England on brink of early exit


Luis Suarez left England on the brink of a World Cup exit as his double strike gave Uruguay victory in Sao Paulo.

Liverpool striker Suarez was making his return after a month out following knee surgery – and it proved to be bad timing for England and manager Roy Hodgson as his brilliance was the difference in a fiercely-fought encounter.

Suarez put Uruguay ahead with a first-half header then scored a superb winner six minutes from time after Wayne Rooney’s first goal at a World Cup gave England hope of avoiding a second successive Group D loss.

But defeat means the odds are now stacked against England escaping this tough group. They will be out unless Italy – who overcame England in Manaus – beat Costa Rica on Friday.

They also need Italy to win their final game against Uruguay, which could then see England conceivably qualify on goal difference by beating Costa Rica next Tuesday, 24 June.

But for all the potential, a record of played two, lost two rarely adds up to anything other than elimination at the World Cup. No side have ever progressed after losing their first two matches.

And what an anti-climax it will be for manager Hodgson and his players if England are left playing for nothing other than pride in their final group game in Belo Horizonte.

Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez claimed Suarez would not be fully fit after missing their opening defeat against Costa Rica and he did not look it, but he still possessed too much guile and menace for an England team who never built on the promise they showed even in losing to Italy.

Rooney struck the bar and was England’s main threat but Uruguay – or to be more precise Suarez – produced the quality and clinical finishing that decides games such as this.

As expected, Hodgson played Rooney in a more central role and moved Raheem Sterling wide – but England struggled to find the same energy levels that fuelled such a positive performance against Italy.

Daniel Sturridge and Sterling could not pose the same threat as they had in Manaus and it was Rooney who came closest with a free-kick just inches wide and then a header against the bar at the far post from Steven Gerrard’s free-kick.

England were looking nervous at the back and were fortunate to survive when Phil Jagielka’s sliced clearance fell to Cristian Rodriguez, whose rising drive from the angle just cleared the bar with goalkeeper Joe Hart beaten.

Uruguay were the more ordered side and the goal arrived from the most inevitable source seven minutes before half-time as Suarez marked his return in style.

Gerrard conceded possession in midfield and when Edinson Cavani delivered the perfect cross, Suarez pulled away from Jagielka to head across Hart before running to celebrate with the Uruguayan medical team who have nursed him back to fitness.

England, as they did against Italy, responded strongly and Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera needed to be alert to block Sturridge at his near post.

In a chaotic start to the second half, Suarez was wasteful as England appealed for offside and Cavani was guilty of a bad miss as he ran through on Hart.

ooney was almost the beneficiary of that escape when he found room in the area only eight yards out, but his shot was straight at Muslera.

Hodgson, knowing what defeat would mean, made his first change after 64 minutes by sending on Ross Barkley for Sterling, who had struggled to impose himself on Uruguay as he had against the Italians.

England were moving into desperate times as the clock ran down – and it was Rooney who produced the goods with the equaliser 15 minutes from time, tapping in from close range from Johnson’s perfect cross.

Just as the momentum looked to be shifting towards England, Suarez was the tormentor again, latching on to a long punt from Muslera after Gerrard had inadvertently headed into his path. He then steadied himself before rifling an unstoppable finish high past Hart.

It was the final word on this game – and probably on England’s World Cup hopes.