England undone by all too familiar foe in Luis Suarez
Liverpool striker scores one in each half, either side of Wayne Rooney’s first World Cup goal
It’s more than half a century since England, having made it to a World Cup, went home after just three matches but Roy Hodgson and his men will do well to escape that fate now after two goals from Luis Suarez helped an utterly invigorated Uruguay side to a dramatic victory here in Sao Paulo.
For a few short second half minutes Wayne Rooney seemed to have gone some way towards answering his critics with a goal that would at least have made a top two finish in this group a more attainable target, but having briefly looked the more likely side to grab a winner, England were then undone by a mixture of poor defending and brilliant finishing; Steven Gerrard being responsible on this occasion for the former, his Liverpool team-mate and friend, almost inevitably, for the latter.
In the circumstances, Suarez’s performance was quite stunning, his two goals sublime. Almost every time he touched the ball there was a sense of danger on the pitch and one of excitement in the stands. The English knew precisely what to expect, of course, having seen him rampage his way through so many games back on their turf this past year. But the simple fact was that they simply didn’t posses the required answers to the questions he posed and they now need a big win combined with two Italy wins in the other games if they are to survive the group stages.
The 27-year-old wasted no time in letting England know what they would have to contend with, getting right in amongst an their defence, whose approach seemed to go beyond respecting the striker’s abilities and stray well into fearing them.
Certainly, they looked nervous early on with Gary Cahill almost beating Joe Hart at his near post with a downward header before Jordan Henderson went close, too, to opening the scoring at the wrong end. Phil Jagielka looked to be in more trouble than anyone, though, most memorably when he dawdled on the ball without the insurance of a team-mate behind him and was almost made to pay.
In every case it was Suarez who was the source of the trouble.
The storm subsided, though, and Hodgson’s men started to find their feet a little. They, in turn, looked to their own star player, Wayne Rooney, now operating in the centre but being closely marked by Egidio Arevalo, and there were occasional hints of the impact he might have with a free curled just inches wide of one angle and a close range header, from a Steven Gerrard free, sent crashing against the other.
In front of him, Daniel Sturridge hustled and bustled in a tireless search for space but for long stretches he looked a remote figure and perhaps his best moments early on were when he dropped very deep with the aim of picking up the possession and running at opponents himself.
Somebody needed to take the initiative because neither Raheem Sterling nor Danny Wellbeck were making much of an impression. There was lots of energy but under pressure from further up the pitch than they had been against the Italians, their passing game was not nearly to fluid and possession was repeatedly surrendered cheaply.
The Uruguayans, on the other hand, looked like a side transformed from the weary looking outfit that tamely slumped to defeat against Costa Rica with Alvaro Pereira and Nicolas Lodeiro helping the energy and urgency. Generally, though, the only time they looked significantly better than their opponents was when they were sweeping forward in the direction of Edinson Cavani and particularly Suarez.
The PSG striker looked far more effective here, sitting slightly off his team mate and drawing opponents towards him when he received the ball: There must have been four within a few yards when he set up the goal but his control was brilliant as he unsettled them all, delaying his cross then finding Suarez who had stolen away from Jagielka to head back across and beyond Hart.
The origins of the goal had been in midfield where Gerrard allowed Lodeiro to push past him with the ball far too easily. Even before his role in the late goal, it was another disappointing night for England skipper who contributed little other than the odd decent setpiece and who looked second best here even to his Liverpool team mate Jordan Henderson.
With more than half of the game still to play there was plainly still time for England to save themselves and after a couple of early second half scares, one of them a Suarez corner that nearly caught Hart out completely by curling directly in, they began to take the game a little more effectively to the South Americans who were, in any case, happy enough it seemed to dig in a little deeper.
Still they struggled to carve out clearcut chances and by far the best was squandered when 10 minutes into the second period Sturridge fired pointlessly at the goalkeeper just as Rooney looked to have an edge in the centre on either of the nearest two defenders.
The striker did rather better for the equaliser, taking three opponents out of the play before releasing Glen Johnson down the right. The full-back cut in towards the area and as Martin Caceres sought to close him down he sent in a low cross for Rooney who, having left Alvaro Gonzalez completely standing this time, simply had to side-foot home to bag his first ever goal at a World Cup finals.
In the minutes that followed England looked as they might steal it and the Uruguayans were clearly rattled. Then, six minutes from time, almost out of nothing the Premier League’s Player of the Season sent them to the brink of elimination. Gerrard, who had described him as a genius on Wednesday night, was left looking a fool by comparison, with the midfielder inadvertently helping the striker with a headed touch to a long kick out that sent him racing clear down the right hand of the box from where, Gerrard must already have known, there was only going to be one outcome.