There was a very revealing moment during Uruguay’s defeat to Costa Rica, and it was Oscar Tabarez’s decision to leave Luis Suarez on the sidelines even though his side desperately needed a goal. Uruguay were blunt and predictable, and were crying out for Suarez’s guile in that second-half, but the country’s biggest asset was left on the substitute’s bench.
That tells us something: Suarez is nowhere near fit - he has not recovered from his operation and the World Cup has come too soon for him.
Within the context of qualifying group D, losing to Costa Rica was a catastrophe - and Tabarez must have known that salvaging yesterday would have greatly enhanced his side’s chances of progression. As things stand, though, Uruguay will probably have to win both of their games to stay in Brazil beyond the end of next week.
If you’re in that situation and you don’t throw a player of Luis Suarez’s calibre into the game, that means that he’s still very fragile - and there’s no way four more days of training is going to dramatically change that.
Regardless, Tabarez will know how wary the English are of Suarez and the temptation to start him on Thursday night must be overwhelming. Uruguay’s World Cup hangs in the balance and Suarez is their icon: it’s inconceivable that he wont feature in a game of this magnitude, even if he’s only on the pitch as a theoretical threat to England.
And how do England counter that? They kick him to pieces.
Think about who Luis Suarez is and what he represents. He’s someone who will do anything - anything - to win. Yes, I understand that this a grey area morally, but winning is more important than ethics to Suarez, and if his physical condition is not good enough to play or his knee is still weak, then he shouldn’t be allowed a free-pass. I’m not implying that an England player should deliberately attempt to hurt Suarez or cause him serious injury, but his durability must be tested continuously - the challenges on him have to be firm, and they need to be fitting of a situation in which winning is the only currency worth anything.
If Suarez gets the chance to punch the ball into England’s net and get away with it, he’ll do it - and maybe I even slightly admire such commitment to winning. Equally though, if this guy is hoping to chance his way through a game on one leg, he cannot be allowed to do it - no way, not at a World Cup. Every time he touches the ball he needs to be taking contact. If he’s not fit enough to deal with that, then he shouldn’t be on the pitch.
Do you think our opponents tip-toed around David Beckham in 2002? Or stayed away from Wayne Rooney’s metatarsal in 2006? Of course not, they targeted them.