It’s not the despair that hurts, it’s the hope.
For 75 minutes against Uruguay, England reverted to type. The Italy game, where expectations were low and qualification did not directly depend on the result, freed England to play a positive, more fluid game. Once they were favourites and their future in the tournament was in danger, the nerves returned.
It would be unfair to underplay Uruguay’s part in this. The South Americans made several changes after their surprise defeat to Costa Rica, including the enforced replacement of captain, Diego Lugano, in central defence. There seemed to be more urgency in their play, whether this was because of the reinforcements, the reputation of the opposition or the absolute necessity of getting a result.
In the early exchanges Uruguay were clearly the better team and as the game wore on, I had resigned myself to an England defeat. Then on 75 minutes Rooney finally broke his World Cup duck and the hope returned. The equaliser seemed to inspire the English to their best spell of the match – surely now there could only be one winner.
Then came the killer blow, made more painful by it’s simplicity and by the man who delivered it. Luis Suarez wasn’t supposed to be able do this. He wasn’t supposed to be match fit. In fact, he looked lacking in sharpness for much of the game. Yet England managed to present him with the opportunity to win the tie, supplied by the head of “captain fantastic”, Steven Gerrard, reprising his role from the Premier League title race as this year’s fall-guy.
It wasn’t really Gerrard’s fault, although he was culpable for much that was wrong with the rest of this performance. His header could have gone anywhere and it was bad luck that it fell to the most dangerous man on the pitch, yards from goal. The England defenders who left Suarez to run unmarked, for the second time in the match, must shoulder the majority of the blame. There appeared to be no special plan to combat Suarez, just like there didn’t seem to be a plan to stop Pirlo in the previous game.
England’s weakest area is their defence. The central defensive partnership of Jagielka and Cahill were poor and largely culpable for the Uruguay goals. It’s particularly sad, as in the past this has been one England’s strong points.
Gerrard generally had a poor game. He doesn’t have the energy these days and he’s never had the discipline to act as a defensive shield. He will surely retire from International football now. At least Rooney scored but he still did not look comfortable.
It was unfair to expect Sterling, playing in his first major tournament, to carry the same threat as he did against the Italians. He and Sturridge were quiet here but look great prospects for the future.
That it came down to a defensive error was the biggest disappointment. That a team perennially lacking in confidence and attacking verve should eventually fall to two terrible defensive lapses – faults that surely could have been rectified through better organisation and concentration – was unforgivable.
This result left England needing a helping hand from Italy to give us an unlikely chance at still making the second round. At least we were saved the agony of further hope as Italy lost to Costa Rica 1-0, confirming England’s exit from World Cup 2014. We didn’t deserve anything less.
Were England unlucky? Should Rooney and Gerrard stay in the team? Please let us know your opinion in the comments section below.