Suarez's heroics reflected Uruguay's performance -- resilient to the end
SAO PAULO -- When Wayne Rooney's goal hit the back of the net with 15 minutes left to play, Uruguay could've folded like a lawn chair.
La Celeste, holding onto a 1-0 lead, had started the second half with a flurry. But when the insurance strike didn't come, Oscar Tabarez's team began throwing players behind the ball, banking that Luis Suarez's opener six minutes before the break would be enough to defeat England at Arena de Sao Paulo.
The momentum should have been with the Three Lions after Rooney knotted the score at one. Instead, Uruguay wrenched back control of the match and won the game on Suarez's sublime second 10 minutes later. Now, last week's 3-1 loss to Costa Rica is ancient history. The 2010 semifinalist's World Cup campaign is officially back on track.
"This has to do with the endurance, resistance and will of my players," a relieved Tabarez said after it was over. "They've been able to score because they kept fighting...maybe it wasn't very attractive football but we have players who give everything on the field."
Like Suarez, who was always going to be the star man against England -- if he played. The Liverpool striker sat out that loss to the Ticos, still feeling the after-effects of the surgery he had on May 22 to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. His status for Thursday's match was in doubt right up until the lineups were announced about an hour before kickoff.
Afterward, Suarez dedicated the win to Walter Ferreira, Uruguay's physiotherapist. "I wouldn't be here without him," he said.
Tabarez called Suarez a "wonderful person," and insisted there was no pressure -- from within the team at least -- for him to play.
"We respected him and his recovery and we decided from the beginning that we would just wait and see how he felt," the coach said. "He has been able to train every day a little more and today he has played in a way that has been really positive for our team. We told him, 'Don't worry if things don't go well, you might miss a ball and you might not feel strong enough or whatever,' but I really trust him, and I know what he can do close to goal."
Everyone in England knew what Suarez could do close to the goal well before this match. They might not have been as aware of what France-based Edinson Cavani, Suarez's strike partner up top, could do. While it was Cavani who missed Uruguay's best chance to pad the lead right after the break, Tabarez said the Paris Saint-Germain forward's defensive work -- particularly on England captain Steven Gerrard -- prevented England from capitalizing on their huge possession advantage.
"Gerrard couldn't create the opportunities he normally does," Tabarez said. "Most of the time Cavani was facing him and stopping him. Today, they had more difficulty than they normally have to reach the goal. I think that's the key of today's game."
It will go down as a famous win, no doubt. But with Group D favorites Italy looming on Tuesday, it was also an essential one. Now the meeting with the Azzurri is not the must-win it would've been had Uruguay been able to recover from Rooney's equalizer, but Tabarez was quick to remind Uruguayan journalists -- some of whom applauded Suarez when he entered the post-match press conference to pick up his Man of the Match award -- that it will still require a result.
"Please remember that we are not qualified yet for the next phase," he said. "But we have been able to prove that we can fight, that we're alive."
And that whatever happens, they will not fold.