Luis Suarez, the enigmatic striker from Uruguay, was barred for nine games and suspended from all soccer-related activities for four months after he was accused of biting an opponent that marred his team's 1-0 World Cup victory over Italy, FIFA officials announced Thursday.
Suarez, who was suspended twice previously for biting opponents during league games in the Netherlands and England, will miss the rest of the World Cup and the start of the English Premier League season.
Suarez's suspension is the harshest penalty for on-field action in World Cup history, surpassing the eight-game ban imposed on Mauro Tassotti of Italy in 1994 after he broke an opponent's nose with a vicious elbow.
"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," Claudio Sulser, the chairman of the FIFA disciplinary committee, said in a statement.
Suarez's latest incident happened near the end of a match Tuesday in which Uruguay and Italy both struggled to generate many attacking chances. Ten minutes before the end of the game, with the score tied, 0-0, Suarez ran into the penalty area and collided with Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini. Suarez appeared to drop his face into Chiellini's shoulder, and Chiellini immediately recoiled as both players fell to the ground.
Chiellini pulled his shirt collar to the side and tried to show the referee bite marks on his shoulder while Suarez rolled on the ground, seemingly feigning a painful injury.
Afterward, Chiellini condemned Suarez for what he said was a painful chomp. "Suarez is a sneak," Chiellini said. "I'd love to see if FIFA has the courage to use video evidence against him."
Suarez denied that he bit Chiellini - he said he ran into his shoulder and "nothing more" - but FIFA announced late Tuesday that its disciplinary panel would open an investigation into the incident and would use all resources, including video replays, to make its decision.
While Uruguay's coach, Oscar Tabarez, and some of Suarez's teammates staunchly defended him, reaction from soccer officials around the world seemed to indicate little patience with Suarez considering his previous history.
Suarez was barred for seven games in 2010 after biting an opponent while playing for the Dutch team Ajax; that earned him the nickname Cannibal of Ajax from a Dutch newspaper. Suarez then moved to the English club Liverpool and, in 2013, was caught on video biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic. He was suspended for 10 games.
The FIFA disciplinary committee has broad authority to consider any evidence, including Suarez's two past biting incidents, and determine any punishment.
Suarez and Uruguay's soccer federation were given a deadline of 5 p.m. Wednesday to present their position on the matter and any evidence.