RIO DE JANEIRO - The four month global ban imposed on Luis Suarez for his World Cup bite is too harsh, the victim Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini said Friday as the Uruguay striker returned home to a hero's welcome.
Hundreds of fans were waiting at Montevideo airport for Suarez who arrived in a private jet after being ordered by FIFA to leave Uruguay's team hotel in Brazil.
Chiellini, who became Suarez's third biting victim in his side's 1-0 defeat to Uruguay, said he felt for the temperamental striker and his family.
"I have always considered unequivocal the disciplinary interventions by the competent bodies, but at the same time I believe that the proposed formula is excessive," said Chiellini on his website.
Aside from the four month ban from all football activity, FIFA also imposed a nine game international suspension and a 100,000 Swiss franc ($125,000). The sanctions booted Suarez out of the World Cup.
"There only remains the anger and the disappointment about the match," Chiellini said. "At the moment, my only thought is for Luis and his family, because they will face a very difficult period.
"I sincerely hope he will be allowed to stay close to his teammates during the games, because such a ban is really alienating for a player." Suarez, 27, bid farewell to his team-mates on Thursday as they prepared for Saturday's last 16 game with Colombia. FIFA said the ban on football activities meant he could not stay at the hotel. Suarez will not even be allowed in a stadium where Uruguay are playing during the four months.
The Uruguayan nation has rallied behind the shamed goalscorer however.
The private jet landed in Montevideo just before dawn. Hundreds of fans carrying banners with slogans such as "Luis, All Of Uruguay Is With You" were waiting.
"He has been treated worse than a murderer, when it was just a mistake," one of the fans at the airport told AFP.
President Jose Mujica went to the airport intending to greet the star striker. He left again because Suarez's flight was delayed. Mujica has strongly defended Suarez insisting that he had seen no bite during Tuesday's Group D match which Uruguay won to reach the last 16.
Suarez was driven away to his mother's home in the southern province of Canelones.
FIFA indicated it was worried about damage to football's global image from the biting storm which has dominated front pages and sports pages around the world for three days.
"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," FIFA Disciplinary Committee chief Claudio Sulser said in announcing the ban on Wednesday.
Fallout from the ban quickly spread with gambling website 888 Poker terminated its sponsorship deal with Suarez.
Sports equipment giant Adidas said it was halting the use of Suarez in adverts for the duration of the World Cup. The company said it "fully" backed FIFA's ban.
It is the third time Suarez has been banned for biting an opponent.
He served a seven-game ban for biting a player in November 2010 when he was with Dutch side Ajax and a 10 game suspension after biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic while playing for Liverpool in April 2013.
British media speculated that the sanctions could wipe a substantial amount off the value of Suarez if Liverpool decide to sell him. The English club has not yet commented on the case insisting it was waiting to see FIFA's report.
Spanish media said that Barcelona remained interested in Suarez despite the scandal. Barcelona refused to comment on the reports that Suarez's lawyer would hold talks with the club on Friday.
After Suarez scored two goals against England, media reports said Barclona and Real Madrid would be ready to pay 100 million euros for the striker. Because of the four month ban, Suarez would not be allowed to play in any championship, nor train with any team, until October.