Suarez remains firm fans favorite in Uruguay despite FIFA ban
FIFA, fans and many in football have condemned Luis Suarez following his biting ban at the World Cup, but people in his native Uruguay see him as a hero.
The Liverpool striker’s image was everywhere at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday as Uruguay bowed out of the tournament following a 2-0 defeat to Colombia.
Supporters wore fangs and masks during the last-16 game, while T-shirts and banners were also held aloft with messages of support for Suarez – who is banned for nine international matches and from all football for four months.
Suarez, whose claim that his bite on Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini was not deliberate has done little to improve his reputation, was back home in Montevideo – displaying a banner in support of his team – as fans camped outside his house to sing his praises.
And Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez was quick to defend his wayward star following the defeat to Colombia, for whom James Rodriguez scored twice.
Tabarez said: "We simply accepted that he was suspended. We criticized the excessive nature of the sanction, which was very subjective, it’s true, but it’s the feeling of an entire people who follow football.
"World Cups, international matches and the whole show of football need players with Suarez’s qualities.
"We tried to defend him, as should be done. He’s part of our group and pursuing the same objectives, but when he was no longer able to be with us, that was the end of that."
The Uruguayan Football Association released an image prior to kick-off that showed Uruguay’s players posing with Suarez’s number nine jersey in the Maracana changing room.
But Tabarez said that rather than distracting the squad, their support for Suarez had actually generated "strength and willingness" to compete on the pitch.
"We had the energy and we showed that," he said.
"Maybe not so much in terms of being able to overcome the other team, but that’s the end of it."
In a final dig at the journalists who Tabarez blames for fanning the flames of controversy around the incident, the Uruguay coach added: "He’s a football player, he was suspended, and the rest is private.
"It’s to be kept within the privacy of the group and I don’t want to make it any bigger, particularly with statements to people who’ve been after him for a long time."
Tabarez led Uruguay to the World Cup semi-finals in 2010 before overseeing their victory at the 2011 Copa America, but despite their last-16 exit, he said that they could draw positives from their performances in Brazil.
"After the (3-1) defeat against Costa Rica, beating England and Italy was special, not just for the result, but for overcoming the difficulties that we had," he said.
"We beat difficult teams and overcame statistics about not beating European teams that are always rubbed in our faces.
"As we’ve done many times, we’ve come through difficult moments. At times we have to lose, as was the case today, but we never felt that we were one of the favorites.
"Another positive is that the objective of being a difficult team to face is something we lived up to, even today.
"The only negative is not being able to achieve the dream of moving a bit further forward."