Adeliberate handball on the line
To stop Ghana going through to the World Cup semi-finals in
2010. A bite of Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder in 2014. Four years
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World Cup appearances later and we are still waiting to
discover what Luis Suárez’s legacy will be in Russia, where
Uruguay’s talisman has another – and possibly a last – shot at
redemption on football’s greatest stage.
By Suárez’s World Cup standards – and what standards they
are – the striker has been relatively quiet. Poor
in the opening game against
Egypt, he went on to score against Saudi Arabia and Russia
and also provided that terrific cross for the first of Edinson
Cavani’s two goals against Portugal in the last 16 last
Saturday. Yet it is his strike partner, born a few weeks after
him, who has stolen the show. Cavani has scored more, shot
more and run more than Suárez in Russia, despite spending
less time on the pitch.
Suárez is not the sort of player to stay in the shadows for
long, especially when it comes to representing his country.
Uruguay’s all-time leading scorer has a habit of serving up
memorable storylines when he pulls on the sky blue shirt, in
particular at World Cup finals, and his country could do with
another, only this time with a much happier ending.
Controversy stalks Suárez but, love him or loathe him, his
scoring record is phenomenal. With 53 goals in 103
internationals, he averages better than one every other game
for his country. At club level the figures are staggering. In the
last five seasons, which comprise one campaign at Liverpool
and four with Barcelona, Suárez has scored 141 league goals.
To put that return into perspective, the only players to have
scored more in Europe’s top five divisions are Lionel Messi and
Cristiano Ronaldo. Next on the list after Suárez comes Robert
Lewandowski, followed by Cavani, which gives an idea of how
just blessed Uruguay are when it comes to their forward line.
Yet the frustration for Uruguay is that they have never been
able to field that formidable partnership at a World Cup when
it really matters. Suárez missed the 2010 World Cup semi-final
defeat against the Netherlands through suspension after
stopping Dominic Adiyiah’s goalbound header for Ghana, in the
last minute of extra time, with his hands. “The hand of Suárez”
is the title of that particular chapter in his autobiography. “The
hand of the Devil” read a headline in a South African
newspaper the next day, after Uruguay went on to win on
Four years later, in Brazil, Suárez was sent home in disgrace
after that extraordinary Chiellini incident, leaving Uruguay to
face – and lose to – Colombia in the last 16 without him.
Watching from his house in Montevideo, where tears rolled
down his face as he listened to Óscar Tabárez, the Uruguay
manager, defend him on the eve
of the Colombia tie, Suárez knew what
the outcome would be 24 hours later. “You could see that
emotionally the team had died,” he wrote in his book, Crossing
The Paris Saint-Germain forward trained in Nizhny Novgorod on
Thursday but those words read much more positively than the
picture Tabárez painted at his press conference. Tabárez was
extremely coy about whether Cavani will be able to play any
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the country where the forward has lived for the last five years,
so much so it was hard to escape the feeling at the end of the
manager’s answer that the best Uruguay can hope for is the
31-year-old is named among the substitutes.