2 Good Men

Flashes of cards and of bril­liance as Suárez’s Barcelona edge Tor­res’ Atlético

The Economic Times - - Sports - Sam Bor­den

Once upon a time, there was a mer­cu­rial for­ward who played for Liver­pool. The for­ward, Fer­nando Tor­res, a Span­ish scorer, ar­rived at that Mersey­side club in 2007. He pro­ceeded to score plenty of goals, help Liver­pool get ag­o­nis­ingly close to glory and, also, prove to be mad­den­ingly in­con­sis­tent from game to game. He left the club in 2011, and not long af­ter, he found him­self play­ing in Spain.

Once upon (an­other) time, there was an­other mer­cu­rial for­ward who played for Liver­pool. The for ward, Luis Suárez, a Uruguayan scorer, ar­rived at the Mersey­side club in 2011. He pro­ceeded to score plenty of goals, help Liver­pool get ag­o­nis­ingly close — re­ally, re­ally close — to glory and, also, prove to be mad­den­ingly un­pre­dictable in how he be­haved on the field. He left the club in 2014, and not long af­ter, he found him­self play­ing in Spain. O n Tues­day, in a re­mark­able dis­play of foot­ball as mini-bi­og­ra­phy, Tor­res and Suárez of­fered com­pressed ca­reer com­pi­la­tions dur­ing the Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter­fi­nal first leg between Barcelona and Atlético Madrid. First, there was Tor­res, who man­aged to look lethar­gic, bril­liant and fool­ish in the space of just 10 min­utes as he slum­bered into the game, scored the open­ing goal and then was sent off well be­fore half­time for a sec­ond yel­low card. Then there was Suárez, who ap­peared petu­lant, threatening, op­por­tunis­tic, petu­lant (again) and lethal through­out the match — all while some­how avoid­ing a red card of his own — be­fore scor­ing both of his team’s goals as Barcelona beat Atlético, 2-1, at Camp Nou.

The re­turn leg is next week in Madrid, though Tor­res will not take part af­ter he picked up yel­low cards for two ill-ad­vised fouls that left the Ger­man ref­eree Felix Brych with lit­tle choice but to send him walk­ing. English fans (of Liver­pool, and Chelsea, too) will for­ever re­mem­ber Tor­res’s fits of bril­liance mixed with spells of in­vis­i­bil­ity, but his per­for­mance Tues­day was par­tic­u­larly bizarre:

Tor­res looks largely un­in­ter­ested, fail­ing to com­plete sev­eral passes and plod­ding around the field.

Tor­res runs on to a beau­ti­ful through pass from Koke and rif les a shot through the legs of Barcelona’s goal­keeper to give Atlético a sur­prise lead on the road.

Tor­res catches Ney­mar wit h his a r m, largely un­nec­es­sar­ily, and draws a yel

low card.

Tor­res plays a great pass to An­toine Griez­mann that nearly re­sults in a sec­ond Atlético goal.

Tor­res runs through the back of Ser­gio Bus­quets, who is fac­ing his own goal at the time, and is given a sec­ond yel­low card and ejected. His de­par­ture forces Atlético to play nearly an hour down a man. Di e g o Si me­one, t he Atlético man­ager, was not es­pe­cially sub­tle in de­fend­ing Tor­res af­ter the match — he hinted in his news con­fer­ence that Brych had missed many other im­por­tant de­ci­sions — but it was dif­fi­cult to be­lieve he didn’t un­der­stand why Tor­res was sent off. “I am not say­ing all that I could say,” Sime­one said.

Re­gard­less, Tor­res left early and the game tipped to­ward Barcelona. Many in the crowd were surely hop­ing for a dif­fer­ent home star to score a mean­ing­ful goal; Lionel Messi ar­rived at the match with 499 ca­reer goals for club and coun­try and nearly scored No. 500 with a bril­liant over­head kick in the sec­ond half. But in­stead the fans saw a vin­tage Suárez p er for mance t hat show­cased all of the striker’s risks and re­wards.

No, there was no bit­ing; Suárez has not trod that path since his third such in­ci­dent, at the World Cup in Brazil, led to a lengthy sus­pen­sion. But there were, all the same, f lashes of Suárez’s mood­i­ness: he ap­peared to bla­tantly kick one Atlético player in the first half, and he put his hands on an­other in the sec­ond pe­riod with clear mal­ice. On an­other night, with an­other ref­eree, Suárez might have fol­lowed Tor­res up the tun­nel early.

In­stead, he stayed on the field and pro­duced two im­por­tant goals as Barcelona seeks to be­come the first club to win con­sec­u­tive Cham­pi­ons League tro­phies. In the 63rd minute, Suárez di­verted Jordi Alba’s blasted vol­ley — which was go­ing wide — into the net from close range, then raced af­ter the ball and car­ried it back to the cen­ter cir­cle in an ef­fort to get the game restarted as quickly as pos­si­ble. Nine min­utes later, his team­mate Dani A lve s c u rl e d in a sharp cross that Suárez headed power fully and straight, the ball fly­ing past goal­keeper Jan Oblak and giv­ing Barcelona a de­served vic­tory.

Barcelona pushed for an­other goal — much of the sec­ond hal f re­sem­bled a one-sided prac­tice drill, with ev­ery­one clus­tered in front of Atlético’s net — but Sime­one’s play­ers held firm as best they could. Af­ter Tues­day’s re­sult, they need only win by 1-0 at home next week to ad­vance on the away-goals rule.

That was why, at the fi­nal whis­tle, Barcelona’s play­ers did not cel­e­brate. They have the ad­van­tage, to be sure, but Atlético is far from beaten. Messi and Ney­mar pulled up at the fi­nal whis­tle, ex­hal­ing be­fore slap­ping hands and head­ing to­ward the locker room. Suárez did the same, clap­ping to­ward the Barcelona fans along the way. Even a f ter 9 0 min­utes, he looked primed and fo­cused, as if al­ready think­ing about what he might do in the re­turn. Tor­res, of course, need not bother.

No, there was no bit­ing on Luis Suarez’s part. But there were, all the same, flashes of Suárez’s mood­i­ness

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