Striker Luis Suarez will miss South American champions Uruguay's crucial World Cup qualifier in Venezuela, the upstarts threatening to deny them a place in next year's finals in Brazil.
Suarez, who has scored eight goals in the qualifying campaign, picked up a second booking during Tuesday's 2-0 loss to Chile in Santiago and is suspended for Uruguay's June 11 visit to Venezuela.
However, Suarez got away with punching Chile's Gonzalo Jara as they tussled in the penalty area at a corner and could face further disciplinary action if FIFA acts on the incident which Argentine referee Nestor Pitana missed.
A spokesman for South American body Conmebol said any such incident would only be dealt with by FIFA should it be mentioned in the fourth official's report.
Suarez, often embroiled in controversy playing for English club Liverpool, was booked in September's 1-1 draw with Ecuador in Montevideo during a run in which Uruguay have taken two points from six matches, a paltry return for the 2011 Copa America winners and 2010 World Cup semi-finalists.
However, the twice world champions who have so often punched above their weight have become accustomed to barren World Cup years as much as scraping into the finals in playoffs against teams from other confederations.
“What we have closest is a fight for fifth place so that's why the match with Venezuela has defining circumstances,” Uruguay coach Oscar Washington Tabarez said.
“I'd say we're a bit surprised to have given away avoidable goals,” he was quoted as saying in the Uruguayan daily El Pais (www.ovaciondigital.com.uy) referring to a defensive mistake that allowed Chile to take an early lead.
“No question that the defensive error of the first goal played a bigger part than the refereeing (in the defeat),” he added. Captain Diego Lugano complained that Pitana had missed four penalties.
Uruguay have no game on June 7 when Venezuela play in the thin air of Bolivia's capital La Paz before travelling to face them in the Caribbean.
Venezuela, a baseball-obsessed nation only now emerging with a football team capable of reaching the World Cup finals for the first time, and Chile leapfrogged Uruguay into positions of contention.
Fourth-placed Chile and Venezuela, who are fifth, have 15 points from 11 matches, two in front of Uruguay. The South American group is led by Argentina on 24 points with Ecuador on 20 and Colombia 19.
At the end of the campaign in October, the top four qualify for the World Cup with the fifth-placed team making it to a playoff against Asian opponents.
“It's hard to imagine that of the last 18 points we should only harvest two with a squad which less than a year ago got other results,” said Tabarez.
Because even in 2012, which wasn't a good year for us, when we lost to Colombia (4-0 in September) we had been unbeaten in 18 matches and were second in the FIFA ranking.”
Photograph: Eliseo Fernandez/Reuters