Roy Hodgson has faced question after question about Wayne Rooney since arriving in Brazil. The Manchester United striker was switched to his preferred central role against Uruguay after a public clamour to have the 28-year-old played in his presumed best position. Rooney featured more than he did against Italy in the first half as he came close from a free-kick before crashing a header onto the crossbar. But the Red Devils star caused less havoc than Raheem Sterling in front of the Uruguay back four. The Liverpool forward’s direct running and pace had the Italian defence retreating, but Rooney was suffocated in the areas which he likes to create danger. Shipped out to the wing, Sterling couldn’t build on his opening performance and was unsurprisingly substituted for Ross Barkley. Rooney, meanwhile, continued slowly grew into the Group D clash, but when he was found in menacing position, Rooney’s effort was straight at Galatasaray goalkeeper Fernando Muslera. Hodgson’s predecessor failed to nurture top form out of England’s so-called best player – and the current manager is stumped by the conundrum, too. Rooney finally ended his World Cup drought with 15 minutes remaining, finishing from close range after superb work on the right wing by Daniel Sturridge and Glen Johnson. But in what could prove his last World Cup, it is too little too late.
While Chelsea centre-half John Terry celebrated his wedding anniversary in Greece on Thursday, his Blues team-mate Gary Cahill lined up alongside Everton captain Phil Jagielka. The England centre-halves have been the first-choice partnership since the retirement of Rio Ferdinand and Terry. The Chelsea captain was never going to be recalled for the World Cup due to his potentially damaging effect to squad harmony – but how England could have done with the 33-year-old. Cahill is blossoming into a top European centre-half, but Jagielka, sadly, is out of his depth. England started their clash against Italy with a swagger going forward, but against Uruguay, it was their nervy defence that was more notable. Jagielka was hesitant in possession as he faced a familiar foe in Luis Suarez, and the mischievous Uruguay talisman almost pinched the ball off the centre-half on more than one occasion. Granted Jagielka’s remit is to keep goals out and not create chances with the ball at his feet, but the Everton skipper was left flat-footed as Edinson Cavani sent a chipped cross onto the head of Suarez – the result was inevitable. England were always going to struggle defensively against world-class opposition with a lack of top-class defenders in their ranks, and four goals in two games has cost Hodgson’s side.
Would Suarez feature against England? The general consensus was the Liverpool striker couldn’t be in great shape if he didn’t feature in Uruguay’s 3-1 loss to Costa Rica. But the 27-year-old dusted off the cobwebs and produced a clinical performance that has saved Uruguay’s World Cup – for now. Suarez may lack pace but he makes up for it with his cunning movement and the Uruguay skipper peeled away from Jagielka before cushioning a header past Joe Hart to break the deadlock. Suarez was ruthless in his decision-making, refusing to chase down long balls that would test his recovering right knee too much. Paul the Octopus was the oracle that shot to fame in 2010, but former England midfielder Paul Scholes is the new fortune teller on the block and he was prophetic in his pre-match description of the Celeste star: “Suárez is also a lucky player. The ball seems to bounce off him into the right place. Luck or skill – he gets breaks other forwards don’t”. And Suarez was alert to collect Steven Gerrard’s inadvertent header and power a finish past Joe Hart to leave England rooted to the bottom of Group D. With Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi still to ignite at this major tournament, Suarez has laid down the gauntlet to his world-class rivals.
“It’s not the despair, I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand,” quipped John Cleese in his comedy film, Clockwise. The British actor poetically sums up what being an England supporter (across many sports) is all about. Generally accepted to be one of the weakest Three Lions squads in recent times heading for a World Cup, the inclusion of the likes of Sterling, Barkley and Adam Lallana provided even the most disillusioned of England supporter with cautious optimism. But these opening World Cup games have passed by without Barkley and Lallana really having a chance to perform. Sterling sparkled against Italy but was clearly struggling on Thursday night. Could Hodgson have made a change earlier? Danny Welbeck was solid against Italy, but needing three points to keep their fate in their own hands, the Manchester United forward was perhaps a cautious option. Of course, there is still painstaking hope if Italy are winners against Costa Rica and Uruguay, and England can beat Joel Campbell and co, boosting their goal difference in the process, that Hodgson’s men could still reach the knockout stage. But for most England fans, wallowing in despair will be the more satisfying option.
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