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15th Jun 2018

World Cup Comments: Egypt performance shows Luis Suarez is now a spent force

The Barcelona man's decline is clear for all to see

Reuben Pinder

Uruguay left it until the dying moments to edge past Egypt, but should have had the game wrapped up long before Gimenez came to the rescue

Luis Suárez has long been Uruguay’s talisman, their focal point and their match winner. When he announced himself to the world in 2010, watching him was an enthralling experience. His unique dribbling style, his never-ending supply of energy, his ability to score from ridiculous angles. You couldn’t take your eyes off him when Uruguay played.

In stark contrast, eight years down the line, Suárez is slap bang in the middle of the inevitable decline. As is often the case with forwards who rely on high energy levels, years of starting week in, week out have taken their toll. He lacks the sharpness, the burst of pace, and the incisive finishing that made him so unstoppable between 2010 and 2015.

There are parallels with Wayne Rooney, who in recent years has still been capable of pulling the occasional rabbit out the hat with a spectacular goal, but would spend most games trotting around in first gear, torn between coming deep to get on the ball and sticking near the box, knowing that their knackered legs won’t get them from A to B in time to get on the end of the chances that they used to.

Suárez’s indecisiveness and sloppiness in front of goal on Friday against Egypt gave us a strong indication that he is bordering on being officially ‘over the hill’. At the minute, he is atop the hill, but edging towards the slope uncontrollably, desperate to stay there, clinging on by the skin of his teeth.

Two incidents from Uruguay’s opening game against Egypt in particular demonstrate the extent of his decline.

Despite the goal nets making this shot look as if it had gone in and reminding us all of the traumatic experience of watching Raheem Sterling’s ghost goal against Italy four years ago, it did not in fact go in. But it really should have. The Suárez of four years ago, or even two years ago, would not have missed this.

The other incident, in the second half, was not quite as embarrassing, but still exemplified how far he has fallen. As strike partner Edinson Cavani played a delicately volleyed pass through to Suárez, who used his strength to spin past the Egyptian defensive line, Suárez then had two, maybe three opportunities to shoot. All that was necessary was a toe-poke to the goalkeeper’s left, but with the angle so tight, indecision led to Suárez attempting to round the goalkeeper, who was able to grab the ball with two hands easily.

Suárez’s frustration was visible. He knows that at either of his past two World Cups, that chance would have been buried. It might not have been pretty, it might have deflected off the keeper’s face onto the post and in, but it would have gone in.

And it wasn’t just today, the striker has been frustrating Barcelona fans for much of this season, and plenty of last. He has lost that yard of electric pace which allowed him to smoke the world’s best defenders, and it has affected his game.

Thankfully for him, at the Camp Nou he has the greatest chance creator in the history of the game in Lionel Messi to put chances on a plate for him. On the international stage, he is not afforded that luxury.

Óscar Tabárez now faces the task of accommodating an ageing Suárez in the same team as Édinson Cavani who, despite missing his fair share of sitters, is not showing the same signs of decline. Lean as ever, mobile as ever, intelligent with his movement as ever, Cavani has made a strong call to become the focal point of the side, with Suárez possibly dropping deeper and helping out the two-man midfield. If there’s one thing Suárez can still do, it’s getting stuck in.

He may be mostly bark with little bite these days, but the winning mentality that has taken him so far in his career is still there. He’s still hungry for success, his mission now is to reinvent himself in order to prolong his career.