For the last decade and a half, Uruguay’s national football team has been led by a formidable attacking duo but now veterans Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani are heading into their final World Cup with retirement edging ever closer.
Born just 21 days apart in the northern Salto department, the two 35-year-olds have graced some of Europe’s most prestigious clubs while never failing to light up their homeland shores.
Their remarkable careers have left them as the two greatest goalscorers in the Celeste national team’s history: Suarez has 68 goals in 134 matches with Cavani scoring 58 from 133 games.
For the better part of 15 years they have been pillars of a plucky Uruguay outfit that reached the World Cup semi-finals in South Africa in 2010 before lifting the Copa America the following year.
This will be their fourth World Cup and despite their advancing years they remain heroes to their compatriots.
They are “the best forward pairing in the history of the Celeste”, ESPN journalist Diego Munoz told AFP.
“They put their egos aside, always put the team first and strengthened each other. (They were) essential to a generation that gave back the national team and hope to the people.”
Once their boots are hung up for good, they will be sorely missed.
The attacking duo guaranteed “an important goalscoring potential that the Celeste has rarely had, at least in the last 60 years,” said journalist Luis Prats, an author of many books on football history.
“Relying on them gave you the confidence that you could even win tight games with few chances. You just had to give them the ball and they finished it.
“On top of that they had great understanding: Cavani created many of Suarez’s goals and vice versa.”
– Passing the baton –
The Qatar World Cup will bring to an end the transformative era under iconic former coach Oscar Tabarez, who spent 15 years at the helm and brought back glory to a side that had not won the Copa America since 1995 nor reached a World Cup semi-final since 1970.
But Cavani says there will be no special emotion attached to this tournament.
“For those that live, feel and love football, and more so for those that wear their country’s jersey, there is no mystery: it’s a World Cup,” Cavani told a local radio station.
“Whether it’s the first or the fifth” makes no difference. “If this doesn’t motivate you, we’re in trouble.”
Neither Suarez nor Cavani are quite the players they once were.
Having played for Napoli, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United, Cavani is currently at a Valencia side that is a shadow of the team of the early 2000s, when they won two La Liga titles and reached successive Champions League finals.
And after Ajax, Liverpool, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, Suarez stunned the footballing world earlier this year by returning to his first professional club, Nacional.
But Suarez is as competitive and confident as ever.
“We have a mix of experienced and quality players — I believe Uruguay can have a great World Cup,” he said.
Under new coach Diego Alonso, Uruguay are building a new team of talents with Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde, Darwin Nunez of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur.
Even so, there is something unique about the Suarez-Cavani partnership that may never be repeated.
“It’s very difficult to find a Suarez-Cavani duo,” said Prats.
Although new talents have appeared on the horizon, “they still need to complete their development.”
But Munoz points to the fact that alongside Diego Godin, Suarez and Cavani took over the mantle from Diego Forlan and Diego Lugano when they retired.
“The key is to maintain the legacy and to learn to play without them, to modify the power axis towards the midfield and for Valverde-Bentancur to lead the next generation,” said Munoz.