Last night England fell to a second defeat in two games as their World Cup bid stumbled. A 2-1 defeat to a Suarez-inspired Uruguay side left a familiar bitter taste in the mouths of England fans and players alike.
It could have all been so different. Yet again in this tournament, it was the referee who decided the course of the match, most clearly when Diego Godin, the South Americans’ skipper and key defender, sent a forearm into the neck of Daniel Sturridge, through on goal, having already been yellow-carded for a handball. The referee’s determination not to send him off changed the game completely and set the match firmly against England. Though he kept relatively consistent with his decisions, the unwillingness to protect players from fouls significantly disadvantaged England, as Uruguay broke up their attacks with tough challenges throughout the second half.
Nonetheless, whilst the referee played an important role, England lacked any decisiveness, and their second-half dominance could only muster one Rooney tap-in, after good work by Glen Johnson and Sturridge down the right. England were ponderous in possession, without enough attacking vision, and were wasteful in the box, unable to create many good chances. Rooney claimed the best opportunities, with a free kick blazing inches past the top left corner, and a one-on-one in which he could not beat the Uruguayan keeper. Similarly, Uruguay had a few real chances. Cavani was unable to curl in when alone on goal against Hart, but Suarez’s ability to create and convert proved to be just enough for the South American side to claim a superficial win.
There were positives for England to take away, though much improvement needs to be made. Sturridge looked impressive up front. He was lively and always creating opportunities for the three tucked in just behind him. Cahill was also dominant at the back, winning countless aerial duels and tackles. Rooney finally managed to score his World Cup finals goal and Jordan Henderson looked comfortable in the role he has assumed at the heart of the English side.
However, there were also key negatives that must to be addressed. Glen Johnson’s defending is still woeful. Perhaps Jones is fit enough to be tried at right-back, as Costa Rica will again have pace that can exploit one of England’s key weaknesses. Danny Welbeck looked out of place on the left, unable to defend, or make the most of his abilities, perhaps proving that Lallana should return to the starting spot. Roy Hodgson also needs to install a sense of direction and urgency to the team, who often lacked the ideas necessary for the comeback they needed.
Uruguay have proved to be disappointing this tournament. The 2010 fourth-place side failed to beat lowly Costa Rica in their opening game, and relied heavily on the return of a recovering Luis Suarez to guide them past England. His superb goals proved clinical and saved his country’s blushes. However, had Godin seen red, they would have struggled underneath the English barrage. Uruguay will struggle to take a point from Italy, though this is likely to be all they will need to secure their route to the next round.