Uruguay forward Luis Suarez is looking for redemption at the World Cup in Russia.
He was vilified in South Africa in 2010 for preventing a goal with his hands. Four years later, he was condemned for biting an opponent in Brazil.
Now, Suarez wants to finish a World Cup without controversy and to give people an opportunity to talk about his play and not his unsportsmanlike behaviour.
The Barcelona player, who is one of the top strikers in the world, has made it clear that he wants to remove “the thorn on a personal level.”
Suarez was given a nine-match ban for biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini in Brazil. That incident, along with the handball against Ghana in 2010, is among the most enduring memories of his career.
The incident against Ghana took place in the match’s final minutes and the Africans surely would have won had the ball gone into the back of the net. Instead, Uruguay won and advanced to the semi-finals.
Suarez bit Chiellini four years later, also toward the end of the match when the score was 0-0. The referee didn’t see the incident and conceded a corner to Uruguay from which the South Americans scored and eliminated Italy from the tournament.
In both games, critics claimed that Uruguay advanced only because of Suarez’s dirty plays, giving him a reputation as a cheater that he hasn’t been able to shake off.
Suarez had previously bitten Otman Bakkal in 2010 when he played for Ajax, and Branislav Ivanovic in 2013 when he played for Liverpool.
Suarez has also admitted to diving and, in 2011, he was punished by the English Football Association for making racist comments against Patrice Evra. Suarez denied the accusations.
With his controversial background, Suarez’s career appeared almost certain to fade following his suspension in 2014. But Barcelona gave him a new opportunity and the Uruguayan took advantage of it.
He hasn’t committed any serious offences since, but observers remain wary. Suarez regularly antagonizes opponents and referees and he often questions the calls made against him.
So, the obvious question on the eve of Uruguay’s match against Egypt on Friday in Group A is whether Suarez can control his impulses in Russia.
If anybody believes in him, it’s Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez, who has known him since he was on the country’s youth teams.
When asked Thursday if Suarez was more mature now, Tabarez said “without any doubt.”
“Maturity comes in all areas of life – in football, in family life, in personal life,” the coach said. “He has thought about it. He has prepared himself for the World Cup. I think that in addition to being a great player, Luis is very intelligent.”
The Associated Press