NIZHNIY NOVGOROD, RUSSIA: For a player who has made so many headlines at the World Cup, it is appropriate that Luiz Suarez will make his 100th appearance for Uruguay at football’s biggest tournament.
Barring any last minute disasters, the Barcelona striker will reach his century of games for the Celeste on Wednesday when they play Saudi Arabia in Rostov-on-Don in Group A’s second round of matches.
The match should be routine and could secure Uruguay’s passage to the knockout stage, but with Suarez football fans know that very few things are mundane.
The last two World Cups have seen Suarez exit in ignominy.
In 2010, the forward was sent off after making a last minute “save” against Ghana, which helped avoid defeat and saw the South Americans progress to the last four.
The incident became so infamous it got its own Wikipedia entry — Suarez even described it as the best save of the tournament — but that was nothing to what happened four years later.
In 2014, he was banned from all football for four months and fined after biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini, the third biting incident of his career.
Uruguay players have hit out at the way Suarez was subsequently treated by the footballing authorities, but their protests have garnered little empathy outside the country.
Suarez is a player loved and loathed in equal measure; his on-field behaviour has been questionable but not so his talent.
Despite the ever-present controversies, the 31-year-old is Uruguay’s record goalscorer, scoring 51 times in 99 matches.
Five of those have come in the World Cup and despite a sluggish start in Uruguay’s 1-0 opening game win against Egypt, the match against a weak Saudi Arabia side may offer him the chance to celebrate his centenary in style.
Uruguay may make changes to midfield, bringing in Carlos Sanchez and Cristian Rodriguez ahead of Nahitan Nandez and Giorgian De Arrascaeta on Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia still smarting from their opening day 5-0 drubbing by Russia, could make wholesale changes as they desperately try to stay in the tournament.
The Saudis preparations were jolted by a mid-air mishap on Monday when the plane carrying them to Rostov suffered a fire in one of its engines.
The aircraft landed safely after what one of the Saudi players called a “simple malfunction”.
“It was a small fire in one of the engines, the right engine, but the plane landed safely,” association president Ahmad Al Harbi told Saudi sports TV channel KSA.