Over the past week, speculation surrounding the fitness of Uruguay striker Luis Suarez had been rife, with the man who topped the English Premier League scorers’ charts with Liverpool having undergone a knee operation less than a month ago. After sitting out La Celeste’s opening game of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, a 3-1 defeat to Costa Rica, many wondered just what kind of shape he would be in against an England team featuring a host of his Anfield club-mates?
‘Lethal’ was the answer given by the prolific front-runner on Thursday at the Arena de Sao Paulo, where Suarez scored both goals as Uruguay sank the Three Lions 2-1 to revive their Group D campaign. “We’d love to have ten players of his ability,” said Los Charrúas’ captain Diego Lugano. “But we’ve got a few guys who can make a difference, like he does with his brillance, and the rest of us are all grafters.”
Indeed, Suarez’s immense talent, eye for goal and the unique way in which, for good or for bad, he manages to stir the emotions of everyone watching the game – mean he is without a doubt a player that leaves no football fan unmoved. In Sao Paulo, when first going up to whip in one of his vicious corner kicks, he was the target of resounding boos from a large group of England followers in that area of the stadium. In contrast, at a corner at the opposite end of the stadium the second half he was given a standing ovation by the nearby largely Brazilian fans - even before he had scored his second goal.
Need we ask about the Uruguayan faithful? Well, shortly before leaving the field after the game, Suarez did not forget to pay a humble tribute to the Celeste fans, waving and applauding them for their support while, in turn, his Uruguay teammates – including Lugano, who missed the game through injury – raised their match-winner aloft in the centre of the pitch. “This is what we’ve seen from him for a while, right?” Lugano said.
“He’s phenomenal,” chipped in midfielder Egidio Arevalo. “To be honest, we should have expected this from him. We knew that he would be fit in time for this game, but we didn’t know exactly how sharp he would be, so he surprised us out on the pitch tonight.”
“Our team really revolves around him,” Lugano said, referencing how Suarez’s mere presence lifts the reigning South American champions, with Edinson Cavani – to name just one – enjoying more license to roam upon his strike partner’s return to the starting XI. “He did what he had to do,” Cavani said on his strike partner's performance. “But we know that it can’t have been easy for him, coming back from injury, with all the pressure that surrounds a World Cup and with everything that was being said and speculated about his fitness.”
Goalkeeper Fernando Muslera echoed Cavani’s thoughts. “There was a lot of criticism coming his way, saying that we’d be left with a player only 50 per cent fit,” he said. “But when I heard that I thought, ‘I’d rather have a player like him in the team anyway’. Even at three per cent fit he can still win you a game.”
What Suarez’s precise level of fitness on Thursday was exactly, we do not know. But, as Muslera stated, whatever the percentage, he can – and does – win games.