Uruguay striker Luis Suarez smiled and shrugged off any lingering concerns about his surgically repaired left knee, declaring Monday it was in "perfect shape" the day before a match against Italy that Uruguay must win to advance beyond the group stage at the World Cup.
The Liverpool forward had surgery to repair a torn meniscus before the tournament and was sidelined for Uruguay's opening loss to Costa Rica. He returned to score both goals in a 2-1 win over England, putting the English squad out of contention at the tournament.
Suarez, who scored 31 goals and was voted player of the year in the Premier League last season, said he was "building myself back up" to play Italy in the coastal city of Natal, where conditions are expected to be hot and humid for the 1 p.m. local time start.
"It feels good. I think (the knee) is in perfect shape," Suarez said through a translator, comparing the match against Italy with a final.
The match against England was Suarez's first in more than a month. Asked if he had any pain afterward, Suarez grinned and said, "If the knee didn't feel good, I would have told the coach I couldn't play ... so I'm cool right now."
Suarez will be counted on to deliver goals for Uruguay again, with the 2010 semifinalists needing a win to advance out of Group D. Italy can advance with a draw.
"I trust him," Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said. "He knows what to do in the last 20 minutes in front of the goal. You don't lose that just because you had a (knee) operation. He put everything that he had into overcoming this situation."
A healthy Suarez gives Uruguay a potent dual attack with Edinson Cavani, one of the top scorers in the French league last season at Paris Saint-Germain.
"Their attack pairing is one of the strongest in the World Cup," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. "They're both modern forwards with a feeling for the goal who don't concede reference points to defenders. We're going to have to contain them."
Cavani scored from the penalty spot against Costa Rica, but the Uruguay attack appeared tame for much of that match without Suarez.
Tabarez wouldn't reveal his lineup but hinted that he won't make any changes from the squad that beat England.
"I respect very much the team that played the last match," he said. "I told them the team was up to scratch."