Photo by Ben Queenborough/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
SAO PAULO — Luis Suarez may not be fully recovered from his recent knee injury, but he sure looked it.
Suarez led Uruguay to a 2-1 victory over England in a battle of Group D’s winless teams on Thursday night, bagging an impressive brace that included an 84th-minute winner. The decisive strike came nine minutes after Wayne Rooney had pulled England level, as Suarez raced in on goal before smashing the ball past Joe Hart.
The result at Arena de Sao Paulo gave the Uruguayans their first three points in the tournament and pulled them level with Italy and Costa Rica, who will play on Friday. England, meanwhile, stands on the brink of elimination with zero points through two games.
“He was voted the Player of the Year by almost everybody in England, by the sportswriters, by his own players, by the league managers association,” said England head coach Roy Hodgson. “He was the Player of the Year. Today, of course, he’s coming back from injury so he was to some extent quieter than we’re used to seeing him.
“But two chances came his way and, as a top player, he took his chances and that probably ended our chances of staying in the competition.”
Suarez netted his first in the match played in front of 62,575 fans in the 39th minute, getting on the end of a perfectly-lofted ball from Cavani and heading it magnificently to the far post.
England was the better team for large stretches in the first half, however, and were a bit unlucky to not open the scoring eight minutes earlier when a soaring Rooney nodded a corner kick off the crossbar from a yard out.
“Engand doesn’t have any weaknesses,” said Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez. “They’re really strong, their play from the midfield is incredible, they have 4 strikers who are all goal scorers and they are all over the field. They’re able to create opportunities for themselves and they know what to do when they reach the goal so that’s what we have prepared.”
Rooney was frustratingly denied in the 54th minute as well, as Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera smothered a shot from 10 yards out.
The English striker – who also came close with a free kick 10 minutes into the game – refused to leave the match without a goal. Rooney tapped home the equalizer in the 75th minute after some fine individual work and a low cross from right back Glen Johnson.
The English had a chance to take a lead two minutes later, but Muslera was all over Daniel Sturridge’s weak curler.
That opened the door for Suarez’s late winner. After another England attack ended without a goal, Muslera took his time sending a punt upfield so as to allow his teammates to get forward. The ball deflected off of Steven Gerrard and into the path of the streaking Suarez, who was clinical with his finish.
“For everything I have lived in these past few months, before anything, I have to dedicate this to the most important people in my life: my wife and my two children,” said Suarez. “For being with me through all of this and through the travel, ups and downs. I owe them for that.
“I also dedicate it to (Uruguay physiotherapist) Walter Ferreira. If not for him I wouldn’t be here right now today, and I also dedicate it to the coaching staff and my teammates because the strength they give me is impressive.”
One other talking point in the match came late in the second half when Alvaro Pereira took a knee to the face and appeared to be out cold before coming to his senses and walking to the sideline.
Uruguay’s medical staff requested a substitution, but Pereira adamantly shouted at the coaching staff from afar not to remove him. Pereira reentered the match shortly after and went the distance.