NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (AP) — Luis Suarez has a message for France forward Antoine Griezmann: Stop pretending to be Uruguayan.
Griezmann likes the traditional South American drink mate, he speaks Spanish like someone from Uruguay and he’s been pictured wearing the team’s jersey.
The Atletico Madrid player has a special fondness for Uruguay, leading many to believe that it will be heartbreaking for him to face the team in the World Cup quarterfinals on Friday.
Suarez is not having any of it though.
“As much as he says he’s half Uruguayan, he’s French,” the Barcelona forward said Tuesday. “He does not really know what the feeling of a Uruguayan is. He does not know about the dedication and effort to be able to succeed in football with so few people. “
Uruguay’s population is about 3.5 million, while France’s is around 67 million.
“He will have his habits, his way of speaking, but (not) the feeling … we feel differently,” Suarez said.
“I do not know what’s going on in his head, but this is the World Cup. There is another mentality,” said Uruguay’s record scorer, who has 53 goals in 102 appearances. “For us it’s a special game. I do not know if it is for him.”
Uruguay and France face each other in Nizhny Novgorod in search of a spot in the World Cup semifinals, and Griezmann will try to penetrate a Uruguayan defense led by two of his teammates and close friends at Atletico Madrid, Juan Maria Gimenez and Diego Godin.
The latter is the godfather of Griezmann’s daughter.
Griezmann’s affection for Uruguay started about a decade ago. He made his first division debut in 2009 for Real Sociedad under the direction of Uruguayan coach Martin Lasarte. He also established a close relationship there with Carlos Bueno, another Uruguayan.
It was from Lasarte and Bueno that Griezmann learned how to drink mate. The Frenchman also became a fan of Uruguayan club Penarol and learned the chants sung among its supporters.
When he moved to Atletico, he befriended more Uruguayans: Cristian Rodriguez, then Gimenez, Godin and fitness coach Oscar Ortega.
Unlike Suarez, others believe Griezmann has grasped what it means to be from the South American country.
“Griezmann is very Uruguayan. He tries to look Uruguayan,” midfielder Nahitan Nandez said. “It could be a very special match for him. We hope that he behaves well on the field and that he remembers that he is Uruguayan.”
The Frenchman has said he’s an admirer of Uruguay forward Edinson Cavani, according to media reports.
But it’s not clear if they will see each other on the field, since Cavani has a calf injury that could rule him out of the match.
Suarez had one compliment for Griezmann, saying he has a “brilliant left foot.” But he went on to praise Griezmann’s partner in attack, Kylian Mbappe.
“He’s a very good player, like (Thierry) Henry a few years ago,” he said. “He’s an important player, but France isn’t just one player.”
While Godin and Gimenez will try to stop Griezmann, Suarez’s objective is to get past Barcelona teammate Samuel Umtiti.
“I’ve always joked … that I wanted to face Umtiti at the World Cup — and it came true,” Suarez said, adding that Uruguayan players are feeling good physically after four matches.
“You have exams 48 hours after the games,” he said. “And mine after the match against Portugal ” in the round of 16 “was better than those of the first three games. We are well prepared.”
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