Suarez unwilling to share the limelight with Rooney
As so often in the past, Uruguay striker once again the star attraction
In the days before the game there was no disagreement: Luis Suarez wouldn’t last. How could he? Uruguay’s decision not to risk him off the bench against Costa Rica had seemingly revoked his certificate of fitness. We thought of Diego Costa’s Champions League disaster. We envisaged poor Luis limping early, leaning on his knees, looking at the bench, consoled by the arm of decent Steven Gerrard.
In the end Luis lasted long enough to turn water into wine, save Uruguay’s campaign and all but knock England out of the World Cup, just as he and all his country dreamed it would be. Menacing and sharp all night, and with a goal already to his name, he ran on to a long ball with five minutes to go, steadied himself, and blasted it past Joe Hart in England’s goal. An astonishing moment. A superhuman moment. A fresh legend seared into the Suarez lore.
He was replaced with cramp a couple of minutes later. Could anyone else score a goal like that on the last dregs of his energy? His teammates seemed to ask the same thing. At full-time they lifted him high on the air near the touchline, as though he were the World Cup itself.
When his first goal arrived it brought a deep roar, starting in the intense blue patches of supporters behind Fernando Muslera’s goal and fanning out around the Corinthians Arena. Suarez was more than happy to choose England’s best spell of the first half to make them feel saddest.
Drifting beautifully behind Phil Jagielka - much as Mario Balotelli had done to Gary Cahill in England's game against Italy - he gave his partner Edison Cavani a chance to pick him out, even if it needed the best of passes. Cavani delivered, chipping magnificently into the space behind Jagielka where Suarez lurked. The header was perfect and Uruguay roared.
The surprise was that the moment upset the pattern of the game. England had come into the match, and after a brilliantly threatening opening Suarez had drifted. Was he feeling the pace? There had been a sweet moment for him early on when he came together with Gerrard down England’s left and knocked his Liverpool team-mate off the ball. By then it was clear that however much stamina Suarez had, there was nothing wrong with his strength or cunning.
In a cold and blustery arena, the man who hadn’t played for so long was the quickest to settle, and England’s defenders looked frightened. An early one-two with Nicolas Lodeiro almost prised them open, and the knock-on implications in his return also quickly became apparent. Cavani returned to his best position and Uruguay took a far more cohesive shape, packing tightly in behind the two front men, directed by Egidio Arevalo in his bright yellow boots at the base of Uruguay’s midfield.
Apart from these practical considerations there was the engrossing theatrical symbolism of Suarez the set-piece taker, relishing long walks to the corner flag to a chorus of boos. A couple of times it was like Joe Hart in the England goal had been hypnotised by the sound. He was nearly caught out twice by menacing Suarez corner kicks to the near post - on the second occasion, early in the second half, requiring a desperate late scramble to stop the ball going over the line.
Jagielka and Cahill were jittery in that first half, and Suarez gave them not a moment’s respite. Just before the half-hour, he played another corner short to Cavani, whose shot arrowed just over Hart’s bar from the edge of the area. The fabulous understanding between the pair brought you back to Gerrard’s comments the day before the game about defences winning and losing this game. You feared that with Suarez playing like this England’s wasn’t good enough. So it proved.
Uruguay almost scored three times in the opening minutes of the second half - the Suarez corner, a Cavani shot, and then the only moment of the night Suarez will look on with no fondness. Clear on the right of England’s defence, he rushed his shot from outside the area and dragged it wide. The tuning wasn’t quite right; the co-ordinates were off. We thought he might be done.
At the other end, Wayne Rooney appeared to be trying to wrestle the narrative of the match from Uruguay’s number nine. He hit the bar with a header in the first half, then had a shot well saved 10 minutes into the second half when he might have done better. When he finally put Glen Johnson’s cross away in the 75th minute you thought the strikers would share the limelight. Costa Rica would be happy. But 10 minutes later it was clear that Suarez doesn’t share.
This week Roy Hodgson had come out with one of the tournament’s strangest remarks, aimed at Suarez: “You can be a great player in your league but to be recognised as one of the all-time greats you have got to do it at the World Cup,” he said in a ham-fisted attempt at reverse psychology. It seemed silly at the time - but a lot worse now.