Three Points: Uruguay defeat England
SAO PAULO -- Three quick thoughts about Uruguay's win over England in Group D.
1. The benefit of a two-man strike force
Uruguay's injured captain, Diego Lugano, said he dreamed about Luis Suarez returning to play for his country against England. He knew Suarez -- even a Suarez coming back from injury -- could be the difference in a crucial game.
Suarez couldn't have been fully fit but has a precedent for returning from an absence into immediate form. After his five-month biting ban, he returned with 19 goals in his first 13 games last autumn. The Liverpool striker doesn't need time to get back into the groove, nor did he look rusty as Uruguay began with an impetus lacking in their shock opening defeat against Costa Rica.
Suarez's low crosses, from play or corners, troubled his opponents far more than the flurry of first-half corners which England pitched high into the Uruguay box. Twice Joe Hart was caught out at the near post.
Marshaled by Diego Godin, Uruguay's defenders worked like their lives depended on it, soaking up England's greater possession. They also boasted a more dangerous front pairing.
When the tireless Edinson Cavani crafted, grafted and combined well with Suarez for the opening goal, it was the work of two world-class attackers with an experience of multiple games together at the highest level. England couldn't match their quality. Cavani's cross was exquisite in finding Suarez, the header a blow to an England team who'd showed attacking intent. His killer second destroyed the dreams of the country where he earns his living.
It's a shame that FIFA don't allows supporters to hang their flags from the stands, a tradition that adds colour. In a skit on the British national anthem, a "God Save Suarez" flag in English was held up among the home fans, plus a "God Save the King" banner accompanied by an image of their main man. He proved that beyond doubt in a murky Sao Paulo.
For all the navel-gazing about another England failure in a tournament, all the suggestions that England should go back to basics or revolutionise the way football is coached in the country, remember this: Uruguay's population is 3.2 million, England's 53 million.
Every single Uruguay player in their starting XI on Thursday plays his football abroad, while all 11 England players are at home, playing for major clubs in a league which markets itself as the greatest in the world. The economics that dictate that also encourage an inward-looking mentality lacking international experience.
It won't be much consolation, but Uruguay's players were speaking glowingly of England's young attackers in private before the teams met in the Arena do Sao Paulo. They wouldn't have said that four years ago in South Africa when England's national team were the recipients of a level of support far beyond what the negative tactics of the team deserved. England had four times as many supporters as Germany in Bloemfontein for a game in which they were destroyed 4-1. With elimination, the enthusiasm, expectation and number of travelling supporters shrunk.
The number of travellers at Euro 2012 was a fraction of the potential. England used to expect, but the expectations surrounding the team in Brazil were minimal. Maybe that helped lift the pressure off the team, and there were glimpses from the young attackers in Manaus of a brighter England, but against Uruguay they were undone by a world-class pairing. And now they're all but out of the World Cup, having lost their opening two matches.
Uruguay, a country of 3 million, has two world-class players who have to traverse the globe to play almost every single international; England does not have one.
3. Incidents galore
Whenever the two giant screens in the corners of the Arena de Sao Paulo replayed key events -- a fan-friendly initiative so those actually at the game weren't at a disadvantage to those watching on television -- the near-misses were accompanied by a giant whoosh from the stands.
There were a lot of whooshes in this Group D game. Whooshes in the first half, whooshes from a crowd made up of Brazilians, England fans and a majority of Uruguay fans -- a rarity, for they usually revel in the role of undersupported underdog.
There were whooshes as the ball pinged back and forth like a pinball in a scrappy, high-tempo game between two sides fighting for their lives. The accuracy was seldom there in front of goal, even if the desire was.
Those fans weren't just making a noise to keep themselves warm as an uncustomary chill hit. It was a game packed with incident as deficiencies were exposed, mostly in midfield, where England especially looked mediocre. For their moments of class, both teams had periods where they looked incapable, their own worst enemies, where defenders cleared balls clumsily.
The plentiful action in front of both goals livened up a cold, damp evening, like a dull October day in northern England, a harbinger of darker times and an unforgiving winter. Defeat spelt darkness for both sides, a scenario they both looked like they were avoiding until Suarez's 84th-minute winner.
England simply didn't have an equivalent player with the killer instinct. Wayne Rooney may earn more than the Liverpool striker, but the Manchester United striker doesn't possess the same quality as his rival. And neither did his team.