• It wasn't an intentional handball or a bite of an opponent, but Luis Suarez's finishing mishaps vs. Egypt continued the complicated story of the Uruguayan and the World Cup stage.
By Jonathan Wilson
June 15, 2018

EKATERINBURG, Russia – It’s beginning to seem as though Luis Suarez and the World Cup don’t get along so well. It’s not that the Uruguayan has an especially bad record in the tournament–he has, after all, scored five goals, and his double against England at the last World Cup was part of a superbly efficient display that effectively eliminated Roy Hodgson’s side–but the defining images of Suarez at both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups are not perhaps what he would like.

His performance in a 1-0 Uruguay win over Egypt on Friday will not go down in infamy like the handball that denied Asamoah Gyan in South Africa (although in Uruguay that is regarded as an act of self-sacrificing heroism) or the bite on Giorgio Chiellini in 2014, but it did little to suggest that this might at last be the World Cup that a player of his gifts is perhaps due. Three times Friday he was presented with clear chances, and three times Suarez squandered the opportunity, a most uncharacteristic wastefulness.

In the first half there was the instance after 24 minutes when a corner fell to him six yards out. Suarez pivoted, and so likely did a goal appear that the assumption when the ball rolled into the side-netting was that it had actually gone in. Closer examination suggestion he had somehow hooked the ball into his standing foot, sending it squirting wide.

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A chance of redemption came in the first minute of the second half, as Suarez was slipped through by a deft touch from Edinson Cavani, who is also 31 and is perhaps also overdue for a really dominant World Cup. Suarez took the ball in his stride, but Egypt goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy had advanced sharply from his goal and made a fine save with his outstretched right foot.

And even then there was a further chance, again laid on by Cavani. This time, as Suarez was again set through one-on-one, but as he tried to take the ball round El Shenawy he slightly miscontrolled–there was a feeling that the pitch was dry and perhaps not running as smoothly as it might have done–and the keeper was able to smother the ball to his chest. Suarez, having tumbled over the challenge, was left beating the ground in frustration.

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Oscar Tabarez, Uruguay’s enormously experienced coach, usually insists he will not discuss individuals in his post-match analyses, but on this occasion he made an exception.

“I don’t know,” he said. “You are asking me what happened to Suarez, because he didn’t play very well. I don’t know what happened. I will not speculate. I’ve seen Messi, Pele, Maradona not having a good day, not playing to potential in matches. This is not a sin.”

And as he pointed out, there are two parts to the striker’s art: the creation of the chance and its execution.

“Suarez even playing not as well as normal had three goalscoring opportunities and the Egypt keeper saved a couple of them so that’s to his credit," Tabarez said. "That’s what happens to strikers. They have good times when every shot hits the back of the net and the goal seems to be huge, and other days the posts seem closer together. I’m not worried. As long as Suarez keeps playing and keeps trying to score we know he has great potential.”

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Tabarez doesn’t have many options other than to keep faith in the Barcelona striker, and Suarez’s record is such he is allowed an off-day. His form and fitness were doubted at Barcelona in the early part of last season, with just three league goals by the beginning of November, but he still came back to scored 25 goals in the season. Equally, while Uruguay’s skin-tight shirts are almost designed to be unforgiving, it’s also true he did not look as sleek as some of his teammates.

It was Cavani who posed the bigger danger against Egypt, dropping deep, creating as well as offering a goal threat. It was the Paris Saint-Germian forward’s free kick that pinged back off the post, and his volley that drew another fine save from El-Shenawy. As Tabarez would probably point out, that volley had been set up by a cleverly weighted header from Suarez. Even when he is not at his best, he has the cunning and ability to cause problems and create opportunities.

“We showed great attitude, a lot of solidarity,” said Tabárez. “Some of the players didn’t play as well as they normally can but I’m sure the tiny issues will be fine-tuned.

Suarez’s partnership with Cavani has a way to run yet.

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