Luis Suarez peerless at the World Cup
SAO PAULO -- Of course it was Luis Suarez. It was always going to be Suarez. Even when he's half-fit, even when he has only a few critical touches, even when he's a spectator for much of the match, the way he was on Thursday night against devastated England, he's somehow there at the end. If you're one of the many who believe Suarez is a villain, then a night like this one must also make you believe in the devil. No man is capable of such cataclysm alone. But if you can take a moment and step back, if you can look at him not as a symbol or a cheater or a biter but as a complicated vessel of the improbable, Luis Suarez is among our greatest gifts.
He had not played in Uruguay's opening match against Costa Rica because his injured knee was not yet close enough to right. Uruguay lost 3-1. Four days later, on a cool, overcast night in Sao Paulo, he started against England, played 88 minutes and scored two goals. Uruguay won 2-1. How many of us can command our respective worlds so completely?
Here's the most amazing thing about Suarez: He needs so few openings to do it. For long stretches of the night, he was reduced to meaninglessness. He looked like a man trying to find his way over a fence but who didn't seem all that bothered whether he ever did. He took a couple of dangerous corners, but only twice was he in a real position of strength. Twice the ball found its way to him, where he was just hanging around, somewhere in the middle, and twice he put the ball in the net with near-perfect finishes, the first with his head, the second with his feet. For 88 minutes, at least, it felt as though no one on earth had ever made more of his limited opportunities.
And who was England's counter? Poor Wayne Rooney. The contrast was almost agonizing to watch. Rooney ran himself everywhere. He tried to do everything. He nearly did. He curled an early free kick just left of goal, such a tricky take that Uruguayan keeper Fernando Muslera didn't even move. Later in the half he headed another free kick off the bar. After Suarez's opening goal, Rooney fed a beautiful ball to Daniel Sturridge -- maybe he could break through with a pass instead -- but Muslera made the save. On one side played the man who could not miss. On the other played the man who could not make.
Then the tables turned, however briefly. It was like a window into a different world. Suarez, it's easy to forget now, did fail once: After another fortuitous series of bounces, he ended up with the ball, open on the right, and he struck it so poorly and so widely that it nearly went out the side rather than the end. It wasn't long before Rooney, after firing a point-blank shot at Muslera, was finally given a chance that even he could not miss. Glen Johnson made a terrific run and sent a low cross to him. Rooney made a little half-stutter before burying the ball with his left. After 758 minutes of scoreless career World Cup play, Wayne Rooney had done it. He had a goal.
The game and the night opened up. For the next 10 minutes any result seemed possible. For those 10 beautiful minutes even Suarez, still wandering around the front, strolling through the grocery aisles, seemed incapable of defining the outcome.
But then -- of course, but then. Muslera unleashed a hard, low kick, which somehow bounced off Steven Gerrard's now-even-heavier shoulders, and the ball inevitably, unaccountably carried to Suarez's streaking feet. He would have been offside had anything other than a terrible fate been behind its course. One settling touch, and he drove the shot past Joe Hart. That ball traveled from the Uruguayan end into England's goal in only four touches, and one of them, supposedly, was an accident.
After, Suarez ran to the corner of the pitch and fell flat on his stomach, where he waited for the inevitable crush of his teammates, the men he carries in more ways than one. He knew they were coming, the way he had known his first goal was a goal the instant it had left his head. He was smiling long before he had scored. While the rest of the stadium was waiting to see where the ball would end up, he knew.
That's what separates him. Maybe it's too much to say that he can somehow bend time, or that in some way he can control things that should be beyond his control. Suarez is probably too flawed to be a mystic. But I believe with all my heart that Suarez can see the future as clearly as we might see the past. "I've dreamed of this many times," he said after, "but I had to calm myself, and not let my anxiety stop me."
Wayne Rooney, in all the ways that really matter, is too much like the rest of us. He makes wishes. He hopes. He does what he can, and then he waits to see what will happen. Luis Suarez isn't like that, or like us. He already knows what will happen. He just has to play his part in our future's unfolding.