Suarez, Evra meet for 1st time since racism storm

A ball had yet to be kicked in Saturday’s tension-filled match

between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford when the

fierce rivalry between English football’s two most successful teams

plumbed new depths.

And it was no surprise that Liverpool striker Luis Suarez and

United defender Patrice Evra were at the center of the storm.

Suarez’s decision to shun a pre-match handshake with Evra, the

player he was found guilty of repeatedly racially abusing during a

Premier League match in October, inflamed tensions that spilled

over into the dressing rooms and required the intervention of

police on two occasions.

The most high-profile match in the English game, which United

won 2-1 to go top of the standings overnight, was suddenly

overshadowed.

”I couldn’t believe it,” United manager Alex Ferguson said of

Suarez. ”He is a disgrace to Liverpool Football Club.

”He shouldn’t be able to play for Liverpool again.”

It was the first time Suarez and Evra had come face to face

since the Uruguay striker was banned for eight matches for calling

Evra ”Negro” several times at the match at Anfield on Oct.

15.

Ferguson had said the prospect of a pre-match handshake would

not be an issue. He was wrong.

As the players crossed for the traditional ritual before

kickoff, Suarez withdrew his hand away from Evra, infuriating the

United captain and adding to an already hostile atmosphere.

Evra tried to pull back the arm of Suarez as the Uruguayan moved

to shake hands with goalkeeper David De Gea, who was next in the

United line. Suarez refused to turn back.

Evra threw up his left arm in disgust, while United teammates

Rio Ferdinand and Danny Welbeck – who are both black like Evra –

pointedly refused to shake Suarez’s hand moments later.

”After seeing what happened, I decided not to shake his hand

… I lost all respect for the guy,” Ferdinand told United’s

in-house television station MUTV. ”It could have been resolved

between the two players today. After this, it’s not great.”

Evra was spoken to by referee Phil Dowd but was reported to have

chased after Suarez as the players walked down the tunnel at

halftime. According to Sky Sports, a melee erupted outside the

dressing rooms, forcing stewards and police to intervene.

After the match, an emotional Evra danced in delight in front of

the United fans, patted the badge on his jersey to whip up the

crowd and – tellingly – ran past Suarez who was trudging off the

pitch dejectedly.

Liverpool players Jose Reina and Martin Skrtel rushed over to

protest against Evra’s actions. Stewards and police had to

intervene for a second time.

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish defended Suarez, as he has done

ever since the saga erupted four months ago.

”I think you are bang out of order to blame Luis Suarez for

whatever happened today,” an angry Dalglish told a television

interviewer.

Dalglish hasn’t yet reacted to Ferguson’s comments.

Suarez was booed by United fans whenever he touched the ball,

just as Evra was jeered by Liverpool supporters in the FA Cup

fourth-round match between the sides two weeks ago.

”For a club with their history, I’d get rid of him, I really

would,” Ferguson told MUTV. ”Liverpool Football Club have a

player banned for eight matches and they’ve tried to blame Patrice

Evra. It’s him they should be blaming. He could have cost them a

European place.”

Suarez scored Liverpool’s goal in the 80th minute to reduce the

deficit to 2-1 but wasn’t at his best throughout.

Reacting to the match in a Twitter post, he barely referred to

the furor he had caused.

”We are lost and we are sad because we have made a big

effort,” Suarez wrote. ”Disappointed because everything is not

that it seems.”

The focus on the pre-match handshake, which is part of the

Football Association’s ‘Respect’ campaign, was just as intense a

fortnight ago in a match between Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers

that also had a backdrop of racism.

QPR defender Anton Ferdinand – the younger brother of Rio – was

spared having to decide whether to shake the hand of John Terry

when the FA allowed the teams to forego the ritual.

That match was the first meeting of the west London rivals since

Terry was alleged to have racially abused Ferdinand during a

Premier League match in October.

Terry will face a criminal charge over the incident in July and

has already been stripped of the England captaincy by the FA, a

decision that led to the departure of Fabio Capello as coach this

week.

Capello was unhappy he wasn’t consulted by the FA over the

decision.

The FA may now regret deciding not to pull the pre-match

handshake at Old Trafford, and is now duty-bound to ask for further

evidence from Dowd over what happened at the end of each half.

The governing body will be thankful the teams do not meet again

this season.