It’s over too soon for England. A 2-1 loss to Uruguay in Sao Paolo coupled with a shock Costa Rica win against Italy means that England are out of the World Cup before they’ve even played their third and final game.
Against Uruguay, England battled – again – and were letdown – again – by a shaky defense, a soft midfield underbelly, and a certain lack of decisiveness that ruins major tournaments. There will be an inquest into what went wrong, but maybe the FA’s Greg Dyke had it right with his infamous throat-slash gesture at the World Cup draw last December.
The opposition was too good. England will try to put their finger on the problem with what went wrong against Italy, and mostly Uruguay, but the story in Sao Paolo begins and ends with that man named Suarez.
The Uruguay-England game was his game. His occasion. And he’s never one to miss a chance for a big show.
Suarez willed Uruguay to victory. He instilled his team with a manic kind of cardiac drive that flowed through a side that just days before had looked so stale and disinterested against Costa Rica that it would have been no shock if they exited the tournament without a point.
Against the Ticos, Uruguay were nothing short of dreadful. Like Spain against Holland and Chile, Uruguay looked like an old team past its prime – except their initial capitulation came against a team with far less talent than Spain’s opposition.
Suarez writhed uncomfortably on the bench that day, knowing he was tantalizingly close to fitness – tantalizingly close to changing the course of his team’s World Cup.
Against England, Uruguay was a completely different team. Belief and commitment flowed through their veins and guided their every action. Arevalo Rios became Daniele De Rossi. Teenager Jose Gimenez stepped into central defense for captain Diego Lugano and looked like he still thought he was at the under-20 World Cup.
It was remarkable. Uruguay were alive again. Diego Forlan inspired this very team in a similar fashion at the 2010 World Cup, but Forlan never had to contend an opening game like Uruguay had in this tournament.
As reviled as Suarez is in England, that’s how much he’s beloved in Uruguay. It showed in Sao Paolo.
It wasn’t just a sort of Willis Reed moment from Suarez that led Uruguay out of the fire of the Costa Rica loss with a shining new coat of armor either. Suarez – however fit he is – played what he said was “one of the best games of my life.”
So yes, undoubtedly, Suarez was superb. But without his presence inspiring his team, Suarez’s goals would have been for naught.
Had the Uruguay that petulantly and pitifully flamed out against Costa Rica played England, England would have won 4-0. Suarez was the difference.
Limited to just two meaningful touches of the ball, he punished the country he has long thought about punishing.
Suarez said, “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.”
They’re devastated. They’re angry. It hurts to fail at a World Cup.
Suarez is the man who made it happen for Uruguay. Without him, Uruguay had no chance. With him, they came up gold.
It could have gone differently, had Diego Godin been rightfully sent off for a second yellow card early in the first half, or had Wayne Rooney put two of his three guilt-edge chances away instead of one. England didn’t play poorly.
The game-winning goal – the one that effectively ended England’s World Cup – had a striking similarity to Germany’s first goal in their Round of 16 match in 2010. A long goal-kick and a flicked header putting a potent striker in to finish.
It can’t happen at this level of the game. For those involved, especially poor old Steven Gerrard, it’s awful. But it just had a tinge of destiny to it, as Mario Balotelli’s game-winning goal had for Italy.
Sacking Roy Hodgson and tearing up the national team is not the answer. This was supposed to be the tournament of low expectations anyway.
England were unlucky. It would have served them best to play Costa Rica first or second. As the Spanish will attest, getting the points to extend your World Cup to a meaningful third game early is vital.
Instead, England ran into Pirlo. And then Suarez.
Not even Cristiano Ronaldo can inspire his national team like Suarez did. Lionel Messi neither.
It was a herculean effort – Suarez’s teammates hoisting him onto their shoulders at full-time was a fitting gesture.
That’s what makes Suarez so special. Not just his incredible talent, but his incredible will and fire. That’s what beat England.
It will be interesting to see what Uruguay do in the rest of this tournament. Of course, La Celeste won the World Cup the only other time it was played in Brazil. Would you really bet against them now? Suarez is the wildcard no other team has.
England were beaten by a player unlike any we’ve ever seen before and may ever see again. That was Suarez’s night, and he made sure that we’ll never forget it.