Uruguay coach calls Luis Suarez ban 'excessively severe', blames media for it

Uruguay's head coach Oscar Tabarez makes a statement during a press conference the day before the round of 16 World Cup soccer match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, June 27, 2014. FIFA banned Uruguay striker Luis Suarez from all football activities for four months on Thursday for biting an opponent at the World Cup, a punishment that rules him out of the rest of the tournament and the start of the upcoming Premier League season. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

RIO DE JANEIRO – Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez on Friday called Luis Suarez's soccer ban 'excessively severe' and claimed that FIFA is merely painting Suarez as a 'scapegoat'.

Tabarez was supportive of his troubled star throughout the press conference at Maracana Stadium, and implied that the severity of the punishment was a product of media pressure who focused more on Suarez's history than on his most recent infraction.

Suarez was given a nine-match ban and suspended from any soccer-related activity for four months after biting Italy's Giorgio Chiellini during Uruguay's 1-0 win on Tuesday.

[Related: Group D recap: Costa Rica, Uruguay advance ]

"The severity [of the suspension] was very excessive," Tabarez said. "After we saw video of the incident, we thought there might be a suspension, but we never thought the sanctions would be this severe…

"I am not justifying anything."

Tabarez said he wanted to distance himself from FIFA and that he would resign from its technical study group and its strategic committee as a result of the sanctions. The coach didn't allow any questions after making his statement and was applauded by several members of the media in attendance before leaving the room.

Luis Suarez grabs his tooth in apparent pain after biting Italy's Giorgio Cheillini. (AP)
Luis Suarez grabs his tooth in apparent pain after biting Italy's Giorgio Cheillini. (AP)

Wilmar Valdez, the head of the Uruguayan Football Federation, indicated Thursday that the UFF will appeal the ban, insisting that the evidence is not conclusive and even claiming that photographs showing bite marks on Chiellini's neck have been doctored. Uruguayan minister of tourism and sport, Liliam Kechichian, also called the sanction "excessive."

FIFA, Brazil (which could play Uruguay in the quarterfinal) and the British media have also been blamed for the supposed 'witch hunt' that resulted in Suarez's suspension, which will extend well into the Premier League season and impact his club team, Liverpool, in both domestic and Champions League play.

Tabarez said Friday that the team was unable to review footage of the incident in question immediately after Tuesday's game and claimed that it was unfair for members of the media to badger the team with questions about it in the post-game press conference.

"I don't know what their nationality was, but they all spoke English," Tabarez said. "…And when I speak of the media attack, [members of the media] were concentrating on his history and the things that he's done in the past. Events we know he was punished for and we know he complied with the punishment. It is not for [the media] to decide. That power is in the hands of [FIFA]. And the punishment delivered was a discriminant use of that power."

Meanwhile, Uruguay will have to try to cope with the loss of its leading scorer and one of the best players on the planet as it proceeds to the knockout round. The team faces Colombia on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro.

One player who could provide a jolt of offense but has taken a backseat to Suarez this campaign is Diego Forlan, the 2010 World Cup Golden Ball winner, which is given to the tournament's best player. He produced a magnificent strike in South Africa and buoyed the nation on a surprising run to the semis. Of course, that was four years ago, and Forlan isn't enjoying the same form he was at that point.

That run was also marred by a Luis Suarez controversy. In the quarterfinals against Ghana, Suarez infamously reached out and blocked a ball that was destined to be a goal. Suarez was sent off for the infraction, but Ghana missed the ensuing penalty kick at the end of extra time and the Uruguayans went on to win in a shootout.

Luis Suarez holds his children as he greets fans from his home in Montevideo, Uruguay, on Friday. (AP)
Luis Suarez holds his children as he greets fans from his home in Montevideo, Uruguay, on Friday. (AP)

Uruguay has another prolific scorer in the fold this campaign in Edinson Cavani. The Paris Saint-Germain forward is one of two Uruguayans who have scored this tournament besides Suarez, but Cavani's goal came via penalty kick. (Diego Godin netted the other goal against Italy.)

Suarez already missed Uruguay's opener this tournament while still recovering from knee surgery. With its star on the bench, the team lost 3-1 to eventual Group D winner Costa Rica.

The Uruguayans finished second in group play, thanks in large part to Suarez's timely goals against England. They now face a Colombian team that blitzed through a difficult Group C with ease, outscoring their opponents 9-2.

[Related: FIFA defends Suarez biting ban that many call excessive ]

Tabarez said the Suarez incident has both "hurt" and "moved" his team and will inspire the team to play that much harder, all the while expressing remorse and support for his suspended star.

"You have to remember that the scapegoat in question is a person who has rights," Tabarez said. "With a decision like this, who wins? Who loses? Who benefitted and who was harmed? Who ended up getting their way?

"Are we to avoid all excesses, all aggressions, because we are concerned about [future punishment]? I sincerely doubt that."