SAO PAULO (AP) — Slamming in goal after goal for Liverpool, Luis Suarez appeared to be reaching the peak of his game and ready to take the World Cup by storm. That's until the Uruguay striker felt pain in his left knee during the final match of the Premier League season.
Following surgery to repair cartilage damage, Suarez is preparing to return to action for the first time more than a month ago. But even if Suarez plays on Thursday against England at the World Cup, Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez is not expecting English football's player of the year to be as explosive as he was for Liverpool just yet.
"He went through a recuperation process knowing that if all went well with this we wouldn't have to discard him from the World Cup," Tabarez said. "This recuperation went well and it's holding well. Since he's come back he's been training very well.
"In the case of whether Luis plays — there is a possibility that he won't be like the Luis Suarez that was the top goal scorer of the Premier League."
But Tabarez maintains that even when Suarez's isn't 100 percent fit he "is someone who can give a lot to his team and that's what we're considering right now."
Suarez spearheaded an unlikely title challenge for Liverpool, with his 31 goals helping the team finish second. Such scoring prowess helped erase memories of previous bans for racism and biting at Liverpool, and of his cheating at the 2010 World Cup when he handled on the goal-line to prevent Ghana from scoring.
"All of us are made up of different things," Tabarez said through a translator in defense of Suarez at the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo.
"We have technical abilities, physical abilities and our own personality and character. All those factors make up what we are. Luis has always wanted to face all challenges in his career. Not only playing for national team but in other situations."
Tabarez only wants to focus on Suarez's positive attributes, hounding defenders with his lethal finishing.
"Football is played by human beings," Tabarez said. "We need humility to accept we make mistakes. We know who we are and the image we want to project ... it's not possible to speak of things that happened four years ago. We need to concentrate in the future."
The future is Thursday's match for a Uruguay side reeling from a surprise 3-1 collapse to Costa Rica on Saturday.
"We have to prove we want to overcome this uncomfortable situation," striker Edinson Cavani said.
That could be easier if Suarez is leading the strike force alongside Cavani against England, which has six Liverpool teammates in the squad.
"Any time we have need (of Suarez) in any sort of match he has been willing," Tabarez said. "He has always improved himself and his career is wonderful, brilliant. He plays in one of best leagues in the world and has overcome many different problems. He is a very important player for us because of his technical abilities and his personality."
England also lost its Group D opener, against Italy, but attracted praise for its flair and endeavor in the 2-1 defeat. Tabarez was among the admirers.
"England team is very good attacking, very good up front with wonderful players, four players always up front, very fast, more than able to score and they were very direct and pragmatic," he said. "They are able to organize wonderful plays very fast. (Captain Steven) Gerrard is a wonderful player, organizing play from anyway and this is important for England. It allows them to attack from midfield. We could see that against Italy."
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris