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Football | FA Cup

Brendan Rodgers © Action Images

Rodgers plays down Suarez controversy



Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers defended Luis Suarez on Sunday after the Uruguayan striker sent his side into the fourth round of the FA Cup with a blatant handball.

The controversial second-half goal sent Liverpool 2-0 up against minor league Mansfield Town and ultimately proved to be the winner after the plucky home side pulled one back 11 minutes from time.

"I've just seen it again and there's no doubt it was handball," Rodgers told ESPN television when asked about the incident that escaped the attention of referee Andre Marriner.

"Obviously what the referee and officials were looking at was that it wasn't deliberate, which it clearly wasn't," he added.

"I spoke right when the goal was given, to the fourth official, and I asked him 'was it handball?' because I couldn't see it and he said it was. So I only assumed the officials didn't think it was deliberate and it's just come back off him."

Suarez is no stranger to controversy, having served an eight-match ban and been fined 40 000 pounds ($64 100) in 2011 for racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra, but is also a natural goal scorer.

His tally of 15 in the league this season is second only to Manchester United's Robin van Persie's 16.

The Uruguayan has been involved in a number of questionable incidents in the penalty area that have gained him a reputation as a diver, but Rodgers said the player should not be blamed this time.

"It's not Luis's job to do that," he said when asked why Suarez, who made a point of performing his trademark wrist-kissing gesture just after he scored, had not owned up.

"He's gone in there, it hasn't been a deliberate handball, it's punched up and hit his hand. That's up to the officials to deem, that's why they get paid.

"We had many more chances that we should have scored and put the game to bed so we got a wee bit of luck there."

Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool's new signing from Chelsea, scored on his club debut but also squandered chances.

Rodgers said he was pleased with the performance, given Sturridge's lack of match fitness, and looked forward to deploying him alongside Suarez.

"He's going to create chances...he's got searing pace and power that gives us that presence up front and there's a lot to come from him," he said of Sturridge.

"They can play together, there's no problem with that...they have both got different strengths but the idea was to bring in players that are multi-functional and can play in a couple of positions."

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