June 25, 2018 / 6:08 PM / 10 months ago

2014 'bad boy' Suarez on road to Russian redemption

SAMARA, Russia (Reuters) - At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, he was sent home in shame for biting an opponent. Four years before, his deliberate goal-line handball denied Ghana a semi-final appearance in South Africa.

Uruguay's Luis Suarez celebrates scoring their first goal. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Yet Uruguay’s one-time bad boy Luis Suarez has come to Russia a wiser man and has led his team to a superb start in the 2018 tournament.

The Barcelona striker’s clever, low free kick helped Uruguay to beat hosts Russia 3-0 on Monday and to clinch top spot in Group A with three straight wins.

That was Suarez’s second goal in Russia and his seventh in World Cup finals, leaving him just one behind Uruguay’s all-time top scorer, Oscar Miguez.

“I am happy ... records are there to be broken,” the man-of-the match beamed after the game, noting it was also the first time Uruguay had won three matches in a row at a World Cup.

“It’s obviously what we wanted. We wanted to keep growing throughout the World Cup and after winning two matches 1-0, we wanted to do better today,” the 31-year-old Suarez said.

It could hardly have been different four years ago when Suarez, known for his short temper, was expelled for inexplicably sinking his teeth into the shoulder of Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini during a group match.

It was the third time he had been guilty of biting an opponent in a match during his tempestuous career and resulted in a nine-match ban from playing for Uruguay and a four-month ban from all soccer.

It only added to his notoriety from 2010 when his handball denied Ghana the chance to be the first African side ever in a World Cup semi-final.

Suarez also faced sanctions for biting, diving, and racially abusing an opponent while he was at Liverpool, overshadowing his remarkable goalscoring record as he tormented Premier League defences with deadly finishing and swerving runs.

Since moving from Anfield four years ago, he has netted more than 150 goals for Barcelona in all competitions and has managed to steer clear of major controversy.

In Russia, too, Suarez has stayed commendably calm after criticism for missing chances in Uruguay’s first game, and has grown ominously into the tournament.

Not that his feisty side has disappeared.

When a journalist asked him why he was not looking happier after Monday’s game, he paused before biting back witheringly: “What a waste of time. Next question please.”

Additional reporting by Andrew Cawthorne in Nizhny Novgorod; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Ian Chadband

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