Luis Suarez, the top player in England’s top league last season, will probably be the cause of the country’s World Cup exit.
Three weeks ago, the Uruguayan was in a wheelchair after knee surgery, and it looked unlikely he would appear in Brazil. Last night in Sao Paulo, his two goals helped defeat England 2-1, sending the European team to the brink of leaving the tournament after two games.
“I’ve dreamed about it quite a lot,” Suarez, who on May 22 left a Uruguayan hospital following surgery, told reporters. “It was one of the best games I’ve played. It’s an amazing moment for me. Maybe a few days ago I thought this wouldn’t be possible.”
Suarez, who is the current player of the year in England’s Premier League, showed why reporters in the U.K. and Uruguay focused on his availability.
Without the Liverpool player, Uruguay, a two-time World Cup winner, was upset 3-1 by Costa Rica in its tournament opener. England lost 2-1 to Italy on the same day and could be eliminated if Costa Rica gets at least a draw against Italy today. England has never been out after its first two games of a World Cup.
“To some extent, he was quieter than we’re used to,” England coach Roy Hodgson said of Suarez. “Two chances came his way, he took both chances and that’s probably ended our chances.”
Uruguay, which has a population of 3 million, about a third of the number of inhabitants in Greater London, hadn’t beaten a western European team in the World Cup since 1966 when the tournament was held in England, which won the trophy.
Coach Oscar Washington Tabarez described the circumstances of the victory as something from the movies, with it coinciding with the birthday of national hero José Gervasio Artigas Arnal, a man dubbed the “father of Uruguayan nationhood.”
“Both goals were scored by Luis, a player who was injured a month ago, who had to undergo surgery, for us this game was loaded with symbolism,” Tabarez said.
Suarez, 27, is a controversial figure in England. He’s often jeered by rivals of Liverpool because of incidents that have marked his three-year stay there. In 2012, he received an eight-game ban for racially abusing a rival player, and a year later he was banned for 10 matches after biting an opponent. Last season, he scored 31 goals as Liverpool rebounded from seventh to second in the space of two seasons.
Suarez also has a tainted history in the World Cup, using his hand to stop an obvious goal-bound shot in a quarterfinal with Ghana in South Africa in 2010. He was dismissed from the match, but celebrated in the exit tunnel when the resulting penalty was missed and the game went to extra time, with Uruguay eventually winning.
“Before the game, too many people in England laughed about my attitude over the last few years,” he said. “This is a very good time for me. I want to see what they think now.”
Suarez’s first goal came after England captain Steven Gerrard, a teammate of Suarez at Liverpool, lost possession in midfield to allow Uruguay a chance to counter. Suarez pulled away from defender Phil Jagielka to meet strike partner Edinson Cavani’s lofted cross with a header past England goalie Joe Hart in the 39th minute.
Wayne Rooney’s first World Cup goal tied the match in the 75th minute. The Manchester United forward, who hadn’t scored for England in nine World Cup matches or 759 minutes, tapped in from close range from Glen Johnson’s low pass.
With the game heading for a draw, Suarez profited from another Gerrard error. A long punt upfield from the goalkeeper Fernando Muslera skimmed off Gerrard’s head to send Suarez through on goal with six minutes to go. Suarez took one touch before smashing the ball past Hart.
“I told him to keep going,” Suarez said of Gerrard. “He’s the best player I’ve played with on the pitch. This is an unlucky moment for him. I don’t like it when he hurts like this. I said: ’Keep going, forget this game, you’re one of the best.’”
Suarez was substituted in the closing stages, and embraced by members of the squad as he sat in the dugout with his head buried in the chest of a teammate. He was in tears when the final whistle blew as he was raised onto the shoulder of celebrating Uruguay players.
“Luis’s teammates really love him,” said Tabarez, who guided Uruguay to the semifinals four years ago. “He’s a wonderful person and he’s a really important player for our team.”