Thursday evening played host to the latest dashing of English hopes at a major tournament, as a Luis Suarez-inspired Uruguay powered somewhat fortuitously past the Three Lions, the Liverpool striker grabbing a goal either side of a frustration relieving Wayne Rooney tap-in. While England are not yet mathematically out of the tournament – relying on Italy to seal two wins to have a hope of making it through with a win over Costa Rica – this performance in Sao Paulo had the air of infamous days and nights in Saint-Etienne, Shizuoka, Gelsenkirchen and Bloemfontein, while the Uruguayan jubilation at the final whistle was as galling as it was understandable.
Story of the Game
England started on the front foot, Leighton Baines neatly slipping Daniel Sturridge into the penalty area, but the Liverpool man couldn’t get the ball out of his feet before Fernando Muslera was on the scene. The Galatasaray shot stopper let the ball slip from his grasp momentarily but managed to collect it properly with the second bite at the cherry; nevertheless, warning signs were there for Uruguay: they couldn’t let England have free reign going forward.
Moments later, however, it was the Suarez show. The Red half of Merseyside’s favourite adopted son was in behind the England defence and earned the Uruguayans a corner, from which he ambitiously opted to go for goal. This nearly caught Joe Hart out, the England custodian nearly committed to challenging in the 6 yard box, but he scrambled back in time and off the leg of Jordan Henderson, managed to eliminate any imminent danger, with Uruguay having to settle for another corner.
Nothing came of the second attempt at a corner, and once more it was England on the up, winning a free kick on the edge of the area after neat interplay led to Diego Godin blocking a Daniel Sturridge through ball with his arm. From the resulting set piece, it was a matter of inches between safety for the South Americans and ecstasy for England – fortunately for Muslera, who was rooted, and of course his teammates, Rooney’s excellent free kick was just to the wrong side of the post.
England, however, began to look nervous. Defensive mistakes began to creep into their game, with Jagielka letting Rodriguez in before Cavani won a free header from a corner, but they still pushed for an opener. Rooney went close again – heading right into the corner of the crossbar and post from point blank range – while Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling continued to try and get behind the defence at every opportunity.
This profligacy was however to prove costly. England captain Steven Gerrard pulled out of a challenge in midfield, allowing Edinson Cavani time to gallop forward and, with consummate ease, pick out the head of Luis Suarez, who headed past Joe Hart and into the England net. 1-0 Uruguay, and although most of the play had gone against them, it was hard to begrudge them their lead, for it was they who had created the best chances from open play. The timing was particularly damning for England – around five minutes before half time, allowing little time for England to rally and play themselves back into the game. Unlike against Italy, a quick response wasn’t found, and so the teams went into the half time break with Uruguay holding the slenderest of leads.
Uruguay started the second half the stronger but, rather surprisingly given the reputation of the English of not being able to keep the ball, England began to dominate possession, totting up a rather nifty 60% of the ball. This was perhaps indicative of the styles of each side, England trying to press the issue while Uruguay – even without the lead in the first half – were happy to pick England off on the break. This was quite evident with Uruguay’s best chance at early doors of the second half; Edinson Cavani got clean in behind the English defence, but blazed wide, barely troubling Joe Hart.
England came again, Leighton Baines finding Wayne Rooney once more in the box, who fired straight at Muslera with most of the goal at his mercy. The half had started at a frenetic pace without any real chances of note, but soon it slowed down, maintaining the lack of chances, too. In fact, for around 20 minutes, the main event of importance was Alvaro Pereira of Uruguay being knocked out cold by Raheem Sterling’s trailing knee; for some reason, despite not being conscious for a while, Pereira opted to carry on for the rest of the game. Strange. Nevertheless, it was soon England making the best of the post-Pereira situation, Glen Johnson surging past the Uruguayan defence and squaring to Rooney, who this time made no mistake to grab his first ever World Cup goal. With that monkey off his back, anything seemed possible.
That wasn’t to be, however. As soon as England had built up an attacking head of steam for the first time in the game, they were hit with the sucker punch. Steven Gerrard had his second major clanger of the game, failing to make a header which left Luis Suarez in and the England defence all at sea. Suarez showed the World what he showed the Premier League all season, absolutely lashing the ball past Joe Hart, and England’s hopes were over.
