Ma­ture Suarez in re­demp­tion bid for dark horses Uruguay

The National - News - - SPORT WORLD CUP 2018 - IAN HAWKEY

So many Uruguayans have been say­ing how much Luis Suarez has ma­tured over the past four years that you al­most imag­ine that he might, tak­ing the field against Egypt, have thin­ning grey hair and a long white beard. It is nat­u­ral enough that whether or not Suarez be­haves like a grown-up is the sub­ject of scru­tiny. His World Cup story is all hot flashes and scan­dal.

Ev­ery­one knows the charge-sheet: the bite on Gior­gio Chiellini’s shoul­der in Brazil that led to the as­sailant’s ex­pul­sion from the 2014 World Cup, and from all foot­ball for months af­ter­wards; the hand­ball on the goalline against Ghana in Soweto, South Africa that ex­tended Uruguay’s stay in the 2010 tour­na­ment but abruptly cur­tailed Suarez’s par­tic­i­pa­tion, sent off for il­le­gally stop­ping a goal­bound shot – to some ap­plause within Uruguay but dis­gust at his bla­tant cheat­ing from most of the rest of the planet.

If Suarez had not col­lected two previous bans for bit­ing in his ca­reer, or devel­oped such a rep­u­ta­tion for push­ing the bound­aries with his div­ing and games­man­ship, he might be di­ag­nosed as just World-Cup al­ler­gic, given the rushes of blood in the high-pres­sure the­atre of the sport’s most-watched event.

But Suarez has a re­cidi­vist past; by the sum­mer of 2014 he seemed sim­ply in­cor­ri­gi­ble.

When his long-time Uruguay col­league and na­tional team cap­tain, Diego Godin, told Italy’s Gazzetta

dello Sport last week that “Luis has gained a lot of ma­tu­rity,” he also ac­knowl­edged that the furore cre­ated by Suarez at the last World Cup had been un­set­tling.

“For me the game against Italy had been spe­cial. I scored the goal that put us in the last 16.

“But then ev­ery­body was talk­ing about the Luis is­sue, and that made all the noise. No­body talked about foot­ball un­til we played [and lost to] Colom­bia in the next round. The coun­try took a blow.”

Suarez recog­nises that he dam­aged that cam­paign. He has said, ahead of this one in Rus­sia, he owes his na­tion, his team­mates, for let­ting them down in Brazil. “I have a debt to pay. It was my mis­take,” he told Uruguayans in a news con­fer­ence last month.

Suarez was banned from all foot­ball un­til the mid­dle of the fol­low­ing Oc­to­ber as a re­sult of the Chiellini as­sault. In that time, he joined Barcelona from Liver­pool.

He can now point to al­most four years with the Cata­lan club with only a sin­gle red card – from two book­ings, that cost him a place in a win­ning Copa del Rey fi­nal – and a long pe­riod in which not ag­gres­sion but con­vivi­al­ity has been his watch­word.

Suarez, Ney­mar and Messi: that trio at Barca had three ex­tra­or­di­nary pro­lific sea­sons to­gether, not only for the vol­ume of goalscor­ing but the stud­ied shows of self­less­ness, mutual em­pa­thy and joy that came with it.

Ney­mar left Barca, but the Suarez-Messi duo con­tin­ues, pro­lific, in tune with one an­other. No striker in Messi’s long pe­riod as com­man­der-in-chief of Camp Nou has been such a pro­duc­tive, happy part­ner for him. There is the irony.

It is Suarez, edgy, prickly and com­bat­ive, who has turned out to be far more ac­com­mo­dat­ing about play­ing Lionel’s leg-man than the likes of Thierry Henry, Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic, and Ney­mar – to name but three – turned out to be.

The Uruguayan con­trib­uted 25 goals and 12 as­sists to Barcelona’s gal­lop to what was Suarez’s third Liga ti­tle in the sea­son just com­pleted. He has won a Uefa Cham­pi­ons League in Barca colours, and passed 150 goals for the club.

Yet, at 31, will have de­tected that that his em­ploy­ers are rest­less to re­new Barcelona’s for­ward line.

The ex­pec­ta­tion is that An­toine Griez­mann joins the Messi sup­port-act soon after the World Cup, to in­ject pace into the at­tack.

Ous­mane Dem­bele, Griez­mann’s fel­low French flyer, can also an­tic­i­pate more out­ings next sea­son at Barcelona who signed him and Philippe Coutinho with their in­come from Ney­mar’s sale to Paris Saint-Germain.

All that poses a ques­tion: Where to fit Suarez into a for­ward line with Dem­bele, Messi, plus Coutinho be­hind them, and an­other su­per­star? “Good play­ers are al­ways wel­come at Barcelona,” Suarez said about the Griez­mann spec­u­la­tion.

The story of Griez­mann and Barcelona’s trans­fer strat­egy will rum­ble through the World Cup. Suarez says he will set it aside.

His main hope is that, with VAR in use in Rus­sia, he will not pro­vide the sort of shock-hor­ror head­lines he has brought to previous tour­na­ments and that he can func­tion as flu­ently in tan­dem with Uruguay’s Edin­son Ca­vani, an­other of club foot­ball’s elite goalscor­ers, as he does week­end after week­end with Messi.

Uruguay look like con­tenders for a place in last four of the com­pe­ti­tion, if their young cre­ative mid­field­ers thrive, if Godin spreads his au­thor­ity ef­fec­tively across the back four and most of all if the for­mi­da­ble front two of Suarez and Ca­vani repli­cate their club form. They are dark horses, for sure, darker still if Suarez avoids the red mist.

AFP

Luis Suarez was ex­pelled from the 2014 World Cup and banned for four months

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