Thursday 23 November 2017

Dion Fanning: Luis Suarez returns to put nail in English coffin

Uruguay's Luis Suarez scores his second goal against England in Sao Paulo
Uruguay's Luis Suarez scores his second goal against England in Sao Paulo
Uruguay's Luis Suarez celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Group D match the Estadio do Sao Paulo
Uruguay's Luis Suarez and England's Steven Gerrard fight for the ball during their 2014 World Cup encounter in Sao Paulo
England's Wayne Rooney scores against Uruguay in Sao Paulo

As many people anticipated, Luis Suarez left the field on a stretcher during England’s game with Uruguay in Sao Paulo on Thursday.

Not so many had anticipated that Suarez would have scored twice before he was taken away, pushing England closer to a World Cup exit.

Suarez had knee surgery 28 days before the game but he could probably have beaten England from the recovery room given his preternatural talent and extraordinary ability to make things happen.

The night was supposed to define Wayne Rooney and while he scored and wasn’t among England’s worst five players-the defenders and Steven Gerrard could compete for that prize-Suarez’s performance was a reminder of Rooney’s decline.

Rooney was described by David Moyes as the “last of the street footballers” but his instincts have disappeared while Suarez is a reminder that in some places they still play football on the streets.

Roy Hodgson had named an unchanged side after England’s triumphant defeat in Manaus last Saturday but naturally that didn’t remove the intrigue. Rooney had been sacrificed as England embraced the future on Saturday night but now he was restored to a central position. Hodgson had a choice to make with Rooney: he could get him to run or he could get him to play.

In Manaus, with Rooney on the left, Hodgson had made him run and Rooney tried his best. In Sao Paulo, Rooney was central and he was expected to play. If he didn’t, Hodgson would have another choice and this would be a tougher one.

If Rooney has been defined by the fading of his talents, Suarez, previously indestructible if self-destructive, had his own anxieties. He started as everyone thought he would but not even coach Oscar Tabarez thought he was fully fit. Suarez had another problem which Uruguay’s defeat against Costa Rica made apparent: while he approached his peak was his national side in decline?

Tabarez had made five changes which seemed to revitalise Uruguay to begin with. They took the game to England but it quickly became clear that these were two sides dependent on one or two players to elevate them beyond the mundane.

Rooney was one of those players once but at the Arena Corinthians he was in the centre but on the periphery. When Diego Godin handled the ball as Daniel Sturridge tried to burst through the middle, there was no doubt about who was taking it. Rooney doesn’t need to run to master a free-kick and he shaped it beautifully but it slid past the outside of Fernando Muslera’s post.

Suarez’s touch was off in the opening minutes and he looked exhausted but he had seemed as tired when Liverpool played at Crystal Palace in that defining game so it may not have been the injury but the nervous energy that was draining him.

But he settled quickly, linking with Nicolas Lodeiro and Edinson Cavani in a few swift moves that illustrated where Uruguay’s threat would come from.

Rooney was trying and he wasn’t alone in his struggles. Certainly there were players enduring a harder night and as Hodgson’s side made errors at the back, it was tempting to wonder if, for his next evasion, Hodgson would play Rooney in defence.

He could still offer his threat from set-pieces and he got on the end of a Gerrard free-kick but headed against the bar. Rooney would have expected to score but it was a harder chance than a header from a yard with the keeper stranded suggests.

Rooney had looked functional for most of the game, which may be his limit these days, but Suarez can still reach greater heights. After Gerrard was caught in possession, Uruguay swarmed forward. Cavani picked the ball up on the left inside the box. He went to cross but instead rolled his foot over the ball, putting England’s defence, which was rarely on the right foot,  on the wrong one and allowing Suarez a vital second to find space. Cavani then delivered the perfect cross and Suarez pulled away from Phil Jagielka and headed the ball back across Hart and into the England net.

Suarez didn’t need to be fit to play against this England defence and he nearly scored twice in the opening minutes of the second half, the first time directly from a corner and then he shot wide when England’s defence again failed.

In other news, Rooney was still out there, becoming frustrated when Welbeck failed to get the ball forward and then missing England’s best chance when the ball fell to him six yards out straight in front of goal but his shot was too close to Muslera.

When Hodgson made his first change Raheem Sterling was taken off with Ross Barkley on. It could have been Rooney but it could have been any of them.  If Sturridge had delivered a better cross Rooney might have equalised shortly afterwards.

He then had his brightest moment, looking like the Rooney that once existed, as he skipped past a couple of players then tried to backheel a ball into Barkley’s path.

By now, Suarez was genuinely exhausted so all he could do was try to lob Hart from the touchline.

Rooney had been energised by Barkley’s arrival and when Sturridge released Johnson, he moved to the far post in anticipation. Johnson kept going and when the ball reached Rooney he had a tap-in to equalise but he knew it had much greater meaning than a simple tap-in.               

But England don’t do simple and they allowed Suarez in again with Gerrard again culpable, flicking a header into his path.

Suarez, dead on his feet, was alive again and he drilled the ball past Hart before leaving on a stretcher that could have been mistaken for the throne of a king.

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