ALL the hype in the build-up to this must-win battle between England and Uruguay centred around two men but, while Wayne Rooney finally scored his first World Cup goal, it was the lethal Luis Suarez who eclipsed all others on a dramatic night in Sao Paulo.
The Liverpool striker, who sat out Uruguay’s dismal 3-1 defeat by Costa Rica as he recuperated from recent knee surgery, lined up as he promised, then delivered in emphatic style with both goals in a 2-1 victory which leaves England on the brink of a first-stage exit from the tournament.
Suarez nodded home Edinson Cavani’s cross in the 39th minute and, after Rooney equalised in the second half, the Uruguayan took advantage of slack defending to slam home the winner five minutes from time.
As they had done in their opening 2-1 defeat by Italy, Roy Hodgson’s side played well for long spells, but a couple of defensive lapses let Uruguay in – and Liverpool striker Suarez punished them in the manner typical of one of the best strikers in the world.
England will play Costa Rica in their final Group D match, and their faint hopes of staying in the World Cup depend on how their next opponents fare against Italy this evening.
Roy Hodgson’s men need Italy to beat Costa Rica and Uruguay, while recording a victory over Costa Rica themselves. If England, Costa Rica and Uruguay all finish on three points, goal difference will split the teams followed by goals scored and head-to-head results.
A dejected Hodgson said: “We played against a strong side defensively and maybe they restricted spaces a bit better.
Everyone tried very hard and the mood is very low. It is hard to know what to say.”
Phil Jagielka, one of the defenders culpable in the move leading to Suarez’s killer goal, admitted England were “absolutely devasted”.
“As you can tell by my voice, everyone’s absolutely devastated,” Jagielka said on ITV. “Gutting, played so well again in spells, unfortunately a little bit of luck went against us, Steven flicking the ball on and Suarez gets the wrong side. Pretty disappointed, boot down the pitch, flick on and the goal.”
Asked if he thought Suarez was the difference between the sides, the Everton man added: “Yes and no. I think the cross for the first goal was pretty decent as well. Similar to the Italy game, [we] played pretty well, but not good enough.”
After a tense start at the Corinthians Arena, the game burst to life when Rooney, restored to his more favoured central role, whipped a wicked free kick just wide of Fernando Muslera’s post with ten minutes gone.
With England fans jeering Suarez’s every touch, the stage was set for him to turn the game on its head. A lucky break in midfield sent the ball out wide to Cavani and Suarez escaped the attentions of Jagielka to nod back across England goalkeeper Joe Hart for a 1-0 lead.
Suarez, who had been well policed by England’s centre-backs until that point, wheeled away with a huge smile on his face, kissing his wrists and gesturing frantically in delight.
England gradually regained the initiative with Rooney, widely criticised for his performance against Italy, at the heart of all their best work.
Just as it looked like England would never find the net, Rooney breathed new life into them. Full-back Glen Johnson worked his way into the box after delightful work by Sturridge, and his square ball was rammed home by Rooney at the far post, sending the massed ranks of England fans behind the goal into a frenzy.
England were in the ascendancy but, when Gerrard failed to deal with Muslera’s punt, Suarez was away, outpacing Cahill and slamming the ball past Hart.