Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Luis Suarez to get his teeth into Northern Ireland

Luis Suarez will be out to shoot down Northern Ireland in Montevideo

Luis Suarez will sharpen his teeth for Uruguay's 2014 World Cup bid by taking aim at Northern Ireland.

The classy, yet controversial, Liverpool striker will be the star name in the Uruguayan line-up when they face Michael O'Neill's men in a friendly in Montevideo on Friday, May 30.

The match comes just three weeks before they meet England at the World Cup and with Suarez determined to make his mark in Brazil after he exited the tournament in South Africa four years in red card shame, Northern Ireland will need to be on their guard.

The 27-year-old has 23 Premier League goals to his name this season – eight more than his nearest rival, Manchester City's Sergio Aguero – and is likely to face Northern Ireland as England's Player of the Year.

And to think he missed the first six matches of the campaign due to a suspension carried over from last season, imposed for biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic.

That incident, plus a previous ban for racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra, are believed to have cost him votes last year.

Suarez scored three goals in the 2010 World Cup before he was sent-off for deliberately handling the ball to deny Ghana a goal in the quarter-finals. He was subsequently suspended for the semi-final, which his team lost 3-2.

If the Northern Ireland defence can manage to keep Suarez quiet there are plenty of other threats in the Uruguay team as they also have Paris St Germain's £53m striker Edison Cavani and former Manchester United frontman Diego Forlan in their ranks.

As well as meeting England, Uruguay will also take on Italy in their World Cup group and manager Oscar Tabarez was keen to face European opposition in friendly matches. As well as playing Northern Ireland they will also face Austria next month.

This will be the fourth meeting between the countries, the most recent being a 1-0 win for Uruguay at Giants Stadium, New York in May 2006.

The match, at the Centenario Stadium in Montevideo – the venue for the first ever World Cup final in 1930 – is expected to form one half of a south American tour for the Northern Ireland team.

The Irish FA has been involved in discussions about further games and initially it was suggested that Northern Ireland could meet Brazil-bound European opposition before they head off to the tournament.

The possibility of playing a couple of matches in the United States against other teams preparing for the World Cup has also been mooted, but O'Neill is happy to accept the trip to Uruguay.

Both O'Neill and his predecessor Nigel Worthington have been hit by problems surrounding the availability of players for end-of-season fixtures over the last number of years.

Worthington was forced to select squads that included a large number of under-21 internationals and Irish League players for a 2009 friendly against Italy, a 2010 trip to the Americas and in particular the ill-fated Carling Nations Cup in Dublin in 2011.

O'Neill then suffered an embarrassing 6-0 defeat against Holland in June 2012 when many senior internationals were missing, but he has already sought opinion from players this time and the feedback is that he will have a strong squad available for whatever matches are arranged.

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