Luis Suarez has been called a lot of things during his mercurial soccer career.
Scoring champion, malcontent — even cannibal after being suspended twice for biting opponents.
On Thursday he added "warrior" to that list, scoring twice on a surgically repaired knee before riding a stretcher to the sidelines in the closing minutes of Uruguay's 2-1 win over England in a World Cup game neither team could afford to lose.
And with that gutsy performance Suarez not only moved his country a big step closer to advancing in this World Cup, but he silenced his many detractors as well.
"I dreamed about these goals," Suarez said. "The truth is I'm savoring this emotional moment so much because of all I went through and all the criticism I endured."
Suarez's participation was doubtful after surgery last month to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee. Normal recovery time for the procedure is six weeks; he was back in four.
But Suarez said he never doubted he'd return in time.
"At no moment was I convinced that I wasn't going to play," he said.
It took him less than five minutes to prove he would also be a factor, left-footing a soft shot on goal. Four minutes later he delivered another shot, this time of a physical nature, to English captain Steven Gerrard while heading down a pass.
It wasn't until the closing minutes of the first half that he found the back of the net — and that, too, happened in typical Suarez fashion. Slowly trailing the play up the center of the field, he waited for teammate Edinson Cavani to pull up on the other side of the penalty area. When he did, Suarez darted for the goal and Cavani found him with a perfect cross over defender Phil Jagielka.
"A player like Suarez, obviously, it happens very quickly," said England keeper Joe Hart who, while playing for Manchester City, also gave up one of Suarez's league-leading 31 scores for Liverpool in England Premier League play last season.
Uruguay turned defensive after the intermission, dropping 10 men behind the ball and rarely pushing forward. That allowed England to mount rush after rush before finally getting the equalizer in the 75th minute when Glen Johnson, after losing his defender with a spectacular move, slid a left-footed pass across the front of the goal to Wayne Rooney, who tapped it in for his first World Cup goal in his third tournament.
Six minutes later, Suarez untied it — albeit with a big assist from Gerrard, his teammate at Liverpool, who let a long goal kick carom off his shoulder deep into the England end. Suarez tracked it down, quickly settled the ball with his right foot, then blasted a shot past Hart into the far side of the net.
Suarez, his job done, dropped to the turf soon afterward and grabbed at his leg. That time he was carried to the sidelines by the trainers, but after the final whistle a teary Suarez was carried off the field by his teammates, celebrating Uruguay's first World Cup win over a European opponent since 1970.
"This chance, this destiny, after I don't know how many years, we have been able to win against a European team. And both goals were scored by a player who wasn't able to play a couple of weeks ago," said Uruguayan Coach Oscar Tabarez, whose team can clinch a spot in the second round with a win over Italy next week.
For England, its second loss in as many games leaves it with only the slightest mathematical hope of avoiding its earliest World Cup elimination since 1958.
"To be sure of continuing we needed a result today, a draw or a victory," England Coach Roy Hodgson said Thursday. "And we didn't get it."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times