By Nick Mulvenney
NATAL Brazil (Reuters) - Luis Suarez, the striker at the centre of the biggest story of the World Cup, disappointed a healthy cohort of the world’s media by failing to show up at Uruguay training in Natal on Wednesday.
The allegation that Suarez bit Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder during the 1-0 victory that sent Uruguay into the last 16 and the Azzurri home was, however, the sole topic of conversation at the Maria Lamas Farache stadium.
“It’s completely normal,” said the rather frazzled Uruguay team press officer, Matias Faral, explaining Suarez’s absence for the umpteenth time.
“The 11 that started last night are back at the hotel, working in the gym or in the pool, only the substitutes are training here today.”
Waiting outside the stadium hoping for a glimpse of the players were a sprinkling of the thousands of Uruguayan fans who roared their country to victory at the Dunas arena.
Among them there was complete consensus about who was to blame for the fact that the incident was overshadowing their qualification from a Group D containing two former world champions.
“England and Italy are just mad at us because we got to the finals and they didn’t,” said Adrian Campbell, a 34-year-old Uruguay fan who lives in Miami.
“It was normal play, Chiellini gave him a big elbow. Chiellini is not the cleanest player, you know.”
FIFA will conduct a formal investigation into the incident on Wednesday and Suarez, who has twice been banned for biting opponents in club matches, faces a lengthy suspension if found guilty.
Uruguay face Colombia in their last-16 match in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday and the fans were in no doubt how significant Suarez's absence would be.
“He is a quarter of our team,” added Campbell, whose Scottish great grandfather explains his name, to nods of assent from the Uruguay fans around him.
“You saw it against England, two touches and two goals. No other player at this World Cup can do that. But we have other players and we have a lot of passion.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)