IN THIS grim urban jungle England became trapped in a nightmare from which they were unable to emerge. They had looked to have secured a way out of this jam after Wayne Rooney finally managed to put the ball in the net, but England were then undone once more by a familiar face.
Scorers: Uruguay - Suarez (39, 85); England - Rooney (75)
Predictably, it was Luis Suarez who was the architect of their downfall, with the Liverpool striker scoring twice, the winner coming just five minutes before the end, to create enormous problems for Roy Hodgson’s side on a cold night in Sao Paulo.
The chilling realisation for England is that their exit from the World Cup could be confirmed as early as today, should Group D rivals Italy and Costa Rica play out a draw.
This was epic, all right. Intense focus was trained on what it seems is the only patch of greenery in Sao Paulo. Rooney’s face filled the two large screens in opposite corners of the ground as the teams waited to come out prior to kick-off. The reading out of Suarez’s name had already caused uproar inside the curiously shaped ground.
Uruguay v England, Suarez v Rooney. Given the English striker’s fortune at World Cups, perhaps there is little surprise at who came out on top. Rooney’s maiden World Cup goal, which looked to have sealed a draw for England, is now of little consolation to someone who knows he could and should have scored once, perhaps twice, more.
Suarez, too, was presented with three clear opportunities to score. He was able to take two of them. At this rarefied level, that is the difference between teams.
Few wanted to miss this although in the ground itself, there were a surprising number of empty seats. The match lived up to the pre-game billing. Both ends of the stadium consist of banks of seating that are exposed to the elements, which some might imagine should not be a problem in Brazil. But this was Sao Paulo, where high-rise towers reach into a sky that is overcast more often than you would expect. This represented good news for England, and also sponsors Nike, who were reportedly slightly miffed when the players dispensed with their smart new training tops for the national anthems in Manaus because of the humid conditions. There were no such concerns here. Flecks of rain could be felt in the breeze, while the temperature stood at just 16C. The heat would have to be generated on the pitch. And so it proved.
In the tussle between the two street-fighters, Suarez caught the eye long before Rooney. The Liverpool striker looked fit and while his strength on the ball was never in doubt, he quickly bundled team-mate Steven Gerrard over in a 50-50 challenge. While this incident occurred near the centre-circle and had caused Gerrard, and England, no significant damage, it was a statement of intent from Suarez, just weeks after undergoing a knee operation. It was undeniably nervy from England in the opening period. Joe Hart parried a corner from Suarez on to a post and emitted a sense of uncertainty every time the ball came near him in those early stages. Gary Cahill, meanwhile, was almost caught in possession. A poor clearance from Jordan Henderson landed at the feet of midfielder Christian Rodriguez, whose fierce left-footed effort just cleared Hart’s bar.
But this had been a response to England very nearly going ahead. The attention was on Rooney, who Hodgson had restored to a position in the centre of the park, just behind Daniel Sturridge. So it did not bode well that he struggled so obviously to get involved. Indeed, when England were awarded a free-kick with nine minutes gone after a hand-ball near the edge of the box, he was still searching for his first touch of the ball. The set-piece provided Rooney with an opportunity to finally get toe to leather, and he did, sending in an effort that he dragged just wide of the keeper’s right-hand post.
As it got ever chillier, you had to remind yourself that this was a World Cup in Brazil. The open design of the stadium provides views across the cityscape, above which the clouds thickened and grew darker.
Edinson Cavani, the PSG forward, was doing a lot of good, unseen work for Suarez, but nearly broke the deadlock himself when he sent an effort just over. Then came the moment England will stew over, and with good reason. Godin, who had been booked earlier for the hand-ball offence from which Rooney nearly scored, delivered a forearm smash across Raheem Sterling as the winger looked to collect a through ball. There seemed little doubt that he deserved to pick up his second booking, but the referee elected not to make such a significant call. Each passing minute seemed to contain a noteworthy detail. Just after the half hour mark Rooney missed the first of the pair of chances.
A Gerrard free-kick from the right saw the striker unable to get over the ball from a position almost directly under the bar. In the end, his attempt to score ended up being a miraculous clearance. In what was a dismaying turn of events for Rooney, Suarez then exhibited the composure required to take chances at this level, although Cavani’s role cannot be over-emphasised. The striker’s lofted ball into the box cleared the head of Phil Jagielka and Suarez kept his eye on the ball and expertly directed it past Hart with a neat header.
England endured another torrid spell at the start of the second half, when Cavani and Suarez both missed openings. But then came a chance for Rooney to atone for the earlier miss. His finish after he created room for himself following Leighton Baines’ deflected cross seemed to underline his shortage of confidence.
There was, though, one more opportunity to gain that first World Cup goal, and he took it. In truth, this was one chance he really could not fail to score with, as he moved smartly onto a cross from Glen Johnson that was deflected into his path. Rooney finished with a flourish. But this was a night when he always seemed set to be up-staged by Suarez, who sprang into life again with just five minutes remaining. A flicked-on header from Cavani, who beat Gerrard in the air, fell into Saurez’s path.
Gerrard knew what was likely to happen as well as anyone. Suarez took a touch, steadied himself and drilled home. England now stand on the precipice.
Uruguay: Muslera, Gimenez, Godin, Caceres, Pereira, Lodeiro (Stuani 67), Gonzalez (Fucile 79),Arevalo Rios, Rodriguez, Cavani, Suarez (Coates 87). Subs Not Used: Munoz, Gargano, Hernandez, Forlan, Perez, Ramirez, Maxi Pereira, Silva.
England: Hart, Baines, Cahill, Jagielka, Johnson, Gerrard, Henderson (Lambert 87), Sterling (Barkley 64), Rooney, Welbeck (Lallana 71),Sturridge. Subs Not Used: Foster, Wilshere, Lampard, Smalling, Jones, Milner, Shaw, Forster.