Luis Suarez scored twice in his farewell match for Gremio as the Brazilian side defeated Fluminense 3-2 at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday.
The 36-year-old Uruguayan football icon, who has been linked with a move to join close friend Lionel Messi at Inter Miami, scored in the 43rd minute and then bagged a second with a cheeky panenka from the penalty spot in the 64th minute.
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The victory ensured Gremio finished second in the Brazilian championship, two points behind champions Palmeiras as the season drew to a close on Wednesday.
It marked a fitting finale to what has been a dazzling season in Brazilian football for Suarez, who cut short his two-year deal with Gremio after one season saying the calendar was too much for his aging body.
Leading Gremio as captain, Suarez played in 54 of the club’s 64 matches in 2023, scoring a total of 29 goals.
He ended the year as the second-highest goal scorer in the Brazilian league, with 17, inspiring down-on-its-luck Gremio to an unexpectedly solid season.
Suarez has declined to comment on rumors linking him to a move to join former Barcelona team-mate Messi in Miami, saying he wants to focus first and foremost on his family and his health.
“I love this job, but it’s hard waking up in pain every morning,” he said last weekend. “I’m hard-headed and I want to keep playing, but I don’t know what comes next.”
Those comments came after he scored the lone goal in Gremio’s win over Vasco in his final home match, earning an emotional standing ovation from the sold-out crowd.
His stint at Gremio could have been a lame swan song, coming after a return to his boyhood club, Nacional, last year, and tearful exit with Uruguay in the group stage of the 2022 World Cup.
Instead, Suarez shone in the club’s first season back in top-flight play after a painful relegation, helping them to the Rio Grande do Sul state championship and state winners’ cup titles — the latter courtesy of a Suarez hat trick.
Porto Alegre soon caught “Suarezmania:” the striker was named an honorary citizen, and the state government gave him a medal.
Attendance at Gremio’s stadium meanwhile doubled, and the club registered record sales of jerseys and other paraphernalia.
– ‘Hard to say “basta”‘ –
Fans and local politicians tried to talk Suarez out of his decision to leave after he announced his plans in July.
Making his departure more difficult, Gremio’s strong showing this season means they have qualified for the Copa Libertadores next year, the South American equivalent of Europe’s Champions League.
“I would have loved to play in that competition. But my body is calling the shots,” Suarez said.
“I need rest, recreation and time to think. It’s hard to say ‘basta’ (enough). Footballers are never ready for retirement.”