Luis Suarez has “matured a great deal” and is primed to lead Uruguay’s assault on the World Cup, coach Oscar Tabarez said on the eve of their opening game in Russia.
Barcelona striker Suarez, a controversial figure who has had numerous run-ins with football authorities throughout his career, was thrown out of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and subsequently banned for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini.
It was his third biting ban and cemented his place as one of the bad boys – albeit a supremely talented one – of world football.
(Read more: Group A preview - Experienced Uruguay expected to shine)
But now 31 and happily settled and scoring goals at the Camp Nou, Tabarez believes Uruguay are seeing the best of Suarez as a player and a person.
“Luis Suarez is no doubt more mature now and he has matured a great deal,” said Tabarez, the 71-year-old veteran who leads a Uruguayan side tipped as possible finalists in Russia by some.
“What happened in Brazil is part of real life and of course a lesson to achieve more maturity not only as a footballer but also in other parts of his life, such as his family.
“He’s got the right mindset for this World Cup and he is meeting all my expectations. In addition to being a great player, he is very smart, very intelligent and we are going to really capitalise on him.”
For Egypt and coach Hector Cuper, the focus is very much on superstar Mohamed Salah and his fitness. Injured during the Champions League final against Real Madrid, initial scans suggested that the attacker may be out for three weeks but his appearance in a training session in Grozny has given his team a much-needed boost.
The Pharoahs are appearing at a World Cup final after a gap of 28 years and will be hoping to upset the odds and qualify for the knockout stages. Russia’s 5-0 over Saudi Arabia in the tournament opener puts added pressure on the Africans to get a result out of their match against Uruguay.
“If we see at the last minute that there is an issue then we will see if it can be resolved, but certainly he does not feel afraid,” Cuper said about Salah’s injury and potential recovery.
Cuper has attempted to dismiss the notion that Egypt are a one-man side, but with 44 goals in all competitions this season for Liverpool, Salah’s badly timed injury had become a national obsession back home and made global headlines.
It’s a tough call for the Egyptian team to take, as they may risk aggravating Salah’s injury prior to the games against Russia and Saudi Arabia, fixtures which appear easier on paper. For them to progress, they will need to get four points from these two games.
The Africans will counter-attack and could exploit La Celeste’s soft underbelly, but Diego Godin could be the one standing in their way.
(With inputs from AFP)