I was rather enjoying my World Cup Wednesday. The games continued to entertain, with each of the three fixtures featuring incident and no shortage of memorable goals. It was a day for repercussions too, of course, with Australia, Cameroon and, most notably, Spain being eliminated before the end of the first week of the tournament.
“This is what the World Cup is all about,” I thought to myself. “Football on a knife edge, no room for error.” Then my heart sank. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a group of Uruguay supporters emerge from a bar, laughing and singing. As the knot in my stomach began to grow, I remembered that next to walk the World Cup tightrope was my team, England.
The fixture with Uruguay had been pinpointed by most as being a vital one as soon as the draw was made. Even the most patriotic of optimists would have found it hard to predict a win against Italy, so we’ve known for some time that this was probably going to be the game to make or break England’s World Cup campaign – but that doesn’t make the prospect any less nerve-wracking.
Adding to the cocktail of excitement and apprehension is the return to fitness of Uruguay’s talismanic striker Luis Suarez. The Liverpool frontman has been described by club team-mate Steven Gerrard as a “genius” in the lead up to the game, so there can be no doubting how seriously the England squad are taking the threat he poses. Gerrard also went on to suggest that this game would be won by the team delivering the strongest defensive performance, perhaps suggesting a departure from the attacking focus that delighted so many during the Italy game. Such is the power of Suarez. England players and supporters are no strangers to his ability or his propensity for being involved in incidents of controversy and both aspects of his game are a big concern for any defence.
England and Uruguay supporters were on the streets of Sao Paulo on Wednesday, mingling happily as they revelled in Australia running the Netherlands close before joining forces to celebrate the emergence of Chile and the dethroning of Spain. There was little talk of the game between the two but, when pressed, both sets of supporters were unanimous in agreeing that Suarez would be the key man.
“The first game was a nightmare,” explained one Uruguay supporter. “The performance against Costa Rica was bad, terrible. We were embarrassed. That won’t happen again though, especially now Luis is back. He’s important and now he’s back in the side, we can begin our World Cup.” There was a more blunt warning from another supporter bedecked in the blue of Uruguay: “Watch out England!” he said with a grin.
As always, England supporters have travelled in good numbers, with plenty sat soaking up the sun in the plentiful Sao Paulo bars. On the face of it, they didn’t seem to have a care in the world, but when asked about the game and, more specifically, Suarez, plenty of faces crumpled into anxious frowns. “He’s an absolute nightmare,” said one. “He’ll be wanting to put on a show after missing the first game and knowing him, he’ll be doubly motivated because it’s England. If we can keep him quiet, we win the game – simple as that.”
Others suggested that it could be a case of better the devil you know. “The boys will know what to expect. Gerrard and the other Liverpool lads will know him inside out, whilst the others have played against him in the Premier League. They will respect him, but I think that bit of knowledge and experience will help. Suarez will be feeling the pressure to perform too, so I think the are there for the taking.
Roy Hodgson described the fixture as a cup final in his pre-match press conference, and it’s hard to disagree with the sentiment. The pressure is well and truly on for England, Suarez and his Uruguay team-mates. The World Cup can be brutal; just ask Australia, Cameroon and Spain, who didn’t even last the first week. Following them a day later would be a disaster.
Over to you, boys. Come on England!
Mike Parkin is a lifelong football fan, a season-ticket holder at Watford FC and a fervent supporter of the national team. Mike presents the popular Watford podcast ‘From the Rookery End’ and will be documenting his trip to the World Cup on the website: www.fromtherookeryend.com. You can also see Mike’s images on Instagram (RookeryEnd) whilst you can interact with Mike directly on Twitter by following @RookeryMike.