For England, there's just no defence
So that's Luis Suarez when he's 50 percent fit, is it? That's Luis Suarez when he's "fit, but not match-fit," yeah? Well, I have a question: What is he going to do to this World Cup when he is match-fit?
There is a tendency for the English to react to defeat by building an enormous bonfire and then hurling one of their players on top of it. Manchester United are usually kind enough to donate a candidate. This year, that seems a little unnecessary. You could blame Wayne Rooney, but given that he offered up an entirely acceptable performance -- scored once, hit the post once, narrowly missed with an excellent free kick once and had a point-blank shot superbly saved once -- it would be a little mean.
It would be even meaner to blame Steven Gerrard. Yes, he unwittingly provided the assist for Uruguay's winner, much as he did for Chelsea's winner in May and indeed France's winner in 2004. But no international team should be beaten by a long punt over the top in the 85th minute. And certainly not by a man who was in a wheelchair, an actual wheelchair, a month ago.
This is where England are in 2014. They are a decent enough side, but they have few first-class players, and none at all in the defence. Ten years ago, they had Sol Campbell, John Terry and, when their knees were bending in the right direction, Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King. What they wouldn't give for just one of those men now. Ultimately, when a team defends as badly as England did against players of Suarez's class, they will lose football matches.
Beyond the lack of a generation equivalent to -- if not gold -- some other kind of precious metal, England's issues are much the same as they were in 2010. The stockpiling of young talent by big clubs hampers the progress of footballers in their early 20s. A relative lack of qualified coaches hampers the progress of footballers in their teens. Reduced access to suitable playing surfaces hampers the progress of children.
In four years, little has changed. England has one of the best top-flight leagues in the world, but greed, complacency and reckless government policy are surely far more destructive to her international hopes than Rooney and Gerrard.
But, hey, it's not over yet! England can still progress if Italy win both of their remaining games and the Three Lions beat Costa Rica, a scenario in which, admittedly, only the first two components seem plausible. And if that was to happen, stick with me on this, they would almost certainly face Colombia in the next round. And they'd probably lose.
Jose Pekerman's side are fast becoming one of the most interesting in the tournament. They've countered the loss of one of the world's best strikers, the stricken Radamel Falcao, by bringing all of their attacking midfielders to Brazil. They're everywhere. They're like tribbles. Every time you open a cupboard in the Colombia team hotel, two attacking midfielders fall out, while a third clings to a box of teabags and whinnies forlornly.
Their first game, an emphatic 3-0 victory over Greece, saw a coruscating display from Juan Cuadrado and some typically inventive genius from James Rodriguez. Thursday saw the introduction of Juan Quintero, a playmaker so bold that within minutes of his World Cup debut he was trying to lob Ivory Coast goalkeeper Boubacar Barry from 50 yards.
So, there's the answer, brokenhearted England fans. Dispense with ambition, leave your national pride at the door, relish in the fact that this is an international festival of football and maybe pretend that your grandfather was Colombian. It's easier this way.
In the day's third game, Japan and Greece did their best to ruin the World Cup for everyone by dragging out 90 minutes of toothless, counterattacking football with absolutely no end product. Greece captain Kostas Katsouranis boldly attempted to free up some space in the middle by getting himself sent off before halftime, but his selfless gesture went unrewarded.
Japan seemed determined to put as many dents in the advertising hoarding behind the Greek goal as they could, while at the same time distributing footballs to the children of Natal, Brazil, by hoofing them out of the stadium. A point suits neither team, but sympathy will be thin on the ground after a game like this. Japan and Greece can go and sit on the naughty step with Iran and Nigeria and they can jolly well think about what they've done.
Every English fan will be supporting Italy when they take on Costa Rica, but the day's most enticing fixture is between France and Switzerland. Didier Deschamps' side looked interesting last weekend, but it was hard to get a read on their level, given that Honduras were so keen to kick lumps out of them.
This should be a far more fitting test. Honduras, for their part, will have fresh legs in Friday's final game. The legs in question belong to the Ecuadorean team, and they're unlikely to end the game in the same shape as they started.