Goal for Uruguay! Goal by Luis Suarez! Six hundred and forty days after the incident against Italy at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, which led to a suspension of nine official games, El Pistolero was back in competitive action for Uruguay and on Brazilian soil to boot, in South American qualifying for Russia 2018.

What is more, the Barcelona front-man weighed in with a vital goal. With his team trailing 2-1 to Brazil, Suarez drove into the left-hand side of the box to latch onto a through-ball by Alvaro Pereira, before catching out Auriverde keeper Alisson with a first-time left-footed cross-shot. A true striker’s goal in a key encounter, versus a team against whom he had never previously scored.

“It’s a dream return, because you always try to do your best for the team. If, like tonight, it helps the team get a draw, I go home happy,” said Suarez, after the 2-2 draw in Recife, where Uruguay fought back from 2-0 down to secure a point that keeps them clear in second place in the CONMEBOL Zone, three points behind leaders Ecuador.

Recife air to Suarez’s liking
The Arena Pernambuco is fast becoming a favourite haunt for the ex-Liverpool man, who previously netted three goals there during the group phase of the FIFA Confederations Cup 2013, one in a 2-1 loss to Spain and two in an 8-0 thumping of Tahiti.

His equaliser against Brazil also took his senior tally for his country to 45, extending his lead at the top of Los Charrúas’ all-time scorers’ chart, while drawing him level with Chile’s Ivan Zamorano as the third leading scorer in South American qualifying history – behind only Argentina’s Hernan Crespo (19) and another Chilean, Marcelo Salas (18).

“It was very emotional because of what I, and also my family, went through. I dedicate this to my wife, my daughters and to someone who’s now on high,” continued Lucho, in reference to the late Walter Ferreira, the former Uruguay physio who passed away in January this year. It was Ferreira’s unstinting efforts that enabled Suarez to regain fitness in time for Brazil 2014, where El Pistolero also dedicated him a goal, while Suarez’s celebrations in Recife saw him brandish a t-shirt depicting that World Cup dedication.

Suarez might even have gone on to snatch a win for Uruguay via a shot from the edge of the box, only for Alisson to stick out his right foot and turn the effort away. “To be honest I was already tired and closed my eyes [after shooting] …” said the No9, who captained his country in the absence of Diego Godin. “The important thing is, despite going a goal down after a minute, the team showed character and were able to fight back. We didn’t lose and we’re still up there [in the standings].”

Decisive but not alone
Suarez, who also found time after the final whistle to intervene in a heated discussion between Brazil’s Neymar, his Barça team-mate, and Jorge Fucile, earned warm words of praise from Uruguay boss Oscar Tabarez. “He overcame the difficulties caused by his own mistakes and that deserves credit,” said El Maestro. “He had three chances today, scoring one of them and in the third getting off a good shot. He arrived at speed but was very tired and tried to smash it home.”

During Lucho’s absence, La Celeste played 16 matches, winning ten, drawing one and losing five, scoring a total of 23 times. Leading Uruguay’s goalscoring charge over this period were Edinson Cavani (six goals), Abel Hernandez, Diego Rolan and Godin (all three), partly lightening the loss of the regional top scorer in Brazil 2014 qualifying (11 goals in 14 games).

“As well as goals, Luis enables us to be a constant threat,” added Tabarez. “He doesn’t just play, he battles too, and I say that in the best sense of the word. I already said that, when his ban was over, Uruguay were going to make the best ‘signing’ of this qualifying phase. No other team can bring in a player of Luis’ ability.”