In the name of decency, can someone please sanction Gaston Ramirez?

In the Walt Disney classic, Beauty and the Beast, the character Gaston is everything a cartoon villain should be; boorish, arrogant, conceited, cowardly and above all else, a small minded bully. It is therefore an unsettling coincidence that Gaston’s Uruguayan namesake Ramirez should display those exact same qualities whilst in action for his country during a crucial world cup match.

The major controversy from Tuesday night’s clash between Italy and Uruguay was not the suspected bite by Luiz Suarez on Giorgio Chiellini but rather the reaction of Ramirez towards Chiellini afterwards. The Italian defender was rightly incensed by Suarez’s conduct and made an attempt to show the referee the teeth marks adorning his shoulder. That Ramirez took umbrage with Chiellini speaks volumes about his character. He even went as far as to attempt to force Chiellini’s shirt back over his shoulder. There is only one word for this kind of behaviour, contempt; contempt for the victim of a crime and an astounding level of arrogance to believe that the victim should remain silent.

Make no mistake about it, Suarez has committed a crime here. If you and I were to approach someone in the street tomorrow and sink our gnashers into their shoulder we would be hauled in for questioning by police and referred for psychiatric examination. However, Suarez does not live in the real world. He lives in the cosseted world of the wealthy individual where indiscretion can be made to disappear like a magician’s handkerchief.

This is the third such incident where Suarez has bitten an opponent. In 2010 whilst playing for Ajax he received a seven game ban for biting PSV’s Otman Bakkal. His transfer to Liverpool occurred during this suspension so were he to return to the Eredivisie later in his career he would start with a ban. In April last year the FA handed down a ten match suspension for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic. As this latest nibbling incident occurred during a match organised by FIFA it is in the hands of the world governing body to sanction Suarez. In a statement released last night, FIFA declared that the maximum ban permissible under their regulations is 24 international matches. If Suarez is found guilty (and I use the word if in the name of democracy) then FIFA should not hesitate to issue a 24 match ban and thus effectively end the Uruguayan’s international career. His behaviour is clearly not unprecedented and the punishment should reflect this.

And yet despite all the recrimination (there was also an eight game ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra) Suarez continues to transgress and, infuriatingly, play the victim. You could be forgiven for asking how one player can have such a lengthy charge sheet without appearing to show any remorse?

The answer lies in the conduct of Ramirez. His outrageous behaviour in protecting his teammate was typical of the indulgence Suarez has received throughout his career. Strong willed managers will, naturally seek to protect their prize assets when the chips are down. One only has to think of the way Alex Ferguson refused to sack Eric Cantona in 1995 following his assault of a Crystal Palace fan as an example of a manager creating a siege mentality to strengthen his club in a desperate situation. However, the indulgences bestowed on Suarez go beyond the realms of siege mentality. Whereas Cantona was punished judicially, and Ferguson made no attempt to resist this process, the reaction of then Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish during Suarez’s racism ban was little more than posturing. The Liverpool players and Dalglish himself wore t-shirts protesting Suarez’s innocence after an independent panel had found him guilty. As a show of defiance, it was lacking in dignity and class.

Ramirez however, has gone above and beyond the previous ways in which Suarez’s teammates have attempted to shield him from blame. In reacting angrily towards Chiellini, Ramirez showed that he is little more than a coward, a coward who felt the need to bully an opponent into concealing the truth. If and when Suarez is suspended, similar punishment should also be handed down to Ramirez though it is unlikely that this will happen as retrospective action against indecency is unprecedented in football. Ramirez the coward will, unfortunately, be able to wriggle his way out from under the microscope.

Advertisements

An unassuming legend who encapsulates the spirit of the world cup

Angelos Charisteas? When you hear that name your initial reaction is that you’ve heard of him but you’re not sure why. There is nothing much about his current surroundings that would make his name immediately stand out in the world of football. As a matter of fact he is currently a free agent having been released at the end of the 2012-13 season by Saudi club Al Nassr with a record of one goal in nine games. Inauspicious circumstances indeed.

And yet you’ve still heard of him and there is a perfectly good reason why. Ten years ago next month, he scored the winning goal for Greece in the final of the 2004 European Championships in Benfica’s Estadio da Luz. It was his third goal of the tournament and capped a remarkable victory for the Greeks against all the odds.

A quick sortie of Charisteas’ club career does not exactly make for stellar reading. As well as brief and moderately successful spells for Werder Bremen, Ajax and Feyenoord there are lengthy spells spent in the lower divisions of the Greek and German leagues. Had his career been in England we might have kindly referred to him as a journeyman.

