Although nothing was gained against Italy, England should be heartened by the fact that nothing was definitively lost. The smiles, harmony, and bonhomie (yes, even bonhomie) of an England camp whose preparation was described as the “happiest, most straightforward England build-up to a major tournament for years,” England had the feel of a good news story.
The genuine good vibes and positive world view displayed in South Florida should carry them into the temperate environment of Sao Paolo for the mutual do-or-die engagement with a shell-shocked Uruguay who were torn to pieces by an inspired Costa Rica.
Uruguay is the oldest squad in the tournament and it showed in the second half collapse. Luis Suarez’s absence, particularly when Costa Rice snatched a 2-1 lead, raises some doubt about his emphatic declaration of being 100% fit.
England’s energetic performance should make Roy Hodgson’s team selection a no brainer. Without the equivalent of Andrea Pirlo, Uruguay’s midfield won’t dominate the middle of the pitch. Hodgson retains the liberty to stick with the same XI in a 4-2-3-1, with Wayne Rooney swapping places with Raheem Sterling. In his favored central position, Rooney gains creative license while being relieved of defensive duties that he neither liked nor performed well. Hodgson is aware that Rooney’s assist against Italy came about once he jettisoned defensive duties. The youthful energy and confidence of Sturridge, Sterling, and Welbeck will be encouraged here once again to take the game to their opponents. Hodgson’s conservatism looks to have not made the flight to Brazil.
Uruguay’s tactics will be determined by Suarez’s fitness and to some degree by Maxi Pereira’s red card. As we witnessed against Costa Rica, a Suarez-less Uruguay is swagger-less Uruguay. Diego Forlan, well past his prime, was a poor proxy and Edison Cavani was even more isolated than poor Suarez on the sideline. With Suarez on the pitch, Forlan returns to the bench and Cavani will likely drop deeper.
Suarez’s presence and energy reverberate throughout the lineup and Uruguay is better from back to front with him stirring things up. But will it be enough to overcome a new-look England squad who may grow stronger even in defeat? Belief had withered in the long awaited dominance of the Golden Generation that never arrived. Now belief has a chance to return sooner than expected with the emergence of England’s new class of international elite who will take one step closer to qualification at expense of a Uruguay squad who, with Suarez, can never be written off.