By Ridge Mahoney
Here are few thoughts in the aftermath of a Group D meeting in Sao Paulo between past World Cup winners decided by two goals from Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez.
SUAREZ COMES BACK FIRING.A 3-1 Uruguayan loss to Costa Rica without Suarezin its group opener ratcheted up speculation regarding his availability to face England in the second round of group play. He underwent knee surgery May 22 and hadn’t played competitively since.
Aside from taking many of the set pieces, Suarez didn’t touch the ball much, but twice he broke free during the run of play to score the goals that kept Uruguay alive in the competition and pushed England to the brink of elimination. Suarez headed home a cross from Edinson Cavani to give Uruguay a 1-0 lead, and after England equalized he pounced on a long ball that skimmed off the head of English midfielder Steven Gerrard to smash the winner past keeper Joe Hart.
Suarez was one of five changes to the starting lineup made by head coach Oscar Tabarez, and he was joined by left back Alvaro Pereira, midfielder Egidio Arevalo Rios -- once of the Chicago Fire -- and keeper Fernando Muslera on the list of players most prominent in rebounding from the loss to Costa Rica. But it was the Liverpool striker, who is already his nation’s all-time leading scorer, who escaped many of the same players he regularly plays with and against in the Premier League to score his 40th and 41st international goals.
MERSEYSIDE CONNECTION.The links to Liverpool in this match went far beyond simply Suarez, who led the Premier League in scoring with 31 goals and was named Player of the Year as Liverpool led the division for much of the season before finishing second. Eleven players with links to the city played at the Arena Corinthians.
Uruguayan teammateSebastian Coates, who came on as a sub against England, also plays for Liverpool, which has five representatives on the English roster: Glen Johnson, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Gerrard. City rival Everton landed Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka and Ross Barkley. Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney, who ended his World Cup scoring drought in his 10th appearance by netting England’s goal, is a Liverpool native and formerly played for Everton.
BAD LUCK OR BAD DEFENDING?The long kick by Muslera that Gerrard tried to head clear and instead sent back toward his own goal for Suarez to corral was all too familiar for Liverpool fans.
A terrible miscue by Gerrard in May provided a chance that Chelsea converted in a crucial 2-0 Premier League decision that opened the door for Manchester City to pass Liverpool in the standings on its way to the title. But centerbacks Gary Cahill and Jagielka both pushed up to play an offside trap that would have worked had Cavani -- the target of Muslera’s kick -- had touched the ball to Suarez, who had moved into an offside position during the ball’s flight.
Instead, the offside decision hinged on Suarez’s position when his teammate played the ball -- in this case, Muslera -- and Suarez was not offside when the ball was kicked.
But significant blame should be laid on England’s defense on the first goal it conceded. Near the left corner of the penalty area, Cavani had plenty of time and space to collect a crossfield pass, cut the ball to his right foot, and clip a ball to the far post that Suarez twisted in the air to head back across Hart into the net.
Suarez escaped the marking of Jagielka to arrow his header past Hart, yet the chance arose because right back Johnson, the England player nearest Cavani, didn’t apply any pressure despite the presence of two teammates to give him cover. Johnson’s job in that situation is to close down Cavani as quickly as possible to either block or prevent a cross or shot and rely on his covering teammates for support.
Instead, perhaps fearful Cavani would go outside him, Johnson stayed back and Uruguay’s most dangerous attacking players did the rest.