Gerrard will be haunted by Suarez assists
Many of Roy Hodgson's team lacked experience and know-how but it was the player with the most, Steven Gerrard, who unfortunately helped lay on Luis Suarez's goals
How many times have we seen a Steven Gerrard assist for a Luis Suarez goal?
It would pain anyone with a trace of compassion to report that Gerrard helped lay on both goals for his Liverpool team-mate, as his own time in an England shirt approached a cruel conclusion.
Gerrard has endured a wretched spring and summer. A great career is becoming littered with horrible moments. His miss-control and slip at Anfield against Chelsea helped steer the Premier League title to Manchester City.
Here in Sao Paulo he was at fault in midfield before Edinson Cavani chipped a ball for Luis Suarez to head Uruguay’s first goal and again when he directed a long clearance into the path of his Merseyside colleague for Uruguay’s winner.
You come all the way to Brazil just to watch the Premier League’s best footballer do what he did all season back in England: finish with lethal precision. Only this time it was not Norwich on the receiving end.
A Norwegian reporter reminded the England manager, Roy Hodgson, that Suarez had been in a wheelchair a month ago.
Well, Lazarus has almost certainly ended England’s stay in Shangri-la. Suraez has beaten some high-class Premier League defenders in his time. On a cold night in Concrete City he destroyed one of the worst defences England have taken to a tournament in quite a long time.
To stomp on Gerrard’s record as a footballer is not a temptation. But nor can we ignore his part in England’s defeat here. One of the few leaders in a quiet squad, Hodgson’s captain and oldest player probably has one more game in international football, against Costa Rica next week.
He has given his all for his country when the temptation was to retire from international football after Euro 2012 and concentrate on his quest for a first Premier League winners’ medal. Sticking with England, though, has left many fine players humbled and even humiliated.
You need more than a nice new manifesto to thrive at this level. There is the core of a good new England team here in Brazil but they are not good enough yet to cope with fellow World Cup winners such as Uruguay and Italy.
Combine the transfer values of Suarez and Cavani and you would be up to around £140m. Not bad for a country of 3.3 millions souls – the most diminutive at this World Cup. A small land mass delivered a huge setback to Hodgson’s plans.
In Manaus and in this vast metropolis we saw that successful teams need not only promise but the hardened, ruthless edge that comes only with experience. This was not boys against men so much as a team of worldly veterans against one that have just re-discovered creativity.
There was a terrifying simplicity about £140m worth of goalscoring talent combining to beat Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill, the two England centre-backs. Rooney’s first World Cup goal was wiped out by the second, a vicious drive after Gerrard had flicked the ball into Suarez’s path.
Deemed not fit enough to come on against Costa Rica – when Uruguay were losing – English football’s player of the year was considered sound enough to start at the Arena de Sao Paulo, with disastrous consequences. For the first half hour he chugged around, sizing up the England defence and mapping the movements of Cahill and Jagielka. A player of his quality can never be trusted to stay out of the action for long.
Cavani cost Paris Saint-Germain £50m and Suarez might fetch £90m on the open market. England can rebuild a team but they cannot give it instant know-how. Gerrard has experience to burn but it was no use to him here.
The hope was that England were facing a team slipping from their peak. The Italy result could be excused on the grounds that England had attacked, dribbled and probed like a thoroughly modern side. The players returned to Rio energised rather than depressed.
There were glimpses in Manaus, however, of inexperience as a handicap, in the attacking third of the pitch, when decisions were rushed, or ill-conceived, and brought promising moves to a premature end. We saw them again in Sao Paulo.
‘Roy’s Boys’ is a pleasing rhyme but distorts the picture. These are not kids. Sturridge, 24, has played for Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. Adam Lallana, Hodgson’s leading impact sub, is 26 and has worked his way through the leagues. Welbeck and Henderson are 24. Even Sterling, still a teenager, has starred in a Premier League title challenge that fell only two points short.
They are not youth team footballers, but nor had many of them been here before, in a must-win World Cup game, two fixtures in, against opponents who are workmanlike in parts but always dangerous, especially with Suarez.
The joke before this game was that if England were eliminated they would have to play “the seniors” in a potentially meaningless game against Costa Rica – with “the kids” rested for the Euro 2016 build up.
Despite this blow the course is set in favour of greater ambition. England’s first substitution was Barkley for Sterling, whose play lacked a decisive edge. There were gaps aplenty but not the composure to take players through and finish. The defensive block of Gerrard and Henderson, Cahill and Jagielka, was exposed as flawed.
In the past a generation of England players routinely lost heart because crashing out of tournaments became soul-destroying. Learning is also hard work.
These games are different to big Premier League fixtures or even Champions League engagements. There is another level of intensity, and no transfer market to solve a country’s problems.
Some things were familiar, though: the demon Suarez, and the sense of dread that watching England so often brings. The Chelsea game at Anfield haunted Gerrard before he arrived in Rio. Now he has more dark memories to fight. He deserves a kinder fate.