Yekaterinburg (Russia) (AFP) – Luis Suarez will be chasing redemption on Friday when Uruguay face Egypt in his first World Cup appearance since being thrown out of the tournament in 2014 for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini.
The controversial Barcelona striker, 31, was described on the eve of their first game in Russia as “more mature” by Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez.
The next few days and weeks will be the time to prove it because Suarez will be past his prime or even retired by the time the next World Cup comes around, in Qatar in 2022.
The livewire forward’s history with the World Cup is a chequered one.
In 2010 — before he became the global star that he is today — Suarez was sent off in extra-time in the quarter-finals for stopping a certain goal with his hand and Uruguay went on to beat Ghana on penalties.
He was branded a cheat in much of the world but was a hero in Uruguay.
Then four years ago in Brazil, Suarez tried to take a lump out of Chiellini and was subsequently banned for several months — it was the third time during his career that he had bitten an opponent.
But from pantomime villain castigated the world over (except in Uruguay), Suarez has mostly recovered his reputation.
He left Liverpool for Barcelona in 2014 for 81.7 million euros and has been a regular scorer at the Camp Nou, hitting 152 goals in 198 games for the Spanish champions and chalking up half as many assists.
Suarez, who appears to have a better temperament as he ages, has been similarly prolific for Uruguay and forms along with Paris Saint Germain’s Edinson Cavani one of the most potent attacking duos at the World Cup.
The pair will be licking their lips at the prospect of getting stuck into the defence of a Saudi Arabian team thrashed 5-0 by hosts Russia in the World Cup opener on Thursday.
But first it is Mohamed Salah’s Egypt on Friday and Uruguay boss Tabarez is expecting Suarez to show he has changed for the better since the disgrace of 2014.
“Luis Suarez is no doubt more mature now and he has matured a great deal,” said Tabarez, the 71-year-old veteran who leads a Uruguayan side tipped as possible finalists by some.
“What happened in Brazil is part of real life and of course a lesson to achieve more maturity not only as a footballer but also in other parts of his life, such as his family.”
If Suarez and Co. beat Egypt in front of Yekaterinburg Arena’s curious two temporary stands they will finally banish Uruguay’s unwanted recent record — they have not won their opening game at a World Cup since 1970.
“We think we are cursed, we are cursed,” said Tabarez, who insisted that he hopes Egyptian talisman Salah will be fit after three weeks out injured with a shoulder problem.
Uruguay face the Saudis next Wednesday and Russia on June 25 in their final Group A game.