Suarez showcases boundless potential with Copa exploits
Those making a case for Liverpool sustaining a serious title challenge this season will find the most compelling evidence not in the Far East, where the team scored freely on their pre-season tour, or in the speculation of further recruitment, but in Argentina, where Luis Suarez has furthered his reputation as one of the most dangerous forwards in world football.
Amid the desert of essentially meaningless pre-season football, the Copa America has been an oasis of serious competition. Uruguay and Paraguay contest the final in the Monumental in Buenos Aires this evening.
It has been a tournament marked by the underachievement of the hosts Argentina and the holders Brazil. Like at the last World Cup, those sides with the more committed team ethic have prevailed.
This competition was supposed to be a final showcase for Latin America's superstar forwards before they secured their big-money transfers. Argentina had Carlos Tevez, who wants to leave Manchester City, and Sergio Aguero, who is edging closer to joining them. Brazil had Neymar and Ganso, who are expected to joined Real Madrid and AC , respectively. Chile had Alexis Sanchez, who moved from Udinese to Barcelona this week, while Colombia had the free-scoring Porto striker Falcao, wanted by Real Madrid and Chelsea.
All in all, six players whose combined fees would come to £200m. None of them reached the final. It has been Suarez who has been the tournament's outstanding forward. Arguably his most impressive performance was against hosts Argentina in the quarter-finals.
In a predictably bad-tempered game, Uruguay took the lead through Diego Perez, squandered it and then had Perez sent off. Until Javier Mascherano was sent off with four minutes left, Suarez's ability to drop deep, pull wide and retain possession, not least by buying the odd free-kick, was essential for 10-man Uruguay. It was a performance of intelligence and maturity.
When he joined Liverpool, his goal record at Ajax -- 111 in 159 games -- suggested a poacher; but he is so much more than that.
You are not supposed to be able to do good transfer business in January but in terms of value, no high-profile deal completed in the Premier League this summer can match the signing of Suarez. At £23m Liverpool bought a world-class striker in his prime for only £3m more than it cost them to buy Jordan Henderson or Stewart Downing.
There was plenty from Suarez in the second half of last season to suggest his future value to Liverpool. What Kenny Dalglish might draw from the Copa, however, is how effectively the 24-year-old plays with Diego Forlan.
Liverpool are looking to get Suarez and Andy Carroll working as a partnership but his performances for Uruguay show that he does not necessarily thrive with a powerful fulcrum striker but, with Forlan, likes riffing off someone with equally fluent movement.
Paraguay will offer an obdurate challenge to the Forlan-Suarez axis. Since the late 1990s, Paraguay have been a side built on the firmest of foundations, to the point of being joyless, going forward. They have qualified for four World Cups in a row, reaching the quarter-finals in South Africa where they lost only once, a 1-0 defeat to Spain.
While they have progressed in Argentina, Gerardo Martino's side have done so with a kind of remorseless belligerence. Remarkably, they have yet to win a game in the competition, drawing all their group matches and needing penalties to beat first Brazil and then Venezuela. Three of their five games have finished 0-0 and they have gone down to 10 men in their last two games. Martino himself is suspended from the touchline for his involvement in the brawl that followed the shoot-out win over Venezuela. Not that the manager is apologetic. "If someone thinks we can't see our faults, there's no need for them to remind us when we play badly, we know that," he said. "But all that matters is to be champions. All the draws came about in the same way and if we get the result on Sunday, I'll still celebrate it like I did against Venezuela."
Oscar Washington Tabarez, the veteran Uruguay coach, has coaxed the best out of his talented players and he will no doubt have some ideas about prising open Paraguay's tight banks of four.
There is plenty at stake, after all. If Uruguay win it will mean a record 15th Copa title, taking them one clear of neighbours Argentina. And there is nowhere they would rather do that than Buenos Aires.
Paraguay v Uruguay,
Sunday Indo Sport