SAO PAULO – Less than an hour after Luis Suarez had broken England’s hearts, here he was, unable to resist another painful jab.
“Before the game, people in England are laughing at me,” said Suarez after masterminding Uruguay’s 2-1 victory over the country where he plays his club soccer. “So this is a very good time for me. Now I want to see [the] Internet and the media.”
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But at this moment, he could be the best player in this tournament – a one-man whirling dervish of productivity with a level of confidence that is utterly unshakeable.
How much he means to Uruguay was shown in the South American team’s first game, when it lost to supposed no-hopers Costa Rica. And it was on display even more as he ripped the life out of England on Thursday with a pair of devastating blows near the end of each half.
“When you have a really good game in a big game – this is one of the best games I have had,” Suarez said. “A few days ago I thought about, ‘What if we win and I score against England,’ and it is an amazing moment for me.”
The 27-year-old has speed, an innate positioning sense and miraculous balance, and he is doing it all while at something like 70 percent fitness. Two weeks ago he was in a wheelchair after having surgery on his knee. Now he’s kicking England’s butt.
Plenty of people don’t want him to succeed because, well, he’s done some things that suggest he’s a bit of a rogue, or worse. It started four years ago when he pushed the ball off the line with his hands to deny Ghana in the World Cup quarterfinals. After moving to Liverpool, he was accused of being racist towards Manchester United’s Patrice Evra and tried to bite a chunk out of Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic’s arm.
Liverpool has protected him, forgiven him and provided him a place where he feels loved. He almost returned that favor during the most recent English Premier League season by leading them to the brink of a long-awaited championship before falling short.
Two months back it was England and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard who put his arm around a blubbing Suarez and shielded him from television cameras after a crazy collapse at Crystal Palace inflicted irreparable damage on the club’s title quest.
But the World Cup is not a sentimental place. It's where club loyalties and friendships are forgotten, and Suarez did not hesitate to capitalize on a mistimed Gerrard header for the winning goal with five minutes to go.
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This time the Suarez tears were those of relief and happiness and maybe a touch of disbelief too, given that he has barely kicked a ball for a month. As he was carried aloft by his Uruguay teammates, he did spare a moment for Gerrard, whispering in his ear and consoling him as England stood on the brink of elimination.
It was a classy move at the end of an incredibly classy soccer performance. England had no one that could cope with him, no one on their backline with the pace or confidence or imagination to get in his way.
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The winner was a dagger blow. Sprinting ahead to collect Gerrard’s ill-fated header, he composed himself mid-stride and smashed the ball past Joe Hart.
Forget about him being slowed by injury. Forget about him being rusty. Forget about stopping him when he’s in this kind of mood.
Make no mistake about it, Luis Suarez is bad. But when it comes to soccer, he is good, getting better, and maybe the best.