SAO PAULO (AP) — The most important figure in Uruguay's victory against England on Thursday didn't score any goals or provide any assists.
His name is Walter Ferreira. He'S the 62-year-old physiotherapist for the Uruguayan national team and he has spent the last month working on Luis Suarez's left knee. In Uruguay, they call him the "miracle man".
After scoring the first of his two goals in the 2-1 win against England at Sao Paulo's Arena Corinthians stadium, Suarez made straight for the Uruguayan bench. He sought out Ferreira, embraced him and signaling to the crowd he urged them to appreciate his importance.
Suarez was especially grateful to Ferreira, to whom he expressed heartfelt thanks, when speaking to reporters after the game. Later he repeated his gratitude in a YouTube video, recorded in the Uruguayan changing room.
"There are people who know how crucial it was for me to have their support. If it wasn't for him (Ferreira) I would not have been here today," said Suarez, who despite suffering from cramp in the later stages, scored the decisive goal in the 85th minute.
"I cried a lot with him, because it was such a hard time, and complicated because of what he was living through as well, he made a sacrifice to remain with me the whole time," Suarez added.
When Suarez mentions it was a hard time for Ferreira, he knows what he is talking about, because the physiotherapist dedicated himself to the player, despite suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma cancer. Ferreira completed his chemotherapy treatment just before the World Cup began.
"While my wife and my two sons are the most important things in the world to me, now this man is too, because of everything he did to aid my recovery, because 90% of this is the work of Walter Ferreira," said Suarez, Uruguay's leading goal scorer of all time, who on May 22 underwent surgery on the meniscus on his left knee.
Following surgery, there were fears that Suarez would be unable to play in the World Cup. But the Liverpool striker was not going to miss the tournament and despite the doubting voices, he returned to competitive action, just 28 days after the operation.
Ferreira was the key.
In the first days after surgery, since Suarez was unable to walk, Ferreira travelled daily to the footballer's home. In no time, he convinced Suárez to abandon the crutches and start walking.
The rest of the exercises and massage treatments were done at Ferreira's house, with Suarez's wife Sofia responsible for driving him there and back from their Montevideo home.
Ferreira completed his last chemotherapy session 21 days ago, a little before leaving for Brazil, Carmen, the physiotherapist's wife, told the Associated Press.
And he has been in Brazil since, in Sete Lagoas, the Uruguay base, caring for Suarez.
"The doctors gave him permission to travel because the tests showed all was ok, even though he still had a slightly low white blood cell count," said Ferreira's wife. "But they told him to go to the Cup and that it would do him good, because his work is what gives him the most pleasure. He left fearful and with a huge case of medicine, but thankfully his white blood cell counts are rising."
"The praise for what happened against England is two-fold, for Luisito and for Walter too, because they achieved it together," said Mrs Ferreira.
Suarez was ecstatic at the end of the game and recalled that the English head coach Roy Hodgson had said before the game that they would be facing an opponent who was not in peak physical condition. "For those who doubted that I would be 50% fit, I had to show them in this match, and there was the answer, this gives me the courage to go forward," he said.
AP writer Leonardo Haberkorn in Montevideo contributed to this report.