Luis Suarez believes any rivalry he may have with Cristiano Ronaldo is limited just to their club teams playing the last four years against each other in La Liga.
In other words, it won’t be Suarez v Ronaldo when Uruguay and Portugal meet in the World Cup round of 16 this evening, it’ll be team against team.
“When it comes to the rivalry with Ronaldo at club level that’s a different thing all together,” Suarez said yesterday. “This is a World Cup and of course we’re all defending and we’re all working for our national teams, and that’s the essential aspect. And everybody will try and give their utmost tomorrow as to prevail.”
While Suarez seemed to play down or avoid questions about Ronaldo, it’s clear Uruguay must continue to have the tightest defence in the tournament to keep Ronaldo and others under control.
Ronaldo scored four goals in Portugal’s first two group stage matches. Uruguay are the only nation that didn’t concede a goal in the first round – in a group containing Russia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez was complimentary of Ronaldo and the rest of the Portugal squad, noting several times Uruguay will be facing the reigning champions of Europe. But he also admitted it’ll be a group effort trying to slow down Portugal’s star man.
“Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the best strikers in the world,” Tabarez said. “He has a great potential obviously and in planning the match, especially focusing on the opponent and considering the level that every player has ... what Ronaldo has on top of the qualities is that he’s the leader of that team.
“That is an additional factor. There is not a single player that can contain him there. Not just [Diego] Godin. We will have to work collectively in order to try and contain him or in order to try and limit the effect he can have.”
Portugal coach Fernando Santos knew the question about his squad’s dependence on Ronaldo was coming, and said he even won a coffee because of it after making a bet with the team’s press officer ahead of yesterday afternoon’s pre-match media conference.
“I have to repeat it time and time again,” explained Santos.
“He is the best player in the world in my opinion and it’s natural that the team depends on him, but you can ask the same question to Uruguay’s coach too, if his team depends on Suarez or [Edinson] Cavani... All great players are always very important to their teams.”
But Santos reiterated that not even Ronaldo can solve things by himself.
“If Cristiano plays by himself, Portugal is going to lose,” Santos added ahead of the match in Sochi. “It’s impossible for a player to win by himself. Even if he scores three goals in a match, you still need to have a team to support him.”
One player who could significantly help Uruguay in trying to contain Ronaldo is defender Jose Maria Gimenez, who missed the group stage finale with a thigh injury.
Gimenez returned to training this week for Uruguay, but Tabarez wouldn’t respond to questions about his selection in the team. “I don’t make comments on individual players at all,” Tabarez said.