Costa Rica players attend a training session, in Santos
Fortaleza: Uruguay will give star striker Luis Suarez every chance to prove his fitness less than a month after having knee surgery as they begin their World Cup campaign against Costa Rica, here, at the Estadio Castelao, on Saturday.
The Premier League Player of the Year had an operation to repair damage to the meniscus in his left knee on May 22, but has remained steadfast in his determination to feature in the competition. “I want to tell everyone that the recovery is going very well and that the knee feels good. “Everything depends on how things go day by day, but it is going well,” Suarez said via his official Twitter account.
“I want to thank you all for the messages of support I have received throughout the week and my mind is now focused on the World Cup.”
However, with tougher tests ahead, especially against England and Italy, coach Oscar Tabarez may be tempted to give his star player a few extra days to recover. “If it was down to me, then Suarez would play,” said Tabarez.
“His path from the under-20 side to here has been incredible. But first, we just think about him as a person rather than a footballer and protect him. Then we can go step-by-step and we are getting closer to the dream that he will be with us.”
As yet, Suarez has been training on his own, with a group of physiotherapists. His routine centres on tight sprinting exercise with plenty of turns, and some light work with the ball. In those, he has looked sharp and apparently unencumbered by any pain, which should make the Uruguayans feel positive.
However, just to ensure that Suarez returns 100 per cent for the rest of the matches in this ‘Group of Death’, the team management could just feel it’s wiser to field Suarez right from kick-off on the June 19 tie versus England in Sao Paulo.
Of course, Suarez’s inclusion and availability for the entire 90 minutes will be more important especially against the Englishmen and the Italians.
No doubt, quality wise, England and Italy are both ahead of Costa Rica and Tabarez would always want to field his full-strength team against the 1966 champions and the four-time winners.
For the moment, though, the prospect of Uruguay being without their most significant talent is diminishing by the day, which will please one group of fans gathering on the sea front promenade ahead of the game.
Should Suarez not start, the Golden Ball winner in the 2010 World Cup, Diego Forlan, will then join Paris St Germain’s Edison Cavani upfront. Forlan returned to training on Thursday after missing a session earlier in the week due to a stomach problem.
Tabarez, too, spoke highly of Forlan. “Age affects things like speed and other characteristics of players, but Forlan is still a very big part of this team, bringing his experience and presence on the pitch, together with great shooting skill from long distances,” Tabarez said.
Diego Forlan, in Sete Lagoas,
on Thursday. (AP)
The only other doubt for Tabarez is whether to start Espanyol’s Cristian Stuani or Southampton’s Gaston Ramirez on the right side of the attack. Ramirez started in recent friendly wins over Northern Ireland and Slovenia, but Stuani came off the bench to score in both those matches and looks the favourite to start.
Cavani comes to Brazil after a successful first season at PSG and while Forlan has faded somewhat since the previous edition, he still has the intelligence and dead-ball expertise to unlock any defence. He will need to do so because one thing that Costa Rica do well is defending.
The Ticos conceded fewer goals than any other team in the Concacaf qualifiers, averaging well under one goal a game to finish as runners-up to the United States.
In Keylor Navas, they boast one of the best goalkeepers in the competition. He was instrumental in securing a mid-table finish for his modest Spanish club side Levante last season. The Costa Ricans, though, have been hit hard by injuries on the road to Brazil.
Everton left-back Bryan Oviedo, arguably their best defender, failed to recover from a broken leg in time to make the squad, and Alvaro Saborio, their top scorer in the qualifying campaign, has dropped out with a broken toe.
First-choice right-back Heiner Mora travelled to Brazil only to suffer a broken heel in training on Tuesday. Coach Jorge Luis Pinto has called up journeyman Dave Myrie as a replacement.
With Saborio absent, the Central Americans will look to young Olympiakos striker Joel Campbell for goals. He will be watched closely by a rugged and experienced Uruguayan defence led by the Diego Lugano and Diego Godin.
The Costa Rica coach expressed confidence on the abilities of his players, though he’s well aware that earning a knock-out round phase is like having a mountain to climb. “We will play without fear. We face three world champions and we can take on all of them,” Pinto said. “What we feel is joy and motivation.”
Having said that, Pinto’s plans could be rattled on Saturday if his loses central defenders Michael Umana and Junior Diaz, both of whom are recovering from flu.
All said and done, Pinto’s counterpart, too, believes that a disappointing result will seriously dent Uruguay’s chances of making the next round. The experienced coach wants his team to have their priorities clear.
“The Costa Ricans are fast and they will try and make life difficult for us,” the 67-year-old Tabarez said. “Costa Rica are a major obstacle and we have a lot of respect for them. But our intention is to get the three points.” (agencies)