By Neil Maidment
June 14 (Reuters) - A shock 3-1 defeat to Costa Rica on Saturday showed the Luis Suarez-shaped hole in Uruguay's forward line was just too big to fill, leaving fans praying for his speedy return before World Cup Group D opponents England and Italy come knocking.
Suarez, rampant in the English Premier League last season with 31 goals in 33 matches, has been battling to recover from keyhole surgery on his left knee three weeks ago but was not deemed fit enough by coach Oscar Tabarez to face Costa Rica, despite completing a training match without any problems.
Strong in the air and with good close control Uruguay's other multi-million pound forward, Edinson Cavani, makes a good link-up man for the more dynamic Suarez. Without him, a front two of Cavani and veteran Diego Forlan was less potent.
Forlan, 35, lasted an hour before being taken off, a deflected strike that almost crept in his best effort. Cavani was left to chase wayward long balls and struggled to link up with his midfielders as Suarez does so effectively.
A well taken first half penalty showed his ability, with a decent header parried away his only other bright spot.
The absence of Suarez exposed a lack of creativity in the Uruguay side. The holding midfield pair of Walter Gargano and Egidio Arevalo was industrious but lacked flair. With the Uruguayan wingers well marshalled, the poor long range passing of centre back duo Diego Godin and Diego Lugano was exposed.
A brief touchline warm up had raised hopes of a second half appearance for Suarez but after sitting back down to endure watching his side increasingly outplayed, the fact he asked to remain an unused substitute suggested he wasn't fit at all.
With tougher assignments against England and Italy, that will worry the Uruguayans, who made the semi-finals in 2010.
"He is indeed a player that I count on, but he hasn't been able yet to play at competition level during training," Tabarez told reporters in Fortaleza after the defeat, one Costa Rica had not managed to achieve in eight previous meetings.
"We were not able to put him on the pitch for sure. Now we have four more days until the game against England."
In contrast to Uruguay's forward struggles, livewire Costa Rican striker Joel Campbell was a constant threat with a busy performance more akin to Suarez.
The skilful left footer moved back and forth across the Uruguayan back line, and dropped deep to lose his marker, bagging the equaliser and an assist with a clever through ball. A blatant kick on him from Maxi Pereira late on, which earned the Uruguayan the first red card of the tournament, underlined his nuisance factor.
It was the exact ingredient missing for Uruguay, who know there is no greater nuisance in soccer than Suarez. (Editing by Keith Weir)