With Luis Suarez a major doubt for Uruguay’s group fixtures at the Copa America Centenario, the stage could be set for Edinson Cavani to finally fulfill the role of hero at a major tournament.
Uruguayan hearts sunk at the sight of seeing Suarez limp off in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey final triumph against Sevilla a fortnight ago, which left him in major doubt for the 100th Copa America.
Suarez had just made his return to competitive international action in March after a 20-month lay-off following his suspension for biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini at the 2014 World Cup, and Uruguay were emerging as one of the favourites for the Copa, which begins in the United States on Friday.
The Barca forward was one of the key figures in the Uruguay squad which lifted the Copa America title in 2011 – a record 15th for the South American nation – just 12 months after they made the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time in 40 years.
While Cavani was also a part of both of those sides, he has always been in the shadow of Suarez, along with 2010 World Cup Golden Ball winner Diego Forlan. Even when Suarez was suspended, Cavani failed to adequately fill the void.
Though Cavani has scored 10 times in 15 games since the 2014 World Cup, seven of those have been in friendlies. The other three came in World Cup qualifiers, but two were when Suarez was already back on the pitch with him. He went without a goal at the 2015 Copa America as Uruguay suffered a quarter-final exit at the hands of hosts and eventual champions Chile.
While the extent of Suarez’s injury and recovery time remains unclear, the general consensus is that he will miss Uruguay’s Group C matches against Mexico, Venezuela and Jamaica. But can Cavani finally step up and prove himself to be Uruguay’s leading man, especially when his club future is also up in the air?
Cavani’s two goals in Uruguay’s 3-1 friendly win over Trinidad and Tobago last week saw him move above Hector Scarone into third place in the nation’s all-time scorers list, but despite playing just three games fewer, he is 13 goals behind team-mate Suarez.
Cavani, just like at international level, has found himself out of the spotlight since moving from Napoli to Paris Saint-Germain in 2013. The 29-year-old has been forced to play out of position in the French capital, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic claiming the centre-forward position as his own.
But with Ibrahimovic confirming he is seeking a new challenge next season, Cavani may see the Copa America as a chance to prove his worth to PSG coach Laurent Blanc. Alternatively, he may take the opportunity to showcase his talent to prospective suitors.
Whatever his motives, the time has come for Cavani to stand up and be counted.