World Cup 2014: Uruguay will do whatever it takes to beat England, admits Gus Poyet - just look at Luis Suarez

England warned that Group D opponents have a different take on ‘cheating’ – as Suarez showed in South Africa in 2010

Uruguay is the smallest nation to have won the World Cup, and they have done so twice. Add three further semi-finals and 15 Copa Americas and the footballing achievements of a country with a population of around three and a half million – less than half that of London – are embarrassingly emphatic compared to many of the game’s leading nations. England, Uruguay’s opponents in Sao Paulo on 19 June, have a tally of  one World Cup, one semi-final and no European Championships.

There is, according to Gus Poyet, an underlying and simple starting point for La Celeste’s tradition of punching above their lightweight numbers: to pull on the light blue jersey is an acceptance you will do whatever it takes to win the game for your country.

“We won’t accept that you are better than us, I won’t accept that you are better than me,” says Poyet of the attitude that beats within Uruguayan hearts. He talks quickly in his good but accented English, using staccato sentences, hands chopping the air as if he is punctuating his opinions. “If you’re better than me, I will find a way, with my players around, to stop you. I’m not going to accept you’re better than me. How can I? Sticking you a little bit, grabbing you, being stronger than you. Whatever it is, to stop you, to win the game. Yeah we do that, and we are proud of that.

“I think that’s a way you win more than you lose. If you just go to the game and you play the game and if you are worse you lose, then you don’t want to win more than me. I would defend that.”

There is one instance that sums it up. It came four years ago on a chilly evening in Johannesburg when Luis Suarez leapt to paw out Dominic Adiyiah’s last-minute, goal-bound header. It would have put Ghana in the semi-finals. Suarez was sent off and the TV cameras caught him celebrating when Asamoah Gyan failed to score from the resulting penalty. Uruguay won on penalties and a global villain was born.

Suarez, who Uruguay’s doctor said on Monday was hopeful of being fit for the England game, was castigated for what seemed to many to be cheating. Seconds before his pivotal handball, the then Ajax striker had brilliantly blocked a shot on the line; nothing was going to get past him.

“What I’m going to say is something very, very, very normal for me and I hope you take it well,” says Poyet, who will be in Brazil as part of ITV’s World Cup team. “I know that for you a handball on the goal-line is cheating. It’s not for us. It’s part of the game. It’s part of the game like if I’m the last man and you’re running and I pull your shirt and you go down and I get sent off – is that cheating? No it’s not cheating. You take it as a last-man red card, fine. We take the same reaction [for Suarez’s handball].

“I know it was massive in England, I know. But it’s like a surprise for us. We thought, ‘Why?’ He saved it. He was sent off. It was a penalty. It’s worse for us when you do something that no-one sees, like punching someone. But a handball on the goal-line is a handball on the goal-line.”

And the Sunderland manager, part of Uruguay’s 1995 Copa America triumph, shrugs a full stop. Poyet grew up in Montevideo, the country’s capital, before his playing career took him to France, Spain and England – he has swapped footballing cultures and insists Uruguay’s stands out for its competitiveness.

“It is all about football in Uruguay,” he says. “And you know the discussion going on all over the world that you cannot make kids of seven or eight play to win because they need to enjoy the game? In Uruguay you need to win at six.

“It is a way of living and learning. Players have to win games at a very early age. I tried to change that. I went to Uruguay for two years [after retiring] and was the chairman of a big organisation of children from five to 13 and I tried to convince them to slow down and not be so crazy about winning. Nothing. It is not in our culture.”

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