FORTALEZA, BRAZIL – Watching from the bench, Luis Suarez saw just how much his teammates miss him.
Uruguay was overrun 3-1 Friday by Group D underdog Costa Rica at the World Cup, a stunning result for the team that reached the semifinals four years ago and had every reason to think it could repeat that in Brazil.
Even with Suarez staying on the bench for the entire game after failing to fully recover from knee surgery, coach Oscar Tabarez fielded a side that included eight players from the 2010 team. But after going ahead through a first-half penalty, Uruguay was taken apart on counterattacks as Costa Rica scored three times in the second half to open Group D with a major upset.
“We made mistakes today that we haven’t made for a long time. It’s too early to explain this,” Tabarez said. “Football means that sometimes you have to lose. You can’t lose heart, you just have to improve.”
The Uruguayans took the lead in the 24th minute when Edinson Cavani converted a spot kick that was awarded after captain Diego Lugano tumbled to the ground with defender Junior Diaz tugging at his waist.
But after the goal, Uruguay lost the initiative and Costa Rica — seen as a massive underdog in a group that also includes England and Italy — fought back after the break.
Costa Rica’s lone striker Joel Campbell led most of the team’s counterattacks and finally delivered the equalizer in the 54th, driving in a ball headed down by Celso Borges to beat goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.
Oscar Duarte dived past the outstretched foot of Uruguay’s Cristian Stuani to head in the winner for the Central Americans, and substitute Marcos Urena added the third with six minutes left, catching out Muslera to slot the ball in from a tight angle.
“We spotted that they had weaknesses and we looked at those. We worked hard on headers and ways to dominate in the air and we did that tonight,” Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto said.
The disastrous night was completed in injury time when Maxi Pereira was sent off for a clumsy foul on Campbell.
Pereira will be suspended from the next game against England, while Tabarez said Suarez’s participation for next Thursday’s match in Sao Paolo is also uncertain.
Diego Forlan, the player of the tournament in 2010, took Suarez’s place in attack. But in Fortaleza, the 35-year-old forward only displayed a single flash of his former greatness: Curling a deadly ball toward the Costa Rican goal a minute before halftime, in an effort punched out by in-form ‘keeper Keylor Navas.
Forlan was eventually substituted on the hour for Nicolas Lodeiro.
Even without Suarez, the team doesn’t need a tactical overhaul to bounce back from the defeat, Tabarez said.
“We’ve being playing this way for eight years. I don’t see why we should do anything different right know,” he said. “It worked in South Africa and after that. Defense is not a dirty word.”
Pinto, the Costa Rica coach, was less philosophical.
“What counted is that we stayed calm and kept creating opportunities against a very tough team,” Pinto said. “We have great respect for Uruguay but we weren’t that impressed tonight.”
Sabella defends referees
Rio de Janeiro — Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella has defended World Cup referees, saying they have a tough and thankless job.
Match officials have already faced fierce criticism over a series of disputed decisions, including a penalty for host Brazil and two disallowed goals for Mexico.
Sabella said Saturday that “these are mistakes that are part of being human,” adding that “some situations were very subtle; you have to watch them several times.”
Being a referee is a hard job, the Argentina coach insisted.
He said “they are the only ones who don’t have any fans,” adding that “I trust the referees. You have to think positively, and maintain trust.”
It remains to be seen whether his trust is still high after Argentina’s World Cup opener against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Sunday.