A shock 3-1 defeat to Costa Rica on Saturday showed the Luis Suarez-shaped hole in Uruguay’s forward line was just too big to fill, leaving fans praying for his speedy return before World Cup Group D opponents England and Italy come knocking.
Costa Rica scored three second-half goals to come from behind and beat the two-time champions and last edition’s semifinalits in their Group of Death (GoD) opener. Uruguay face England in Sao Paulo next while the jubilant Costa Ricans, who have only once made it out of the group stages at a World Cup, travel to Recife to take on Italy.
The Italians will not take that match lightly. Costa Rica were every bit as good as Uruguay in the heat of Fortaleza’s Castelao arena and thoroughly deserved to win. Promising young striker Joel Campbell set them on the way, chesting down a cross from the right after 54 minutes and slamming home a low shot to cancel out Edinson Cavani’s first- half penalty.
Centre back Oscar Duarte then put the Central Americans ahead just three minutes later with a brave diving header at the back post from a Christian Bolanos free kick. Substitute Marco Urena completed one of most memorable victories in his country’s modest footballing history with a third in the 84th minute, silencing an army of sky blue-clad fans who had made the trip north from the River Plate.
To compound Uruguay’s misery, defender Maxi Pereira became the first man to be sent off at this World Cup when he was shown a straight red for upending Campbell with a nasty kick to the shin in stoppage time.
One player Uruguay missed the most was Suarez, rampant in the English Premier League last season with 31 goals in 33 matches. The Liverpool striker has been battling to recover from keyhole surgery on his left knee three weeks ago but was not deemed fit enough by coach Oscar Tabarez to face Costa Rica, despite completing a training match without any problems.
Strong in the air and with good close control Uruguay’s other multi-million pound forward, Edinson Cavani, makes a good link-up man for the more dynamic Suarez. Without him, a front two of Cavani and veteran Diego Forlan was less potent.
Forlan, 35, lasted an hour before being taken off, a deflected strike that almost crept in his best effort. Cavani was left to chase wayward long balls and struggled to link up with his midfielders as Suarez does so effectively.
A well taken first half penalty showed his ability, with a decent header parried away his only other bright spot.
The absence of Suarez exposed a lack of creativity in the Uruguay side. The holding midfield pair of Walter Gargano and Egidio Arevalo was industrious but lacked flair. With the Uruguayan wingers well marshalled, the poor long range passing of centre back duo Diego Godin and Diego Lugano was exposed.
A brief touchline warm up had raised hopes of a second half appearance for Suarez but after sitting back down to endure watching his side outplayed, the fact he asked to remain an unused substitute suggested he wasn’t fit at all.