YEKATERINBURG, Russia: Luis Suarez has hugely matured in the four years since he disgraced himself at the World Cup by biting an Italian opponent, Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said on Thursday, making clear he has high expectations of his key striker in Russia.
Suarez, 31, arrives at this year’s tournament looking to dispel the memory of the infamous bite on Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini in Brazil in 2014, as well as the goalline handball that earned him a sending-off in the quarter-final against Ghana four years earlier.
"What happened in Brazil is part of real life and of course it’s been a lesson for him to achieve greater maturity not only as a footballer but also in other areas away from the football pitch," Tabarez told reporters on the eve of Uruguay’s opening match on Friday against Egypt.
"He’s prepared a lot, he’s got the right mindset for this World Cup, and I do believe he’s meeting all my expectations. In addition to being a great player, he’s very smart, very intelligent, and he comes to the World Cup with a great deal of maturity so we are going to really capitalise on him."
Suarez is Uruguay’s all-time leading scorer and, with strike partner Edinson Cavani, is expected to pose the biggest threat to Egypt’s defence in Yekaterinburg.
But Tabarez is taking nothing for granted especially since, as he noted, it has been 48 years since Uruguay won their opening game at the World Cup finals.
"It’s a statistic, a rather special one. We think we are cursed, in fact. We have had that track record, but we are obsessed about winning," said Tabarez.
The professorial 71-year-old, who Uruguayans address reverentially as ‘Maestro’, made clear he was not underestimating Egypt and their Argentine coach Hector Cuper.
"When the draw happened, I remember journalists from Uruguay talking about the quarter-finals, as if this was a walk in the park and I told them off. We have enormous respect for our opponents."
(Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Ian Chadband)