GUSTAVO POYET is hoping Luis Suarez wrecks England’s World Cup dreams on Thursday evening – and is still tipping the Uruguay striker to prove himself as one of the best players in the world despite his ongoing injury problems.
Suarez is remaining tight-lipped about his chances of being involved in this week’s crucial Group D encounter in Sao Paolo, having been an unused substitute as Uruguay lost their opening game to Costa Rica at the weekend.
The Liverpool striker underwent a knee operation last month, and while Uruguay boss Oscar Tabarez insists his side’s talisman is “no longer injured”, his lack of match fitness may mean he is restricted to bench duties for the second game running.
That would be a major boost for an England side who desperately need a victory in the wake of Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Italy, with Poyet admitting that Suarez is absolutely crucial to his home nation’s chances of progressing to the knockout stage.
The Sunderland manager is part of the ITV commentary team working in Brazil, and is desperately hoping Suarez is passed fit for Thursday, regarding the 27-year-old as the best player Uruguay has ever produced.
“I’ll say he is the best we have had,” said Poyet. “I saw him once when he was very young and I couldn’t really see it – I’m not good at that. But afterwards when he came to Europe and started playing, I thought, ‘Mama mia, what a player’.
“He’s rare because he goes on the pitch and forgets about everything. He just thinks about winning football games and scoring goals.
“Nowadays that’s rare because with the society we’ve created, sometimes a player doesn’t worry too much if they don’t play because they’re earning so much money. Suarez doesn’t have that attitude. I think he’s beautiful because he cares a lot. I think winning means life to him.”
Suarez finished last season as the leading goalscorer in the Premier League, and claimed both the PFA and Football Writers’ Player of the Year award.
He was a key member of the Uruguay side that reached the World Cup semi-finals in South Africa, but is not generally regarded in the same bracket as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who tend to compete for the title of the best player in the world.
A stellar World Cup could change that, and while the striker is unlikely to be fully fit if he lines up against England and Italy in his side’s remaining two group games, Poyet is hoping he is able to do himself justice.
“I think the World Cup will tell us a lot about it (his standing in the world game),” he said. “Messi needs to do what (Diego) Maradona did on the world stage, and I am expecting him to do that.
“Suarez is now less, but if Suarez won one of the top awards at the World Cup, then you’ve got a hat-trick of top players.”
A decade ago, Wayne Rooney was being touted as a future superstar, but while the England striker has enjoyed a hugely successful career, his major tournament record since his debut at Euro 2004 is extremely poor.
He was criticised once again in the wake of Saturday’s defeat to Italy, with Roy Hodgson’s decision to switch him to the left flank misfiring as he failed to provide adequate protection to Leighton Baines.
With Raheem Sterling having impressed in the hole behind Daniel Sturridge three days ago, there have been mounting calls for Hodgson to leave Rooney out of England’s starting line-up to face Uruguay.
Poyet feels that would be a mistake, and would have no hesitation in playing Rooney centrally alongside Sturridge if he was England boss.
“For me, it’s simple,” he said. “You play your best offensive player in his best position. Sometimes, you can try to play a player where he can give you a hand for some other reason, but I think Rooney needs to play down the middle. Depending on the game, he can give you a hand wide, but not the other way around.
“Having seen how we (Uruguay) performed down the middle with the two centre-halves (against Costa Rica), I think if you play Rooney and Sturridge down the middle then you can cause a problem there. You want your best scorers playing down the middle.”
It is 1958 since England last exited a World Cup at the first group stage, a fate that befell Uruguay in the 2002 tournament in Japan and South Korea.
A defeat on Thursday for either side would almost certainly guarantee their failure to make the knockout rounds, so the stakes could hardly be higher as they prepare to lock horns.
“The next game for England and us is absolutely massive,” said Poyet. “Make no mistake, either team can be practically out of the World Cup after five or six days.”