World Cup 2014: How Uruguay closed ranks over Luis Suarez
For much of the day in the north-eastern Brazilian city of Natal it was as if the Luis Suarez incident had not happened at all.
The name of the Liverpool striker, accused of biting Italy's Giorgio Chiellini, was the one that dare not be spoken in and around the Uruguay camp on Wednesday.
The man at the centre of this World Cup's greatest controversy was nowhere to be seen. His Uruguay team-mates refused to criticise the behaviour of a player they said had done nothing wrong.
A heated exchange with Uruguay captain Diego Lugano during a news conference summed up the mood. "I don't know what a British journalist is doing here in our camp talking about Luis Suarez," he said to me. "I don't see any real explanation."
According to Lugano, I was in the wrong for asking a question about Suarez. The superstar footballer who appeared to have bitten an opponent for the third time in his career was not.
Lugano, a former West Bromwich Albion defender, understands English. On this occasion, though, he refused to take questions unless they were in Spanish.
Basic Spanish and internet translation tools came to the rescue, though. "Diego, que piensas sobre el incidente Suarez," I asked. Had he seen the Suarez incident?
"What incident?" was his response. This was a camp, a country, united in denial, united by a desire to protect a friend, a team-mate, a player key to their ambitions, united by a clear belief that this was an unfair campaign driven by foreign media.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Lugano continued. "Are you talking about the Premier League or the national team? Have you got something against Luis?"
Less than 24 hours earlier I, along with thousands of others, had been at Estadio das Dunas in Natal when Suarez had fallen to the floor clutching his teeth while defender Chiellini complained to the referee that he had been bitten on the shoulder by the striker.
"He must sell newspapers, otherwise you wouldn't be here," Lugano added.
I continued in Spanish. "Are you saying nothing happened with Chiellini?"
"No," he said. "The TV pictures don't show anything. Nothing important."
So why is Fifa investigating Suarez then?
"I don't know," Lugano said. "I don't know."
The day had begun in a similar vein. A Uruguay team official made it clear my question about Suarez to manager Oscar Tabarez in the post-match news conference on Tuesday had been unacceptable.
This was, he said, an incident that did not deserve the attention it had got. This was a story driven by a dislike of Suarez, a dislike of Uruguay, the team that had knocked England out.
This was a view echoed by Uruguayan journalists in Natal and the dozens of fans who gathered at the gates of Estadio Maria Lamas Farache to watch their hero train.
Among the fans was a significant media presence, which scrambled across to the side of the road to watch the Uruguay team coach arrive, escorted by a heavy military presence, a police helicopter and motorcycle outriders. All standard practice at this World Cup.
The fans watching spoke with one voice. "He is a national hero, this changes nothing," one said.
Another man whose three children were with him said his daughter had been bitten at her school and that the culprit was punished.
"Suarez should not be banned," he said. "Suarez is not perfect. As a person, 80% of Uruguayans don't like him. As a footballer, he is special. I prefer him as a footballer."
They came with banners reminding Brazil about their World Cup triumph in this country in 1950. They came wearing shirts with 'Suarez 9' on the back. They shouted his name.
Marcelo Singer, a freelance Uruguayan journalist, also spoke up in defence of his compatriot. "I don't understand why you want to focus on Suarez and not the victory over Italy," he said.
"These things happen in football. No-one is complaining about Chiellini's elbow or Mario Balotelli, who kneed a Uruguay player in the head. That was a worse offence."
Suarez was not there to witness this show of support. He had stayed behind at Uruguay's beachside retreat, along with the other 10 players who had started what was a famous 1-0 victory over Italy.
Back at the hotel, life went on as normal. A water aerobics class was taking place, conducted by two instructors wearing fluorescent outfits. Hotel guests relaxed around the swimming pool and on the private beach at the rear of the hotel. None, it seemed, were interested in Suarez.
A number of players drank coffee with Uruguayan journalists. There were no restrictions on who could come and go. The mood was relaxed, there was no sense that this was a squad rocked by the controversial behaviour of their star player.
A DJ played music in the room as journalists gathered for the first of two news conferences at the hotel on Wednesday afternoon. The first of them involved Southampton midfielder Gaston Ramirez and team-mate Christian Stuani.
Suarez was not mentioned once. Journalists who wanted to ask questions on that subject were ignored by the man with the microphone. The issue was raised with Uruguay's head of media, Matias Faral. Why were no questions allowed on Suarez? His explanation was that Lugano, as captain, would tackle the issue.
Lugano spoke with no irony, no hint of a chink in his belief that Suarez had no case to answer.
After a day in the Uruguay camp, the blame, it seemed, lay elsewhere.
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