Luis Suarez steadfastly refused to apologise for his infamous handball against Ghana in the 2010 World Cup as he was told by a Ghanaian journalist that he is considered to be “the devil himself” by people in the African country.
Uruguay’s match against Ghana on Friday will be the first meeting between the two teams since Suarez controversially denied Ghana a winning goal in the final moments of their 2010 quarter-final.
Suarez’s handball, and the subsequent penalty miss by Asamoah Gyan, stopped Ghana from becoming the first African nation to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup.
Suarez was shown a red card for the offence but was then seen celebrating wildly on the touchline as Gyan missed from the spot. Uruguay went on to win the match on penalties, to the despair of Ghana and its people.
Such is the strength of feeling towards Suarez from the Ghanaian population, the country’s president has called for the team to “get revenge” when they meet again 12 years later.
At a pre-match press conference in Doha, Suarez was told by a Ghanaian journalist that many people in the country see him as “the devil” and want to “retire” him.
An unrepentant Suarez responded: “I don’t apologise about that. The Ghana player missed a penalty, not me. Maybe I could apologise if I made a tackle and injured a player.
“But in this situation I took the red card and the referee gave a penalty. It is not my fault because I didn’t miss the penalty. The player who missed the penalty, he said he would do the same [as I did]. It is not my responsibility to shoot the penalty.”
The 35-year-old added that “you can’t just keep thinking about the past” and made the point that Giorgio Chiellini, the Italian player he bit at the 2014 World Cup, had shook his hand and moved on from that episode.
“I played against Chiellini afterwards,” said Suarez. “I made a mistake with what I did and then we shook hands and played. You can’t just keep thinking about the past and revenge, because it would be counter-productive.”
Suarez’s comments are likely to add further emotion to the occasion as the two teams go head to head for a place in the knockout stages. Uruguay, who have one point after two games, must beat Ghana if they are to stand any chance of progressing from the group.
Otto Addo, the Ghana head coach, chose to publicly play down the significance of this reunion with Suarez and said that he hopes his players would also be willing to “sacrifice” themselves for the good of the team.
“It is about perspective,” said Addo. “If the same incident happened the other way round, and Ghana would have proceeded to the semif-finals, everyone would have ‘OK’. It is normal that a player would do anything he can to help his team to the semi-final.
“For me, it is not a big topic. I wish for every player to do all he can, and sometimes to sacrifice himself with a red card. It was a very sad day for me, but for me it is not a big topic. We are preparing for the match like every other match.”
Uruguay are yet to score at this World Cup, having drawn with South Korea and lost to Portugal. This is despite their impressive collection of forward players, including Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Darwin Nunez.
Suarez was substituted after 64 minutes of the goalless draw against South Korea and was then dropped from the starting lineup against Portugal.
The striker moved from Atletico Madrid to Uruguayan side Nacional earlier this year, and he admitted his game has changed as his career comes to an end.
“Obviously as the years go by, I am not getting any younger,” he said. “My pace is not what it used to be. But in any position you have to help out with your skills, intelligence and movement.
“I can’t just play a long ball and run for 30 metres. Now there are other players who are able to do that. I have to show my team-mates what my skills are at the moment and just try to help out in any way that I can.”