YEKATERINBURG: Luis Suárez 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 Óscar Tabárez.
The next few days and weeks will be the time to prove it because Suárez 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, Suárez was sent off in extra time in the quarterfinals for stopping a certain goal with his hand, and Uruguay went on to beat Ghana on penalties.
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, Suárez has mostly recovered his reputation.
He left Liverpool for Barcelona in 2014 for 81.7 million euros (RM378 million) and has been a regular scorer at the Camp Nou, scoring 152 goals in 198 games for the Spanish champions and racking up half as many assists.
Suárez, who appears to have a better temperament as he ages, has been similarly prolific for Uruguay and, alongside Paris Saint Germain’s Edinson Cavani, is part of 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 Tabárez is expecting Suárez to show he has changed for the better since the disgrace of 2014.
“Luis Suárez is no doubt more mature now and he has matured a great deal,” said Tabárez, 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 Uruguay 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 Tabárez, 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.