YEKATERINBURG (Reuters) - Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez was at a loss to explain how Luis Suarez missed three golden chances in his side’s 1-0 win over Egypt in their opening World Cup Group A game but refused to blame his leading striker.
The usually ruthless Barcelona forward was saved embarrassment for his profligacy by a late header from center back Jose Gimenez which earned the twice world champions a first ever victory in a World Cup opener.
“I don’t know what happened but I will not speculate. I have seen many great players like (Lionel) Messi and (Diego) Maradona not living up to their potential in matches. It is not a sin,” Tabarez told a news conference.
“Suarez, as you say, was not playing as well as he normally does but he had three scoring opportunities. The goalkeeper saved a couple of them. That happens to strikers.”
Egypt coach Hector Cuper opted against risking his side’s talismanic forward Mohamed Salah as he continues his recovery from a shoulder injury, making Suarez the main attraction in his first World Cup match since biting Giorgio Chiellini in a last-16 game in Brazil four years ago.
Suarez was immobile for large parts of the game had three glorious opportunities, hitting the side netting in the first half and failing to beat Egypt goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy twice in the second from close range.
His struggles in front of goal mirrored his dreadful start to last season with Barca after rushing back to action following a knee injury and Tabarez appeared to suggest his striker was lacking confidence in front of goal.
“In good times, everything goes into the back of the net while at other times the goal seems smaller. As long as he gives his all we are happy,” added the 71-year-old coach, who is suffering from Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare degenerative disease, and had to be helped into his dugout before the game.
“I don’t discuss individual players in press conferences. I don’t point fingers. I don’t discuss players who have given glory to Uruguayan football.”
Gimenez’s goal took Uruguay level on points with Group A leaders Russia and boosted their chances of making the knockout stages for the third successive World Cup after reaching the semi-finals in 2010 and last 16 in 2014.
Tabarez praised his side’s performance while calling on them to improve in their next game against Saudi Arabia.
“I’m very happy with the attitude of the team and how they played throughout. Uruguayans wanted the same thing, to win the match. In the history of football we have broken a spell (winning the opening game),” he added.
“We either die or we kill, we have to keep progressing. The work we do all the time is precisely to make our players understand that they have to work harder. The idea is to look to score all the time.”
Writing by Richard Martin in Rostov-On-Don, editing by Ed Osmond