It’s 19 June 2014. It’s just starting to go dark. It’s nearly time for England to filter out of the tunnel and onto the pitch for their warm-up at the Arena de São Paulo.
England started their Brazilian World Cup journey five days ago, with defeat to Italy in the middle of the steaming hot Amazonian jungle. While it was painful to concede the winner to a blast from the past in Mario Balotelli, England’s was a promising performance. Roy Hodgson’s players had looked buoyant and at times brilliant — energised by the silky Adam Lallana and teenager Raheem Sterling.
But a loss is a loss is a loss. England must regroup now, against a determined side punching above its weight since the genesis of international football. Uruguay is a country of fewer than 4 million people, yet the nation has won the World Cup twice, and thus more times than England. Its best player is also the Premier League’s. Luis Suárez has been sumptuous for Brendan Rodgers’s thrilling Liverpool side all season.
However, so have Daniel Sturridge and Sterling. The two young England attackers are just as likely to win the match for their nation as Suárez is for his. Part of that is down to the fact the Uruguayan has been out for a month with a knee injury. His manager Óscar Tabárez said a few days ago that Suárez may miss this clash too, just as he did when Uruguay were stunned by minnows Costa Rica in their opener. No Suárez would certainly make England’s job simpler.Embed from Getty Images
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The teams are in, and so is Luis Suárez. The radio stations react in shock, as do England fans around the world. They had expected to face Uruguay without Suárez, offering a very real possibility to right the wrongs of the Italy defeat with a first win of the World Cup. Suárez’s involvement makes that challenge harder — though he hasn’t played in a month and is far from match-sharp.
Kick-off. Uruguay may be small, but they show fight and industry that England cannot match. Hodgson’s side played better than this in the opening exchanges against Italy and still lost. England’s campaign is showing signs of serious wear and tear early on.
From an England free-kick, Wayne Rooney squeezes as much as he possibly can out of his leap, but can only find the post with his header from a yard out. Uruguay survive a rare England chance. Then, from defence to attack, they score. The ball is fed out wide left to Suárez’s wily old strike partner Edinson Cavani. Glen Johnson gets nowhere near tight enough to a player of such calibre, and within an instant that shows. Cavani clips in a mean ball which drifts over the hapless heads of England’s entire backline and midfield. Suárez meets it, nodding past Joe Hart.Embed from Getty Images
It is a crushing blow for the men in white. It hurts to concede, and to be heading for a second successive defeat as it stands. The pain is compounded, though, by the fact it is Liverpool’s little magician who has scored it. How dare he.
After the break, England start to build momentum again. Cavani is inexplicably allowed a chance he should never have been afforded, but for the most part it is now Rooney, Sturridge and Sterling who are looking most likely to cause the net to bulge. From Johnson’s run and cross, Rooney eventually does. With 15 minutes to go, he scores the first World Cup goal of his career. If England can nick it now and beat Costa Rica, they’ll be through to the last 16.
Uruguay’s experienced goalkeeper Fernando Muslera takes a monstrous goal-kick. It looks set to sail over everyone and into the grasp of his opposite number Hart. But as Steven Gerrard leaps to try to head it clear, he can’t quite rise high enough and is only able to get a nick on it, slowing it down but not changing its direction. Suárez, a predator waiting to pounce, holds his run, follows the ball, and beats Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka to the ball in behind — the two of them resembling fridge freezers more than elite-level centre-backs.Embed from Getty Images
Suárez fires through Hart — and through the hearts of England. It is a ferocious effort which leaves Manchester City’s No 1 no chance whatsoever. And it leaves England next-to-no chance of progression at this World Cup. A Suárez goal assisted by Gerrard. There have been plenty of those, but what a nightmare that we’ve just seen one in this competition. 62% possession and England still go bombing out.
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Costa Rica — minnows in this group of death — finish top, above Uruguay, Italy and England. Having a Jules Rimet trophy or two under your belt means nothing for your chances of success at this World Cup, it turns out. England crash out six days into the tournament. Suárez bites Giorgio Chiellini in his final group game and is given a four-month ban from all footballing activity. He signs for Barcelona, never playing with Gerrard at Liverpool ever again.
Gerrard and England are not only Suárez’s latest prey, but are made to look like fools in the process. To borrow a cliché, it feels like this is Luis Suárez’s world and England are simply living in it. Living, at least until he killed them off.