Uruguay’s pre-match press conference at Natal’s Estadio das Dunas was sidetracked by another episode in Luis Suarez’s ongoing feud with the English media.
Suarez was asked to clarify the comment he made after the win against England that “before the game, too many people in England laughed at my attitude over the last few years”. The questioner pointed out that in fact Suarez had recently been named Player of the Year by both his fellow professionals and the football writers.
“Well, you work in England and that was in the papers, you should know what happened there,” Suarez said. “I think it was nothing more than just in the papers. Everyone knows that I was elected best player of the year, I guess this is very obvious, even the players in the Premier League voted for me, then if the papers vote for me as well that is sensational.
“But what happened before the match, I did not want to attack anybody, only some media started making fun of me – you should know what happened and why they did that to me.”
The problem is that nobody was quite sure what he was talking about. The tone of recent English press coverage of Suarez has been almost uniformly respectful.
The most notable exception was the front page of the Sun the day of the England-Uruguay game, which had mocked up the faces of Rooney, Sturridge and Suarez with vampire fangs under the headline "Let's have Suarez for dinner lads! Time to bite back!"
Irritating as constant references to his most recent disciplinary problem must be for Suarez, you’d think by now he’d have learned to roll with it. If he does join one of the big two in Spain, he’ll soon find the half of the Spanish press that supports the rival club also knows how to photoshop a set of fangs.
Maybe it’s part of Suarez’s winning mentality that he can seek out things to get annoyed about even though all anyone wants to do these days is praise him. Michael Owen, for instance, recently claimed that Suarez had reinvented forward play in the Premier League.
“I’d like to thank him for that, he also knows what it means to suffer on the pitch,” said Suarez, though he didn’t seem to agree he’d reinvented anything. “Take Batistuta, for instance, he could shoot with his left foot, his right foot, his head – this is also my way of thinking. Batistuta was maybe my idol as a child.”
Suarez confirmed that he had not been 100 per cent fit against England, but expressed confidence that he can get through the match against Italy.
The former Argentina international Jorge Valdano has praised Uruguay in his column in El Pais: "How wonderful it is that the first country to taste World Cup glory is the last to abandon humility". He argued that Suarez's self-sacrifice, as he ignored a knee injury to "chase the ball with the desperation of a drowning man, and shot with the power of a cannon", had demonstrated Uruguay's special solidarity.
‘Play to win’
“They play to win, and never worry about the how,” Valdano had written. “They think that in order to debate questions of style you have to live in a country of more than 40 millions. In a small country of fewer than four millions, football is first of all a matter of survival and even of honour, only then a question of aesthetics.”
Oscar Tabarez, the Uruguay manager, returned the compliment, calling Valdano "a great writer and a great intellectual", but counselled his fellow Uruguayans against getting too pleased with themselves. "I remember in 1987, we won the Copa Libertadores [with Peñarol] and an Argentine journalist praised the 'high modesty' of Uruguay. It was a contradiction. You shouldn't be too proud of your modesty."
Even Italy's coach, Cesare Prandelli, had praised Uruguay, though Tabarez doubted his sincerity.
Tabarez acknowledged that Uruguay are proud of their fighting spirit and passionate supporters, but rejected the notion that the Italian players are any different.
Pre-match gossip suggests Italy are likely to try to snuff out Uruguay’s strike duo with three central defenders in Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli. The Italians can go through with a draw, but Prandelli insisted his team would not go out there focused on preserving the clean sheet. “No team plays for a draw,” Andrea Pirlo insisted, somewhat dubiously.
Uruguay know they must win, but Tabarez says there will be no fear. “There’s no room for fear in football. You can be afraid in life if something happens to someone that you love, but you can’t be afraid in football.”