By Malena Castaldi
MONTEVIDEO (Reuters) - Uruguayans were incensed on Thursday after FIFA suspended their star striker Luis Suarez for nine matches for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini, with many slamming the ban as exaggerated, hypocritical, or even biased.
"They're acting as if he were a criminal, a terrorist," said Maria Cardozo, a 48 year-old administrative worker. "They're exaggerating the aggression although I do think it warranted some sort of punishment."
Suarez is synonymous with controversy in much of the world. He has twice before been banned for biting and had to sit out eight matches for racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra. [ID:nL6N0P649G]
But in small, football-crazed Uruguay, the Liverpool forward is a rags-to-riches hero that his compatriots have passionately defended. [ID:nL2N0P51JQ]
Even leftist president Jose Mujica phoned coach Oscar Tabárez to express his "solidarity" with Suarez and was poised to hold a meeting with a minister later on Thursday to discuss "options" following the ban, Subrayado TV channel reported.
Meanwhile, some Uruguayans made plans to welcome idol Suarez, who was due to travel to his native Uruguay later on Thursday with his family. [ID:nL2N0P71C7]
Some at home were quickly calling foul and blasting global soccer body FIFA's judgment, which leaves Uruguay without its main scorer against Colombia on Saturday in the first knockout round.
"I don't want to get into conspiracy theories, but it seems that FIFA isn't interested in letting small countries such as Uruguay advance," said 62 year-old lawyer Andres Ramirez.
Local media said police were being dispatched to the British Embassy in Montevideo following reports that angry fans were planning protests over what they deem English pressure to sideline Suarez.
Local media have lashed out at a British-led 'manhunt' against him. [ID:nL6N0P7000]
"What is incomprehensible is the vitriol with which the English press, in particular, have gone after the Uruguayan. Far worse things have happened on the pitch, even where English players are concerned," said Uruguayan Andreas Campomar, author of "Golazo! A History of Latin American Football".
"For many Latin Americans the ban will have wider repercussions. It will be construed as the usual high-handedness Europe employs in relation to Latin America. A case of one rule for them and one rule for us."
Local paper El Pais splashed the headline 'The Worst Punishment' across its web page, over a picture of Suarez hiding his face in his light blue Uruguayan soccer jersey.
Some tongue-in-cheek commentators argued that according to FIFA's rules, neighboring Argentina's 1986 World Cup trophy should be removed given Diego Maradona's handgoal in a match against England.
There are, however, some contrary views at home too.
Alcides Ghiggia, the man who scored the winning goal for Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup against Brazil, had told Reuters Suarez deserved a ban.
(Reporting by Malena Castaldi and Irene Schreiber; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Nigel Hunt)