In terms of quality the England-Uruguay match didn’t offer much to liven up a cold, grey evening at the Arena de Sao Paulo. If England are on the brink of elimination again, you could put it down to their lack if quality and imagination in the final third. And a bit of bad luck.
England's Wayne Rooney (C) is comforted by deputy coach Gary Neville (R) as he walks off the field with teammate Phil Jagielka after losing to Uruguay in their World Cup Group D match at the Corinthians arena in Sao Paulo. (Reuters Photo)
The first slice of that bad luck came when the ball skidded off the shin of an England player and rolled to the path of Edinson Cavani. Cavani’s delivery sailed over England centre-back Phil Jagielka and Luis Suarez then did what he has been doing with elan all season for Liverpool. And as the game seemed headed towards a draw, Steven Gerrard erred and Suarez didn’t need a second invitation.
Irrespective of how this World Cup goes, Gerrard’s greatness as a player won’t be doubted but he will have to live with the fact that two errors within months of each other cost Liverpool a league title and almost ended England’s chances of qualification in Brazil.
Unless a lot of results go England’s way, they are headed out of this World Cup, the first time this early this millennium. The England fans and media had played down expectations on this team and for once, they were right. For all the intensity England showed in their two games so far, their forwards have been unable to produce the kind of flair that wins World Cup matches. True, Wayne Rooney hit the upright, but for most of the game England seemed to run out of ideas once they approached the Uruguay penalty area.
Playing in the zone where Andrea Pirlo thrives, Steven Gerrard couldn’t break free from the responsibility Cavani thrust on him. And that was the key to England looking as sterile as they did in the middle. Like against Italy, Roy Hodgson’s team fought hard but as Oscar Tabarez put it in the post-match media conference, that alone can take you thus far and no farther. It also meant that Rooney would just be an honest trier for most of the game. Of course, had he not shot straight to Fernando Muslera from inside the six-yard box the story could have been different but then, even England were lucky that Uruguay didn’t make it 2-0 early in the second half.
With Egidio Arevalo mopping up in front of the back four, Uruguay, once they had the lead, decided to down the hatches and leave only Suarez alone up front. When you have a goalscoring machine like that, making such a decision isn’t difficult. England had no one of similar ability and that is why despite playing for long in Uruguay’s half, they couldn’t force too many chances.
Football is a team game but when collectively opportunities aren’t created, it usually boils down to individual abilities to make the difference. In Suarez, Uruguay had such a player. They also had a team that could effectively neutralise England’s strengths, namely Gerrard, Rooney and the pace of Danny Welbeck.
In the future, Raheem Sterling can be a player England can count on in such situations. On Thursday though, he seemed wet behind the ears when it came to being an influence in crucial positions on the pitch.
Former champions both, neither England nor Uruguay came into the game looking like they could go far in this competition. It showed.