It is possible England could lose tomorrow against Uruguay and remain with a chance of qualification. As long as Costa Rica lose to Italy in Recife on Friday it is mathematically possible to go down to the South Americans and not yet be eliminated. But the reality is England need to win. In order to keep the permutations in their own hands, in order for potential qualification to be something more than fanciful, they need to gain three points. Even one is not enough.
And frankly, after seeing Uruguay falter against Costa Rica, any other result than a victory would constitute unnecessary failure. The fact is, without Luis Suarez the two-time champions looked what they are: a country of very limited playing resources.
Roy Hodgson will have studied footage of Uruguay’s defeat and seen precisely how they can be beaten. First he will recognise that he needs to unleash the pace he has at his disposal. Against the speedy Costa Rican No. 9 Joel Campbell, the man who made Arsenal fans purr at the sight of his powerful direct running, Uruguay’s back line looked horribly exposed.
West Bromwich fans will not have been surprised to see Diego Lugano floundering around like a man not so much waving as drowning. But alongside him Atletico Madrid’s Diego Godin was surprisingly frail; he looked exhausted by a magnificent, long domestic campaign and was equally culpable for the mistakes at the back.
By the end, he and Lugano and the full-back Maxi Pereira had reverted to type and were engaged in a cynical process of trying to chop down Campbell every time he ran with the ball. Raheem Sterling has the ability to scramble the pair’s blood. So does Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Hodgson will need to utilise both during the course of the game.
Then England must target the goalkeeper. Though he could not be blamed for Campbell’s smartly struck equaliser last week, Fernando Muslera, the Galatasaray custodian, was too easily beaten for Costa Rica’s other two goals. He looked particularly flimsy at set-pieces, twice crucially failing to connect with attempted punches from corners.
To get at the keeper, Hodgson needs to exploit the left side of his attack. The red card Pereira drew for his ugly kick at Campbell in the last couple of minutes of Saturday’s game has deprived Uruguay of their best defender. Pereira is a flying full-back, quick and agile. Without him, the South Americans could be exposed. England need to station someone of real pace on the left side of attack to take real advantage of his absence. Which means Danny Welbeck or Oxlade-Chamberlain, not Wayne Rooney.
Plus, England need to target set pieces. Costa Rica had noticed the Uruguayan deficiency under a well struck high ball and ruthlessly used the tactic. Corners delivered by Leighton Baines and Steven Gerrard could unleash equal havoc in the sky blue defence. Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka have the potential to rise well above defenders who appeared incapable against Costa Rica of leaving the ground to head a ball. It could also be an opportunity for Rickie Lambert to come on in the later stages.
But most of all, Hodgson must hope that Suarez’s miraculous recovery remains on hold. As if the Liverpool man’s already vaunted reputation needed any further bolstering, his absence on Saturday night as his team sank to defeat in their opening game of the 2014 World Cup merely confirmed what many have thought about this Uruguay: they are half the team without him.
He is now claiming he is 100 per cent fit. But if that was the case, you wonder why, with his side trailing 3-1 to a spirited, adventurous, pacey Costa Rica side, the man who scored 11 goals in qualification, more than any other player in South America, remained an unused substitute, sitting sullen on the bench, unable to affect change. Even a half fit Suarez would surely have been risked in the urgent requirement to reverse the result. Were he remotely as ready as he says, surely he would have featured, even for 10 minutes.
His return from knee surgery on May 22 has clearly not been as speedy and convention-defying as advertised. England cannot be complacent, he may yet feature as substitute, but, just five days on from not being used at all, the chances of him starting on Thursday are now negligible.
And there is no doubt about it, Suarez would make the difference. If he is not available, England will have no excuses if they fail to win. If he is, well that changes the landscape. But even so, if they are to have any prospect of proper advancement in this competition, if they are to be recognised as something other than plucky losers, then Roy Hodgson’s men have to see the job through. We are reaching the stage where nothing less than victory will do.
Jim White is out in Brazil and reporting on the World Cup for us.
- Sports & Recreation
- Costa Rica
- Luis Suarez
- Roy Hodgson
- Joel Campbell