Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez has strongly defended Luis Suárez. Mike Egerton/PA Wire/Press Association Images
Making a meal of it

Colombia on the menu for Uruguayans as manager says Suárez has been made a 'scapegoat'

The Copa América champions are circling the wagons.

SOUTH AMERICAN CHAMPIONS Uruguay will have the extra motivation of avenging what they see as an injustice in the expulsion of their star striker Luis Suárez when they play Colombia for a place in the quarter-finals at the Maracana later today.

While serial-biter Suárez may be seen as a villain in most of the rest of the world — several people including FIFA’s French secretary-general Jerome Valcke have said he should seek professional help — for biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini, there has been a circling of the wagons in both Uruguay and the squad.

Uruguayans gave him a hero’s welcome on his return in a private jet on Friday and their football coach, the usually discreet and mild-mannered Oscar Tabarez, in an unprecedented step, read out a statement at his eve of match press conference — though he refused to answer questions — saying Suárez had been made a scapegoat.

“Many times you forget that the scapegoat is a person, who has rights,” said Tabarez, living up to his nickname of ‘The Teacher’ as he lectured the press.

Tabarez concluded his statement by vowing long-term support for Suárez and urging his players to channel their sense of injustice when they take to the pitch.

“To Luis Suárez the person, who has lived with us and who we know better than anyone else the path he has covered and the one he will go through again, attempting, as someone who starts again, to be better, we let him know he will never be alone in that attempt,” Tabarez said.

“To the Uruguayan fans: they, like us, are moved by the resonance of this punishment.”I want to let them know that we are hurt, but with our outstanding force and more than ever tomorrow (Saturday), we will do our utmost.”

Valcke, never one to hide his feelings behind honey-coated phrases, had been particularly unforgiving when it was put to him that even the aggrieved party Chiellini had stated the four-month global football ban — plus a nine-match international suspension and a six figure fine — was excessive.

“You will always find someone who says it’s excessive,” Valcke said. “It’s not only him who says it’s excessive.”

When pointed out that Chiellini was the victim, Valcke replied: “So what?

“They are decisions which are made by the disciplinary committee based on what they have seen,” Valcke said.

“Again, it’s not just about the incident — it was seen by hundreds of millions of people.”

The Colombian camp by contrast said the absence of Suárez — who prior to the biting incident had scored a superb double in the 2-1 win over England just a month after undergoing knee surgery — did not make their task any easier.

“These are top-level opponents that we’re facing. It’s a very experienced team with a lot of abilities and a wonderful coach who’ve had a successful cycle in the last few years,” said Colombia’s Argentine coach Jose Pekerman.

With all the furore over Suárez the game involving the hosts Brazil has all but slipped under the radar in terms of global attention.

However the Brazilians — who have been far from convincing thusfar — have a tough challenge also on Saturday in overcoming a vibrant and attractive side in the shape of Chile in Belo Horizonte.

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari confessed to his nerves becoming increasingly on edge.

“It is understandable that one should feel uncomfortable and anxious, especially when you get to the knockout stage. We can’t afford to make a mistake,” said Scolari.

“There is a bit more anxiety, more nerves. But that is normal in any competition, not just because we are in Brazil. When I am on my own and I start to think, I do get a bit nervous.”

- © AFP, 2014 

Brazil’s improvised football pitches show no space is too small for the country’s second religion

Unbelievable Jeff! Chris Kamara had a day to remember in Brazil yesterday

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