By Simon Evans
June 19 (Reuters) - Luis Suarez made his case for inclusion in the debate over the world's best player with both goals in Uruguay's 2-1 victory over England as he came back from injury and instantly punished Roy Hodgson's team.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi can cite better all-round skill and trickery but when it comes to the games most valuable quality of all - putting the ball in the back of the net - Suarez is certainly in their company.
Strangely, before the game, Hodgson had challenged Suarez to prove that he deserved to be placed in that 'world class' category.
"I think he will only be at that level when he shows it on this particular stage," said the England manager, who must now think he was asking for trouble with that assessment.
It was also a particularly odd view given that Suarez had been instrumental in Uruguay's run to the semi-finals in South Africa four years ago, scoring three times in the tournament.
But mere statistics do not do justice to Suarez's contribution to his teams nor to his qualities.
The Uruguayan is not a mere penalty area predator - although he fills that role better than anyone - but he can score from long-range, with power or precision, with his feet or with his head - and always with a measured composure and confidence.
He is the focal point of attacks for his club and country but the former Ajax forward is far more than a classic 'target man', being adept in wide positions, playing off the last defender or attacking from deep.
"Suarez has evolved the role of the modern centre-forward," former England and Liverpool striker Michael Owen wrote this week.
"He is ensuring the top sides want far more from their forwards than a traditional 'poacher' or target man. You have to be far more flexible to thrive at the highest level. He scores every type of goal from any distance.
"Piece all this together and what you are left with is the most complete centre-forward in the world. There is no one at this World Cup better than Suárez in his position," added Owen in his column for the Telegraph.
Neither the first half header nor the late strike past Joe Hart will be remembered as spectacular goals but both showed Suarez has mastered the art of scoring in any fashion in a way few else in the modern game have.
Suarez sneaked away from his marker Phil Jagielka, like a pickpocket leaving the scene of the crime, and then time his jump to meet a perfectly weighted aeriel pass from Edinson Cavani getting himself into exactly the angle needed to head past Hart.
For the second, breaking into the area chasing on to a long-ball that England's defence failed to deal with, there was simply not the slightest doubt that he would, as he did drive home an emphatic drive.
He wasn't even fully fit, having missed Uruguay's opening defeat to Costa Rica following knee surgery less than a month ago - but even a Suarez at 70 percent was too much for England's defence.
Yet the English, more than any other nation at the World Cup should have known exactly what to expect.
Suarez was top scorer in the Premier League last season for Liverpool with 31 goals, ten more than the closest challenger and that was despite missing the first six games of the season due to suspension. He was also second in the league in goals created.
The 27-year-old, once a hate figure due to his reputation as a diver, the racial allegations against him and the biting incident with Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic which led to his last major suspension, won over the English game last season.
Suarez was voted Footballer of the Year in separate awards from the Football Writers' Association, the Professional Footballers Association and the League Managers.
Fans, outside of Liverpool, may still struggle to warm to his personality, but those who compete against and with him, know they are dealing with someone of the highest quality.
Having despatched England in Sao Paulo and earned his team three points, he may now have a few more chances in Brazil to win over any remaining doubters about his claim to be among the most select elite in the game. (Reporting By Simon Evans)
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