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Luis Suárez wins the golden ball as the Brazilian league's best player after season with Gremio

SAO PAULO (AP) — Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez, a former teammate of Lionel Messi at Barcelona, won the golden ball Thursday as the player of the season in the Brazilian league.

The 37-year-old Suárez, who played with Messi in Spain after several seasons at Liverpool and Ajax, scored 17 goals for Brazilian league runner-up Gremio. The season ended Wednesday with Palmeiras defending its title.

Suárez scored two goals on the final day of the season in a 3-2 victory over Fluminense at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

The Brazilian league's top scorer was Atletico Mineiro forward Paulinho with 20 goals.

Suárez said many times he feared he could not finish the season in Brazil because of intense knee pain and the hassle of long flights, but a selection of journalists voted for him to win the golden ball award.

Suárez played 53 matches for Gremio and scored 26 goals in three competitions this season.

“I am almost 37 years old, this is the year I played the most times in my career. It was also the year I was most often distant from my family. This award belongs to them,” a tearful Suárez said after receiving the trophy from former national team teammate Diego Lugano.

When asked about his future, however, Suárez did not respond. But he said he will remember not only Gremio fans, but also those of other clubs who respected him as an opponent.

“It is hard to see rival fans here applaud you when you play, and that did happen to me in some places,” Suárez said. ”This is all about the player's mind, it doesn't matter how old they are. It could be Endrick at age 17, Hulk, Suárez ... The mindset and the commitment have to be there for you to play and do what you like."

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

Mauricio Savarese, The Associated Press