They know how to do a World Cup in Uruguay. One of the main educational bodies in the country sent letters out to the 10,000 children in its care last week to say there will be no lessons when the team is playing in Russia.
Most schools in the small South American country of 3 million have followed suit. When the national team plays – everyone watches.
‘We will not cancel classes on the day of the final,’ the educational body’s missive joked… ‘because it’s a Sunday.’
Most of the hopes of Uruguay supporters rest on the shoulders of one man – Luis Suarez
One of the educational bodies in Uruguay says they will stop lessons when the team plays
The Barcelona and Uruguay forward knows that this is probably his last World Cup finals
The idea that they could go all the way is not seen as completely unrealistic and most of the hopes rest on the shoulders of one man – Luis Suarez.
He was busy taking selfies with his family on the flight from Montevideo to Nzhny last week. There were 88 players, coaching staff, assistants and family members aboard. No one wants to come home early and most of all Suarez, who came home a week before his team-mates four years ago.
This is probably his last World Cup. And it’s his big chance to go out on the world stage through the front door, head held high, instead of ushered out the back. He remains the leader. Just as he was at the last World Cup – despite that costly misdemeanour.
He showed his emotional side last week when he choked up in a television interview after being asked about team-mate Nicolas Lodeiro being left out of the squad for Russia.
It was Suarez’s ‘save’ that helped his country beat Ghana in the quarter-finals back in 2010
Four years later, the striker left the World Cup in disgrace after biting Giorgio Chiellini
LUIS SUAREZ RECORD FOR URUGUAY
Yellow cards: 13
Red cards: 1
Major trophies: Copa America (2011)
He had to stop answering the question as he held back the tears. ‘It hurts me because of the relationship we have,’ he said.
Suarez continues to be a strange mix of personality traits – fiercely competitive on the pitch but soft off it.
‘You could say for a “tough guy” I have an amazing propensity for tears. I’m not ashamed, I’ll admit it, I cry a lot,’ he said in his autobiography Crossing the Line.
The closeness with Lodeiro is born of two World Cup campaigns together. Suarez has never forgotten how, in 2006, Lodeiro played on with a broken fifth metatarsal in Uruguay’s win over Ghana and how four years later the Seattle Sounders midfielder stood by him after the bite on Giorgio Chiellini meant he was sent home and subsequently banned for four months.
Lodeiro was not alone in sticking up for Suarez in Brazil. Another curiosity about the former Liverpool striker is that despite his moments of madness being so costly, his team-mates never blame him. They stick by each other the Uruguayans, and Suarez inspires togetherness more than most.
He is doing so once again as Uruguay go into yet another World Cup as a team that no one, outside of the country, expects to win the competition, but most would be happy not to have to face.
With Diego Godin (left) and Edinson Cavani (right) in their ranks, Suarez is not the only leader
Both Suarez and Cavani will be key to Uruguay’s hopes if they are to go far in the tournament
However Suarez, La Liga’s second-top goalscorer, will still be the South American’s talisman
He is not the only leader. Diego Godin is the rock at the back and headstrong Edinson Cavani will be there up-front after a long season sticking up for himself at Paris Saint-Germain despite the posturing of Neymar.
But it is the Barcelona man Suarez who is the talisman.
La Liga’s second top scorer, Lionel Messi’s best friend, a winner of three leagues, four Spanish Cups and a Champions League in his four years at the club, he has become many people’s pick as still the world’s best out-and-out centre forward at 31.
Barcelona has made Suarez even more important to his country than he was four years ago, when his name was on the lips of all supporters going into the tournament in Brazil.
His time at the Catalan club has made him more reliable too.
There have been no lapses. No more bites. He has stayed out of trouble and Uruguay know if he can do that in Russia he will have a chance of leading the country to big things.
He complained of an anxiety to succeed taking over in games before. Once he arrived at the Nou Camp he seemed to relish not having the weight of the team’s expectation on his shoulders anymore and he has responded with goals and trophies.
Uruguay take World Cups very seriously. School kids also got the match days off in 2006 and they were soon changing any street names that ended in Suarez (there are quite a few) by putting the world ‘Luis’ in front of Suarez.
He is Lionel Messi’s best friend and many people’s pick as the world’s best out-and-out No 9
The former Liverpool star trained with his team-mates at the Ekaterinburg Arena on Thursday
It was their way of saying thanks to their favourite son, whose handball on the line against Ghana had made sure they were in the semi-finals.
His ‘save’ stopped Ghana scoring a late winner and when Asamoah Gyan missed the subsequent penalty Uruguay were able to take the game to a shoot-out which they won.
Suarez always saw that incident as him having sacrificed himself. He was sent off and so missed the semi-final but because of what he had done his team went through.
If that gave him credit, four years later he used it all up. His suspension contributed to the team being beaten by Colombia in the last-16. He was already back home banned from even being in the stadium as FIFA flexed their muscles in a way which seemed to go beyond their own legitimate jurisdiction.
He was welcomed back into the open arms of the country’s president at the time, Jose Mujica, who met him at the airport and branded FIFA ‘sons of b******’. Again Uruguay was united in adversity.
What if this time there is no drama? No adversity? Suarez is showing himself a more mature leader who does not need things to fall apart to inspire and motivate.
Like his star striker, Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez is likely enjoying his final tournament
And perhaps this time the greatest driving force will come from the man they all call the ‘Maestro’, Oscar Tabarez.
The Uruguay coach is 71 now. He needed his walking stick to disembark the team flight to Russia. Most thought Brazil would be his last World Cup, this will surely be his final tournament.
‘We want to dream; we want to go far’, Suarez said last week. The players will surely be inspired to do something special for the old boss.
If they top a group that includes Mohamed Salah’s Egypt, Saudi Arabia and hosts Russia then they are likely to face Portugal in the last-16 before a quarter-final against France. Seeing off the French would probably see them meet Brazil in the semi-finals.
That would pit him against his friend Neymar. Brazil would be huge favourites but Suarez with a head of steam, determined to make up for four years ago, would still be hard to stop. And these days the head of steam cools before it explodes.
That will only make Uruguay more dangerous in Russia.
‘We want to dream; we want to go far’, Suarez said last week ahead of the tournament