LONDON – Liverpool’s usually effervescent Colombian striker Luis Diaz looked solemn as he sat on the substitutes’ bench during his side’s Premier League game at Luton on Sunday.
No wonder: his father remains kidnapped by Colombian rebels.
Yet despite the personal anguish, the 26-year-old not only requested to be in Jurgen Klopp’s squad for the game, but then came on and scored a last-ditch equaliser in the fifth minute of added time. Former Manchester United midfielder Tahith Chong had given Luton the lead 10 minutes from time.
Not surprisingly, there was no whirling away in delight this time. Rather, Diaz lifted up his shirt to revel a white undertop with words in black: “Libertad Para Papa” (Freedom For Dad).
Though his goal – off the shoulder after a great leap – had broken Luton fans’ hearts, they too joined Liverpool supporters in a wave of applause for Diaz as he left the pitch.
“We’re supporting him and feeling his pain – but for him, it’s a different level,” said Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker.
Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas have said they will release Luis Manuel Diaz, as they did Diaz’s mother. That cannot come soon enough for player and club.
“A wonderful moment. But it doesn’t change the situation. The most important thing is that his father gets released,” Klopp said of Diaz’s goal.
“We knew he would be a threat. We didn’t know how long he would play because he only had a few sessions with the team. But that is not the most important part today. He scored the goal but we need to see some improvement in Colombia.”
On Saturday, the head of ELN acknowledged the organisation had made a “mistake” in taking Diaz’s parents.
“I ask the ELN for the prompt release of my father, and I ask international organisations to intercede for his freedom,” Diaz said in a statement posted on X, formerly Twitter.
They were abducted in their hometown of Barrancas, near the Venezuelan border.
“Every second, every minute our anguish grows,” Diaz added.
“My mother, my brothers and I are desperate, distressed and without words to describe what we are feeling. This suffering will only end when we have him back home.
“I beg you to release him immediately, respecting his integrity and ending this painful wait as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, Liverpool will not hit the panic button despite their forwards being in far from their best goalscoring form against lowly Luton, manager Klopp said.
He said: “The whole team was not in a goalscoring mood today, obviously, and that’s then not helpful. But Darwin (Nunez), what makes him really different is that he’s involved in pretty much everything, so that’s good. We are calm.
“Even when we should have finished better, but I don’t think our problem was really finishing. It was other things. We should have created more.” REUTERS, AFP