If there was ever a match which progression to the last 16 hinged on, then it would be this. England fans, following their 2-1 defeat by Italy, were hoping that this would be the match that gives them the win that their play deserved, as the team played some high quality football but were ultimately defeated by a brilliant Italian side. Read the match report of that game here. However, the nation standing in their way of a win was Uruguay, who were disappointing in a 3-1 defeat to minnows Costa Rica but were boosted by the return of Luis Suarez. Although not yet back to full fitness, he could still be a threat to England’s defence, as English football fans have seen time and time again in the Premier League, where he finished as top scorer for the season.
The match started pretty evenly, with neither team having any clear cut opportunities and players expected to make a big impact, such as Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge, weren’t able to get into the game. Instead it was Wayne Rooney, who was criticised for his lack of impact in the defeat to Italy, who was the biggest influence on the game in the early stages. His free kick from just outside the box was inches away from going in, with keeper Fernando Muslera rooted to the spot. However there were signs that Uruguay could pose a danger to England from long range, with both Cristian Rodriguez and Edinson Cavani desperately close to hitting the target with thunderbolt shots.
The game livened up on the half hour mark when Uruguay captain Diego Godin, who was booked for handball earlier in the game which led to the Rooney free kick, cynically brought down Daniel Sturridge when the ball wasn’t in his possession. However the referee chose not to send off the skipper when the foul was arguably worthy of a booking. Despite this, England were still the better side, and Rooney had a golden opportunity to score his first ever World Cup finals goal, but the angle was perhaps too tight as his header crashed against the frame of the goal from no more than a couple of yards out. In spite of their good attacking play, England were once again guilty of defensive lapses which led to a goal. Firstly, Steven Gerrard gave the ball away in midfield and it went into the path of Edinson Cavani, whose perfect cross found that man Luis Suarez and, with Phil Jagielka snoozing at the back, found himself in acres of space to plant a header past Joe Hart and into the net. England tried to push on for the rest of the half, but their only sight of goal was through Daniel Sturridge, whose shot was blocked by Muslera.
The second half, like the first, was quite open as both teams had opportunities; Edinson Cavani missed a glorious chance one-on-one with Joe Hart but sprayed his shot wide, and Rooney shot straight at Muslera when he should have done better. Roy Hodgson then took a gamble by taking off Raheem Sterling, who was an anonymous presence, in stark contrast to the attacking flair he showed against Italy, and brought on Ross Barkley. England were then on the front foot in desperation, and their reward came with a quarter of an hour to go. Glen Johnson on the right wing cut in and went past a Uruguay defender, before delivering a perfect cross to Wayne Rooney, who converted to score his first ever World Cup finals goal, as well as sending the English fans into ecstasy. This spurred England on, and their wing backs pushed forwards in an attempt to get the victory, and Daniel Sturridge’s shot showed that they were not content with just a point. But all too often recently England have found themselves caught out at the back, and in what could be the final blow for their tournament hopes, they conceded with just 6 minutes to go. Muslera kicked the ball long, which Gerard inadvertently headed back into the path of Suarez, who was once again clear of the sleepy defenders and scored to realistically end England’s hopes of progressing to the last 16. It was the first time England had lost their opening two matches, and with no team ever progressing from being in that position, their hopes look all but mathematically over.
• It would be all too easy to criticise Steven Gerrard for this role in the two goals conceded, and the truth is that both goals were made easier by central defenders who were slow to react and move, which Suarez took advantage of by being in acres of space on both occasions. Phil Jagielka especially was at fault; he failed to pick up the run of Suarez for the first goal, and the high line deployed by him and Gary Cahill was a dangerous tactic as although Suarez was in an offside position, Gerard’s header made that irrelevant.
• Again, it would be all too easy to criticise the tactical decisions of England manager Roy Hodgson, but on this occasion hindsight showed that there were a few poor decisions. Firstly, England were too narrow throughout the entire match and, in contrast to the quick breaks from the wingers in the game against Italy, the way England moved the ball around was quite sluggish. This also meant that the wide players Danny Welbeck and, in particular, Raheem Sterling, did not have the freedom of movement that made them so dangerous in the last game. But also praise has to go to Uruguay for keeping them quiet and for their pressing game that did not allow England’s players to run far with the ball.
• Another tactical issue was the substitution of Raheem Sterling for Ross Barkley, as although the winger was an anonymous presence, it meant that England went even narrower in their play. This also led the wing backs Johnson and Baines to push forward much more, which did lead to England’s equaliser, but also created a high line which contributed to Uruguay’s winner. So just like in the match against Italy, their eagerness to attack made us vulnerable in defence, which was pounced upon by the opposition.
• There is no point talking about “what ifs” such as when Uruguay captain Diego Godin could have been sent off, except one. The “what if” that is relevant here is what if England took their chances earlier in the match. Despite scoring his first World Cup finals goal and being the biggest threat to Uruguay, Wayne Rooney could have taken more of his opportunities, most notably his header which crashed against the woodwork and his shot from just eight yards out which was straight at Uruguay keeper Muslera. You only have to look at the statistics to see this; England had six shots on target but only managed to convert one of them, whilst Uruguay only had two shots on target but took them both.
• Many people criticised England’s performances following the result against Uruguay, and indeed against Italy, but they probably underestimated how difficult the group was. In the last World Cup in 2010 England arguably had the easiest group of all against the USA, Slovenia and Algeria, and on that occasion failed to top the group. Despite having two defeats to England’s name, the team and the play is much better than four years ago, they just haven’t had the rub of the green and the luck that can lead to victory. But with both defeats being to teams ranked above England in the FIFA World Rankings, (#7 for Uruguay, #9 for Italy) it would be almost unfair to suggest that this was an embarrassing outcome. Now England have to win against Costa Rica in order to give themselves the slimmest hope of progression.