Despite all this, his name will be forever synonymous with the spirit of Euro 2004. The have a go hero in a team of have a go heroes who wrote his name into tournament football legend.

You may be wondering why I am dissecting Charisteas’ career when he is not involved in this world cup. The simple reason is that on Saturday night this wonderful tournament produced a moment of history from a player who, like Charisteas does not necessarily demand the plaudits his achievements in tournament football deserve. With his first touch of this campaign, Germany’s Miroslav Klose scored his fifteenth World Cup finals goal in his fourth tournament and in doing so equalled the record of the Brazilian legend Ronaldo. The goal was also Klose’s 70th in 133 internationals for his country, a German record that puts him two ahead of the great Gerd Muller. However, here’s the million dollar question. Which club does Klose play for?

The answer is Lazio but you are unlikely to have known that unless you had followed Klose’s career in detail. Like Charisteas, his feats in international football are legendary but his club career is no more than fair to middling. Both men played for Werder Bremen and the German outfit are the only club for which Klose has passed the milestone of fifty league goals.

Despite his modest club career, Klose is a bona fide world cup legend. He is in many ways, the perfect encapsulation of what the world cup should be about; a festival of football where everyone can make a name for themselves. Think Roger Milla in 1990 or Geoff Hurst in 1966. It is not always the blue chip player who makes a tournament his own. Hurst of course was a late replacement to the England squad for the injured Jimmy Greaves.

That is not to say that Klose (or indeed Milla and Hurst) is merely an honest tryer. Far from it he is in fact a clinical poacher with a goalscoring instinct to rival the very best. The fact that his club career is not littered with honours is one of the modern game’s great mysteries.

Ronaldo’s fifteen goals arrived in the form of four in France ’98, three in Germany ’06 and a massive eight in the successful 2002 campaign which included two in the final against Klose’s Germany. Klose’s goals are spread more evenly. Five in 2002 (all headers), five more on home soil in 2006, four in South Africa and the one to equalise against Ghana on Saturday night. Ronaldo’s goal’s came in nineteen matches compared to Klose’s twenty although Klose has a slightly better minutes per goal ratio with 101 to the Brazilian’s 108. Ronaldo’s goals were undoubtedly more significant but there is little to separate them in terms of bare statistical analysis.

Klose is not a player who naturally bathes in the limelight. He is refreshingly removed from the egotistical nature of the modern footballer. Twice in his career he has been the recipient of fair play awards firstly for refusing the referee’s award of a penalty in a German league match that he believed was awarded incorrectly, and secondly for admitting immediately to using his hand to score a goal in a Serie A encounter. Whilst the attention going into this tournament has been on whether the global superstars Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney can finally make an impact on a world cup, Klose has consistently outperformed them all on the very biggest stage. He is the spirit of the world cup and embodies everything that tournament football should represent; joy for our great game. At 36 years of age, Klose still greets world cup goals with the same front flip celebration that ushered in his first world cup goals in Japan twelve years ago. Whisper it quietly, he’s a legend.

Preview ahead of the final group games.

One thing has become clear in this World Cup: Anything is possible. Throw the common wisdom out the window.

The reigning champs are already out.

Three teams from CONCACAF, the confederation of North and Central American teams, could make it to the knockout round for the first time ever.

In Group C, the supposed group of champions, three teams ranked in FIFA’s top 10  — former World Cup champions Italy, England and Uruguay — were supposed to fight it out for two spots in the knockout stages. Instead, unheralded Costa Rica are through and currently top the group, England are out, and Uruguay and Italy face off for the right to move on.

The four tournament favorites have all looked beatable. Brazil drew with Mexico, Germany drew with Ghana, Argentina needed a stoppage time goal to beat Iran, and Spain is out of the tourney. Mexico, Ghana and Iran are ranked No. 20, 37, and 43, respectively, by FIFA.

Yes, all but one of the early teams to clinch advancement are highly ranked teams. But so much remains open that it feels like a different sort of tournament. Goal-scoring is up. Games are wild. This kind of thing doesn’t often happen.

Qualification scenarios

Every team has one game left to play in the group stage, so every team knows what must happen for them to move on. Here’s a breakdown:

Eliminated: England, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Australia, Spain, Cameroon.

Advanced to second round: Netherlands, Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia, Argentina, Belgium.

Several groups feature matches between two teams fighting for the same spot in the second round, notably Mexico-Croatia on Monday and Italy-Uruguay on Tuesday.

There is even the unlikely but possible scenario that one second-round spot could bedecided by a coin flip between Nigeria and Iran.

For full tiebreaker rules — and they definitely matter, certainly for Team USA — click here.