There’s still dim hope for England – if Italy win both their remaining games and England beat Costa Rica convincingly, they’d qualify – but as that’s unlikely to happen, and given England’s form in recent years, a face-off with likely opponents for the second placed team, Colombia, will not be pretty.
Player Ratings (out of 10)
Fernando Muslera – 6: Was very erratic, largely saved by England’s strikers not fully testing him. Did make some good saves though, so you can’t criticise too heavily.
Martin Caceres – 6: England’s joy for most of the game came down Caceres’ side, but as a centre half converted to the role in place of the suspended Maxi Pereira, not bad.
Jose Maria Gimenez – 7: An assured performance by the 19 year old.
Diego Godin – 7: Was the rock of the Uruguayan defence, and showed how canny he was with some particularly cynical challenges.
Alvaro Pereira – 5: Being knocked out wasn’t his fault, but he quite clearly wasn’t in the right place following the impact, being at fault for the England goal.
Alvaro Gonzalez – 6: Kept things ticking over in midfield.
Arevalo Rios – 6: A quiet performance in midfield, but not necessarily a poor one.
Cristian Rodriguez – 6: Worked well in partnership with Cavani and went close at one point, not his best performance though.
Nicolas Lodeiro – 5: Should probably have had more joy against this England defence, was the weakest prong of the Uruguay attack.
Edinson Cavani – 7: Instrumental in the opening goal and ultimately the win, a good performance by the PSG man – may have even impressed the onlooking Zlatan Ibrahimovic, teammate and Swedish striker, in the crowd!
Luis Suarez – 9: Somehow managed to score a very good brace despite having knee surgery less than a month ago. Insane.
Christian Stuani – 6: Didn’t affect proceedings too much.
Jorge Fucile – 6: Bolstered the defence towards the end.
Sebastian Coates – 6: Played about 5 minutes as a substitution for the injured Suarez, not really fair to judge.
Joe Hart – 5: Probably should have made a better effort with at least one of Suarez’s goals, but nice to see him in Uruguay’s box at the death.
Glen Johnson – 7: Despite being much derided throughout the game, Johnson defended stoutly and grabbed an assist to boot – quite clearly better going outside rather than inside his opposite numbers, though, so why does he keep cutting inside when he has a chance of beating his man?
Gary Cahill – 6: Not a poor performance by Cahill, but he didn’t deal with Suarez nearly as well as he did for Chelsea this season.
Phil Jagielka – 6: Didn’t get tight enough to Suarez for the opener, but wasn’t by any means a weak link in the England side.
Leighton Baines – 7: Vastly improved upon his Italy showing, probably because Danny Welbeck and Adam Lallana tracked back quite well. Was dangerous moving forward, but sadly overlooked for set pieces.
Steven Gerrard – 3: Quite possibly the England captain’s worst hour and a half in an England shirt. Was at fault for both goals, and fell into the trap of playing stupid blockbuster passes just like in days gone by. Should he play for England moving on to Euro 2016? Maybe it’s for the best if not.
Jordan Henderson – 7: By contrast, this was Jordan Henderson’s best performance for England. Showed leadership and tenacity in getting forward for lost causes.
Raheem Sterling – 6: Quiet throughout.
Wayne Rooney – 8: England’s best player, unlucky to not add to his tally of one. Finally has broken his World Cup scoring duck as well, which means that – hopefully – his inclusion versus Costa Rica won’t be so much up for debate.
Danny Welbeck – 6: Showed plenty of willing, but didn’t have the ball enough to make a real difference.
Daniel Sturridge – 6: Was denied a stone wall penalty, but worked hard and didn’t have the service, either.
Ross Barkley – 5: Made one great impact with the ball, spraying it out wide, but like against Italy he went missing almost straight away.
Adam Lallana – 6: Added that bit of flair that was lost with Danny Welbeck’s inclusion on the left, but didn’t change the game too much, either.
Rickie Lambert – 6: Essentially worked the graveyard shift – probably should have taken to the field much earlier.
Man of the Match
Luis Suarez. It speaks volumes that he was the man who incensed England supporters up and down the country while operating on a fraction of his usual capacity, netting a magnificent brace and even managing to run the clock down having been injured again after the goal. Led the line magnificently and could have scored more, but for Joe Hart’s awareness.