The devilish grin painted across his face in the first half soon turned to sheer panic and then despair as Luis Suarez processed Uruguay’s fate. Out of the World Cup on goals scored, to the delight of South Korea, Suarez was agonisingly close to one last inspiring performance.
The divisive forward had earlier cackled in delight after inspiring a two-goal lead, thrilled to play the role of the “devil” at the expense of Ghana once more. But that joy would turn sour after Hwang Hee-Chan’s late, late winner for South Korea, who usurped La Celeste to finish second behind Portugal in Group H.
For so long Uruguay’s saviour, Suarez had delivered when most had dismissed him as merely an enigmatic presence in a camp between generations, having hopelessly toiled away against South Korea and Portugal.
Goalless and desperate for three points, Diego Alonso pinned his hopes on Suarez one last time. Having made a career of tormenting opponents with his beligerent workrate, Suarez was forced into Plan B with his legs betraying him.
Now 35 years of age and back home with boyhood club Nacional, El Pistolero’s cunning side proved decisive to carve out a lead over the Black Stars.
Vehmentally dismissing Ghanaian demands to apologise for his notorious deed 12 years prior, Suarez turned philosopher in the build-up, delving deep into his pool of wisdom from a legendary career.
“You can’t just keep thinking about the past and revenge because that can be counter-productive,” Suarez insisted.
And so it proved, waiting to pounce, barely five minutes removed from Andre Ayew’s scuffed penalty, which was agonisingly reminiscent of Asamoah Gyan’s miss at Soccer City.
As Alidu Seidu and Daniel Amartey tumbled like bowling pins the ball found its way to an unmarked Suarez at the back post. And if the former Barcelona and Liverpool marksman couldn’t quite pull off a strike, Giorgian de Arrascaeta was there to tidy up the spare on the rebound.
Suarez referenced “challenging times” and his desire to seize “responsibility” in the build-up, and here he was, luring Ghanaian shirts towards him before a clever, hooked pass into the path of De Arrascaeta again. This time the finish was emphatic as Uruguay moved to the brink of a last 16 berth.
If Ayew’s penalty had not proven as much, Ghana appeared trapped under the spell of the powder blue. Suarez thriving in a familiar position, tormenting Ghana defenders in possession with a masterclass in the dark arts.
Mohammed Salisu was tricked into a clumsy challenge, leaving Suarez to wriggle free and roll across the turf. Even at the break, Suarez pestered referee Daniel Siebert on his way back to the dressing room.
But Suarez only had so much to give, his race had been run just shy of 65 minutes, stumbling off in this most absorbing of contests. Not quite a passing of the torch - that has perhaps already taken place with his strike partner Darwin Nunez. For so long they worked in tandem, Batman and Robin, but now Edinson Cavani stepped onto the field, inheriting the captain’s armband. If he considered his role was to protect from the front, the script would soon be torn to pieces.
Uruguay, handed the baton by Suarez, had 25 minutes to carry a precious and precarious lead to the finish line. That was unless South Korea, level with Portugal at one apiece at the time of his exit, found a winner.
A final twist in the tale did indeed arrive: Hwang dispatching a chance in injury time to hand South Korea the win, forcing La Celeste to pursue one more goal to claw back second.
Suarez could barely watch, frantically pulling his shirt over his forlorn face before leaping towards the touchline to play cheerleader. Cavani took a tumble, desperately appealing for a penalty, then Maximiliano Gomez arrowed one low towards the bottom corner, tipped wide by Lawrence Ati-Zigi. But it was not enough.
The end of an era, Suarez unable to summon his powers on football’s biggest stage anymore. Helpless as his time at the World Cup cruelly fizzled out.