiellini later revealed in his autobiography that he has no bad feelings toward the Uruguayan and what he did that day, as reported by ESPN.

“Malice is part of football, I wouldn't call it illegitimate,” Chiellini noted in the book ‘Io, Giorgio’. “To get past a rival you have to be smart. I admire his cunning. If he lost it, he'd become an ordinary forward.

“I marked Cavani for most of the match, another guy who is difficult to mark and who we didn’t hold back against. Suddenly I noticed that I had been bitten in the shoulder. It just happened, but that’s his strategy in hand-to-hand combat and, if I may say so, it’s mine too. He and I are alike, and I like to take on attackers like him.”

It’s highly unlikely that the other members of the squad and indeed the entire country of Italy shared that feeling, having been knocked out of the 2014 World Cup at the expense of Suarez and Uruguay.

The striker, meanwhile, certainly didn’t have as much to say as his old foe, claiming that he had contact with the defender’s shoulder, nothing more, adding the standard throwaway response of “these things happen”. But truthfully, it was a despicable act, and one that the former Liverpool and Barcelona man will surely regret deep down for the rest of his days.

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No reunion at 2022 World Cup

Qatar may just represent the final time fans, and indeed enemies, get to see the cheeky Suarez at the World Cup, with the attacker still very much a part of the Uruguay setup.

But Chiellini, three years Suarez’s senior, will definitely not be at the World Cup this winter for more reasons than one, the main reason of course being the fact that Italy did not qualify for the finals in Qatar.

In what was a huge shock to the footballing world, the Euro 2022 winners lost out to North Macedonia in a qualifying playoff, meaning the European giants have missed out on a spot at the World Cup for the second time in a row.

Even if Italy had made it all the way to Qatar, their former leader Chiellini would more than likely have been watching on from the comfort of his home. He hung up his international boots earlier this year, with his 117th and final Italy appearance coming in June’s Finalissima meeting with Argentina.

Chiellini went off at half-time in the game, which pitted the European Championship holders against the Copa America champions, retiring as his country’s now joint-fifth most capped player, level with midfielder Daniele De Rossi.

It is just nine short of the legendary Paolo Maldini, but at least Chiellini can say he managed more international goals than the AC Milan icon, with his eight just edging past Maldini’s seven.

A reunion on the international stage has, therefore, been ruled out, with the only hope of such a meeting relying on Club Nacional de Football coming face to face with Los Angeles FC at club level. Suarez is currently playing for the Uruguayan side, with Chiellini now with the MLS outfit after leaving Juventus in the summer.

Peter Lynch has a passion for both sports and writing.