Uruguayans reacted angrily 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.
But in small, football-crazed Uruguay, the Liverpool forward is a major hero that his compatriots have passionately defended him.
Some were quickly calling foul on Thursday 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 have lashed out at a British-led ‘manhunt’ against him, and even leftist president Jose Mujica spoke up for Suarez to be left alone.
“We didn't choose him to be a philosopher, or a mechanic, or to have good manners - he's a great player,” said Mujica, echoing the protective attitude towards the brilliant but volatile striker.
“I didn't see him bite anyone. But they sure can bash each other with kicks and chops,” he added to reporters.
“In football, I was taught that you obey what the referee says. If we're going to take decisions in football based on what TV says, then there are loads of penalties and handballs you'd have to give that weren't given, so bad luck.”
Andreas Campomar, author of “Golazo! A History of Latin American Football,” hit out at the English press, who he felt were unfair towards the striker. “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.
“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.”
Uruguay captain Diego Lugano, at a news conference in the Brazilian city of Natal after a training session, was equally protective of Suarez and tackled one English journalist head on. “It's clear that Uruguay's triumph doesn't make you happy, it's obvious on your face,” said Lugano.
“I understand that the figure of Suarez sells because he's very charismatic ... I'm calm because I know that Luis will pick himself up and is going to have success in the World Cup. That's what people fear. They're right to fear that.”
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.
“I don't know what this kid thinks and what goes through his head... Whether you're Uruguayan or of an other nationality, you always have to reproach these things on the field, this is not a war.”