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FIFA should have banned Suarez from World Cup

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Yet again, blatant cheating in soccer is not being adequately punished.

Uruguay forward Luis Suarez escaped with a one-match suspension from FIFA on Saturday for deliberately using his hands to slap away what would have been a certain match-winning goal for Ghana.

So he'll miss the semifinal. Suarez will be back, suspension served, for the final or the third-place match, depending on how Uruguay fares.

That is so wrong. FIFA should have sent him packing from the World Cup, deterred cheats by making an example of this one.

"Foot" and "ball." It couldn't be any simpler. The most basic rule is no handling by anyone other than the goalkeeper, and Suarez slapped it in the face.

FIFA can draw up as many fair play codes as it likes, they will remain dead letters as long as cheats are allowed to prosper. Thierry Henry was allowed to escape scot-free for his double handball that led to France, instead of Ireland, playing at this World Cup. FIFA flaccidly argued that its disciplinary panel couldn't punish the French striker because the referee and his officials did not spot his cheating during the game.

FIFA doesn't have that excuse this time. Referee Olegario Benquerenca did his job in showing Suarez the red card. FIFA should have done its duty by suspending Suarez for Uruguay's last two games.

"Cheating is easy, but brings no pleasure," says FIFA's fair play code. But that is not true. Suarez will still have the pleasure of playing another World Cup match — a pleasure he stole from Ghana's players.

Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez's assertion that Suarez's action was a natural reflex is nonsense.

Suarez knew what he was doing. He took a calculated risk. The teams were tied at 1-1. It was the last minute of the match. Dominic Adiyiah's header was goal-bound for Ghana. So Suarez lifted both arms and pushed it away. He didn't even try to use his head or chest. He knew that the punishment for handling would be a penalty for Ghana. But that had to be better for Uruguay than losing to a last-gasp goal.

And the gamble paid off when Ghana's penalty-taker Asamoah Gyan thumped the crossbar with his shot. Suarez pumped his fists in celebration.

"I think I made the best save of the World Cup," he said afterward, tickled pink with himself.

It would be wrong in the wake of Suarez's dishonesty to push FIFA for changes to the laws of the game so that referees could award goals that are illegally and deliberately blocked, even if they don't cross the line. Basketball awards points for such eventualities, punishing teams for swatting away a ball that is already starting to go in. Ice hockey also allows umpires to declare in certain cases that a goalward-bound shot was a goal, even if the puck did not go in.

Asking similar of soccer referees is not the answer. They are already struggling to keep pace with all the action in the fast modern game. Asking them to also judge whether a goal would or would not have gone in had X, Y, or Z happened, or not happened, will guarantee bad calls. Instantly calculating ball trajectories and whether a hand stopped it from hitting the net is a job for technologies like Hawk-Eye, not overworked referees.

A better solution is deterrence. Come down harder on cheats. Ruin the rest of Suarez's World Cup like he ruined it for the Ghanaians and the millions of Africans who thought Adiyiah's header was about to carry them to the first semifinal for an African team.

Suarez said being sent off "was worth it."

FIFA could have proved him wrong. Instead, it proved him right.

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John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org.