Germany, U.S advance but bad boys hog headlines
SALVADOR Brazil (Reuters) - Germany and the U.S. sealed last 16 World Cup spots on Thursday but much of the limelight was on the tournament's bad boys as Uruguay's Luis Suarez received a nine match ban for biting and Ghana sent two players home in disgrace.
On the final day of group matches in Brazil, a Thomas Mueller goal gave Germany a 1-0 win over the United States, a result that allowed both teams to advance.
Portugal who beat Ghana 2-1 in the other Group G match were eliminated along with the Africans.
Much of the talk in the last few days has, however, been about bad behaviour 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 was suspended from any football-related activity for four months.
"Such behaviour 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 FA president Wilmer Valez said they would appeal.
Suarez, voted England's Footballer of the Year after scoring 31 league goals for Liverpool last season, 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.
Many Uruguayans slammed the latest sanction 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.
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.
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 the northeastern city of Recife to ensure they would top Group G with a 55th minute Mueller goal, the 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.
Germany finished top of the group on seven points, followed by the U.S. (4), Portugal (4) and Ghana (1).
Portugal talisman Cristiano Ronaldo scored his first goal of the tournament against Ghana but the 2-1 result was not enough to avoid going home on goal difference to the Americans.
Ghana's John Boye sliced a cross into his own net after 31 minutes to give Portugal the lead, before Asamoah Gyan headed the equaliser from a lovely Kwadwo Asamoah cross 12 minutes into the second half.
Both sides missed other chances, Ronaldo in particular, before he finally found the net in the 80th minute.
In later matches on Thursday, already-qualified Group H leaders Belgium (6 points) were facing South Korea (1) in Sao Paulo, with Algeria (3) playing Russia (1) in Curitiba (both 2000 GMT) knowing a win would assure qualification.
Elsewhere in the tournament, Argentina striker Sergio Aguero's World Cup looks to be over after he suffered a muscle tear in Wednesday's 3-2 win over Nigeria, media reports said.
(Additional reporting by Mike Collett, William Schomberg, Iain Rogers and Mark Gleeson in Brazil, Malena Castaldi in Montevideo)
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