Written by Ashwin Raja
Amongst the wide gamut of emotions Luis Suarez must have been going through as he watched his immaculate shot ripple the back of the net, relief would have been the most dominant. After being much maligned by the English press over the last few seasons, for his flagrant and off-the-handle play at times, Suarez could not have reinforced better, why taking away all his infractions, he is amongst the top three players in the world. It was a cathartic moment for the player, who just weeks ago looked to set to miss the World Cup due to injury.
"It was one of the best games I've played," he said. "It's an amazing moment for me. Maybe a few days ago I thought this wouldn't be possible. Before the game too many people in England laughed about my attitude over the last few years. This is a very good time for me. I want to see what they think now."
England and Suarez were a study in contrast. Where Suarez was precise, unrelenting and inspirational, England lacked clinicality, looked jaded and were devoid of any imagination. After a difficult opening game at Manaus where the Three Lions, despite the flattering scoreline, were beaten comprehensively by a clinical Italian side, calls were made to ring in the changes to get England’s World Cup campaign back on track.
You would think once bitten, twice shy. After the obvious failings of the English forward line in establishing some cogency in their play, Adam Lallana and Ross Barkley were serious contenders for a starting berth ahead of a lacklustre Wayne Rooney, and wasteful Danny Welbeck. As has been the case so often with Roy Hodgson, much to his discredit under the circumstances, he refused to be swayed, naming an unchanged starting lineup.
England started positively and unlike the top teams in the tournament failed to capitalize on their early dominance. This was repeatedly exploited by Uruguay with Suarez and Cavani coming close on a number of occasions, before the latter eventually found the net on 37 minutes, just moments after Rooney inexplicably failed to nod home a Steven Gerrard corner from a yard out. Questions mark will be raised about England’s shabby defending with both Glen Johnson failing to stop Cavani’s delicious ball from getting into the danger area and Phil Jagielka simply not doing enough to prevent the brilliant Luis Suarez from pouncing.
England went into the game with the dubious distinction of having never recovered from a deficit to win a World Cup match, except on one occasion. That occasion being England’s proudest moment, it’s 1966 World Cup win over the mighty West Germans. This damning statistic set the doom and gloom tone for English fans who harbored no hopes that their team would change it. That is of course, unless England made changes immediately.
Unsurprisingly, that didn’t happen either. This is a another source of criticism aimed at Roy Hodgson. His inability to change his tactics and make substitutions quickly enough to markedly affect proceedings. England, started the second half as they ended the first. Decent enough possession, but nothing to show for it. Daniel Sturridge was the only bright spark on the night and came close to finding an equalizer. Suarez and Cavani continually caused problems at the other end of the pitch and England were lucky to have still been in the match.
Ross Barkley and Adam Lallana, much touted as the future of the English midfield eventually came on for Raheem Sterling and Danny Welbeck. Both offered some dynamism and verve that England lacked, but were not afforded any room whatsoever by a stern and well organized Uruguayan backline.
England’s equalizer eventually came through some good work on the right hand side by Glen Johnson whose low cross was expertly finished by Rooney for his long overdue, maiden World Cup goal.
Reinvigorated, England came desperately close to grabbing the go-ahead goal through Daniel Sturridge who was foiled by an excellent Fernando Muslera save. Just as England were getting their hopes back up and dreaming of a famous comeback victory, they were brought back down to Earth. A long clearance by Muslera, misjudged by Steven Gerrard inadvertently laid it on a plate for his Liverpool teammate Suarez to win the game for La Celeste.
In a moment of touching symmetry, Suarez was seen consoling Gerrard after the final whistle akin to Gerrard doing the same after Liverpool had virtually lost the title at Crystal Palace. Though the collapse of England and Liverpool took place under vastly different circumstances, it will hurt all the same for Steven Gerrard, who is surely set to retire from England duty after the World Cup.
The ignominy of monumental failure looms large for England, and nothing short of a mini miracle will be suffice to see them through to the knock out stages. Suarez and co. will go into the final game knowing that they have their destiny in their own hands.