Brazil, 25 June-2014, DPA: Captain Diego Godin scored Uruguay’s winner with an 81-minute header, sending 10-man Italy out of the World Cup thanks to a controversial 1-0 win in Natal.
After Costa Rica’s goalless draw against England, the two Latin American teams from Group D proceed to the Round of 16, while Italy becomes the third former World Cup winner to be sent home from the Brazilian tournament.
Above all, the game in Natal will be remembered for at least two contentious second-half incidents: Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez’s harsh decision to send off Claudio Marchisio in the 59th, and his failure to spot what appeared to be a bite by striker Luis Suarez on Giorgio Chiellini inside Italy’s area.
With midfielder Giuseppe De Rossi out injured and with Italy knowing that a draw would see them through, coach Cesare Prandelli fielded a fairly guarded 3-5-2 formation, with Ciro Immobile starting for the first time alongside Mario Balotelli up front, and an all-Juventus defence at the back.
His Uruguayan colleague, Oscar Washington Tabarez, confirmed Suarez and Edison Cavani, who Prandelli had described as “the World Cup’s best attacking duo,” and fielded a speculative 3-5-2 system, leaving out injured defender Diego Lugano.
The Uruguayan starting XI included two players who know the Italians well, since they play their club football in Serie A: Martin Caceres of Juventus and midfielder Alvaro Gonzalez of Lazio.
Both sides nevertheless had a guarded and rather nervous start to the game, with play constantly being broken up by fouls.
The game’s first chance landed Suarez’s way in the eighth minute, but his long-distance free-kick was easily punched away by keeper Gianluigi Buffon.
It was then Pirlo’s turn, in the 12th minute, to test Fernando Muslera with a free kick that the Uruguay goalkeeper tipped over the crossbar.
The game’s expected protagonist, Balotelli and Suarez, had an ineffective first half. In fact, the Italian’s main fete was to get himself booked for a trivial foul at midfield, meaning he would have missed Italy’s next game.
Suarez, meanwhile, was mostly out of the game and only made himself noticed with a 37-minute exchange in Italy’s area with Nicolas Lodeiro, whose short-range shot from an awkward angle was easily blocked by Buffon.
Prandelli, having taken note of Balotelli’s off day in Natal, substituted him during the break with midfielder Marco Parolo.
An appeal for a penalty for Cavani was rightly turned down by Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez in the 50th minute.
And with the clock ticking, Uruguay began applying more pressure and should have scored in the 59th, but Cristian Rodriguez sent the ball wide from a comfortable position.
One minute later, the match-turner: Marchisio was shown a red card for what had looked like a nasty, but fairly routine challenge on Egidio Arevalo, prompting furious protests from the Azzurri.
The incident was likely to raise questions from the Italy camp for FIFA president Joseph Blatter, who was watching the game from the stands.
Uruguay grew in confidence after the incident, and Suarez forced Buffon into a difficult save in the 65th. But Italy continued to threaten with Immobile, now the Azzurri’s only striker, while seeking to defend for the final third of the game.
Prandelli was then forced to substitute two of his most exhausted players, Immobile with Antonio Cassano and Verratti with Thiago Motta.
Another controversial incident took place in the 79th, when Suarez appeared to bite Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder inside the Italian area. The incident was not noticed by the referee.
And with the Italians still furious, Godin headed Uruguay’s winner off a free kick to send the mostly Uruguayan fans on the stands into heaven.