Luis Suarez of Uruguay reacts after his team’s elimination during the 2022 Fifa World Cup. Photo / Getty Images
Call it karma, revenge or schadenfreude – there was enormous satisfaction in seeing Uruguay’s Luis Suarez sobbing into his shirt after being eliminated from the World Cup in Qatar.
Suarez was paid back in
full for a despicable bit of cheating 12 years ago, also in the World Cup and also against today’s opponents Ghana. It was payback, yes, but also underlined how the 35-year-old’s career will be remembered more for his villainy than his remarkable skill.
The toothy one with the pronounced overbite (he copped two long suspensions for biting a Chelsea player and then, in the 2014 World Cup, an Italian) has long been admired for his goal scoring ability. He plays with his blood close to boiling point, contesting everything, arguing with referees and always pushing the boundaries – including, sadly, the boundary of decency.
One of the best strikers the world has seen, his win-at-all-costs mentality and dark side of his nature meant he thoroughly deserved the taunts that followed him.
All these chooks came home to roost against Ghana. If you’re into revenge, it was made all the sweeter by Suarez playing a leading role in Uruguay’s two goals as they beat Ghana 2-0. Job supposedly done, they took him off – but he then had to endure the football equivalent of being lashed to a chair and forced to watch a horror show unfold that he could not influence.
Suarez’s day was ruined when a striker with little of his brilliance slotted home late for South Korea to beat Portugal 2-1 in a parallel group game. Hwang Hee-Chan can’t even regularly make the Wolverhampton Wanderers team seemingly heading for relegation from the Premier League this season – but his strike caused panic in Uruguayan ranks; they had to score again to replace South Korea in the last 16.
It pitched the Uruguay game into frenzy in the final stages, Uruguay desperately seeking that goal. It never came – and some of the closing scenes from the match were of Suarez, sitting with a shirt over his head, masking his face, his shoulders heaving as he sobbed.
Why am I displaying so much unseemly pleasure from Suarez’s (and Uruguay’s) downfall? Because I rate him up there with Diego Maradona as the perpetrator of the worst bit of cheating I have seen on a football field – accompanied by a complete lack of remorse.
Uruguay’s fury and Suarez’s misery were, for many, the perfect delayed outcome to Suarez’s infamous action in the World Cup quarter-finals in South Africa in 2010 when Uruguay were again playing Ghana, then for a spot in the semifinals. Suarez deliberately handled a shot in the goalmouth, preventing the goal that would have seen Ghana through.
“I made the save of the tournament,” he crowed afterwards. Ghana then made a complete mess of the penalty – and the cameras caught a joyful Suarez celebrating wildly. He has steadfastly refused to apologise, not even at this tournament when they were drawn to play Ghana again.
Uruguay even ramped up the mind games by making him captain for this clash – backfiring when, saving him for the next match, Uruguay took off the man (68 goals in 136 international appearances) most likely to have saved their bacon.
The game also provided another illustration of the dark side of some elements of South American football. The philosophy of “anything to win” means some of those who commit fouls or worse to ensure a victory are regarded as heroes by their fans. The concept of fair play and the disgrace of cheating – like Maradona’s woeful “Hand Of God” episode which became folklore in some countries – are forgotten as long as victory is secured.
At the end of this match, many Uruguayan players surrounded the referee, shouting and manhandling one official – upset that at least one of the two penalty chances they’d created in the second half was not given. They were, perhaps, the angriest team to win a match 2-0.
Suarez’s career is probably not over yet though his World Cups likely are. His brilliant club career reaped 548 goals in 347 appearances, with the zenith at Barcelona when he scored a barely credible 147 goals in 191 matches, a remarkable strike rate.
But the biting and the cheating and the way he plays the game will mean a truly great playing record still isn’t really enough to admit him to the hall of the greats. In the words of the old Eminem song: “What goes around comes around, like the blades on a chainsaw.”