By Neil Maidment
SALVADOR Brazil (Reuters) – Germany, the United States and Algeria sealed last 16 World Cup places on Thursday but much of the spotlight was on the tournament’s bad boys as Uruguay’s Luis Suarez got a nine-match ban for biting and Ghana sent two players home in disgrace.
On the final day of group matches, Germany beat the U.S. 1-0, a result that put both teams through from Group G, while Algeria’s 1-1 draw with Russia saw them join already-qualified Belgium in the second round for the first time from Group H.
Germany will now play Algeria on Monday in Porto Alegre while Belgium will battle with the U.S. in Salvador on Tuesday.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, Ghana, South Korea and Russia were the day’s casualties with all heading home.
Much of the talk in the last few days has, however, been about bad behavior marring an otherwise excellent tournament and events took another explosive turn on Thursday.
Uruguay’s mercurial striker Suarez was handed a nine-match ban by FIFA – the biggest imposed at a World Cup - for biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini during Tuesday’s group match and been suspended from any football-related activity for four months.
“Such behavior cannot be tolerated on any football pitch, and in particular not at a FIFA World Cup when the eyes of millions of people are on the stars on the field,” soccer’s world governing body said in a statement.
Uruguay’s FA president Wilmar Valdez said they would appeal, while its government will meet to discuss “options” relating to the ban, which ends Suarez’s World Cup involvement and forces him to miss the first two months of the English season.
Suarez, voted England’s Footballer of the Year after scoring 31 league goals for Liverpool last term, has now been involved in three incidents of biting opponents, and one of racial abuse.
The latest ban means the 27-year-old will have missed 34 matches in total as punishment for those offences.
Coming two days before their team’s last 16 match against Colombia, many Uruguayans slammed the latest sanction as exaggerated, hypocritical, or even biased. Others, such as ex-Brazil striker Ronaldo, weren’t so sympathetic. [ID:nL6N0P74RG]
“If my kids bite me they are punished in the dark room with the big bad wolf: that’s the soccer equivalent,” he said.
Ghana’s preparations for their Brasilia match with Portugal were less than ideal. Before kickoff they confirmed key midfielders Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari had been suspended after they clashed with coach Kwesi Appiah and a Ghana Football Association (GFA) official. [ID:nL6N0P73AK]
Boateng was sanctioned following “vulgar verbal insults targeted at coach Kwesi Appiah during the team’s training session in Maceio this week,” the GFA said.
Muntari’s punishment was handed down after he punched an executive committee member of the GFA. The incident happened during a meeting over unpaid money as senior players rounded on team officials for not keeping promises, a team source said.
Germany negotiated torrential rain in Recife to ensure they topped Group G with a 55th minute Thomas Mueller goal, the prolific forward collecting a loose ball on the edge of the area and superbly side-footing into the bottom corner.
The Germans dominated the game with Juergen Klinsmann’s team creating very few chances and finished top of the group on seven points, followed by the U.S. (4), Portugal (4) and Ghana (1).
Portugal talisman Ronaldo scored his first goal of the tournament against Ghana but the 2-1 result was not enough to avoid an exit on goal difference behind the U.S. – which might have been avoided had Ronaldo converted three great chances.
Ghana’s John Boye sliced a cross into his own net after 31 minutes to hand Portugal the lead, before Asamoah Gyan met a lovely Kwadwo Asamoah cross 12 minutes into the second half.
The header marked his sixth World Cup goal making him the highest-scoring African in finals history. Both sides then missed chances before Ronaldo found the net in the 80th minute.
In Group H already qualified Belgium beat South Korea 1-0 with a 78th minute goal from defender Jan Vertonghen, despite losing midfielder Steven Defour to a 45th minute red card after a needless, studs-up challenge on Kim Shin-wook.
Korea’s defeat rounded off a miserable tournament for the four Asian sides, also including Australia, Japan and Iran, who failed to muster a win between them and all finished bottom of their groups.
On a momentous night for Algeria, the North Africans took second spot after Islam Slimani’s powerful header on the hour canceled out Alexander Kokorin’s superb sixth minute opener, dumping Russia, who needed a win, out of the tournament.
The group finished with Belgium on nine points, followed by Algeria (4), Russia (2) and South Korea (1).
It was the first time two African sides had reached the last 16 with the Algerians joining Nigeria in the second round.
Elsewhere, Argentina striker Sergio Aguero’s World Cup looks to be over after he suffered a muscle tear in Wednesday’s 3-2 win over the Nigerians. [ID:nL6N0P769R]
Brazil’s Neymar also did his best not to add to the player headlines. The forward won an appeal to have the local June edition of Playboy magazine, which claimed to feature an ex-girlfriend, removed from the news stands. [ID:nL2N0P71KJ]
(Additional reporting by Mike Collett, William Schomberg, Iain Rogers, Mark Gleeson, and Caroline Stauffer in Brazil, Malena Castaldi in Montevideo; Editing by Ken Ferris)