Thursday, Oct 23, 2014

FIFA World Cup: That sinking feeling again

Luis Suarez celebrates scoring his team’s second goal against England during their Group D match in Sao Paulo on Thursday. (Source: Reuters) Luis Suarez celebrates scoring his team’s second goal against England during their Group D match in Sao Paulo on Thursday. (Source: Reuters)
Written by Aditya Iyer | Sao Paulo | Posted: June 21, 2014 2:42 am | Updated: June 21, 2014 9:20 am

Hope. Wayne Rooney packaged hope in a Royal Mail envelope, licked a stamp and speed-posted it from Brazil to his fans around the world. Instantly, every supporter worth the beer in his belly and the songs in his throat believed. He must have, in every nook, corner and crevice in England as he surely did in a small corner of Sao Paulo, in the stands directly behind the net in which it was parceled in the first place.

Such was the power of Rooney’s maiden World Cup goal.

At the Arena Corinthians, Rooney did what he had been threatening to since 2006, including the course of this match — score for England in a World Cup. Set free into Uruguay’s box with an incredible Glen Johnson assist from the shoulder of the right flank, the Manchester United forward toed in his much-awaited first. It was England’s much-awaited first as well, a hope-filled equaliser.

It had arrived late (76th minute), but for England it could not have arrived at a more opportune moment. Now they hoped of holding Uruguay to a satisfying draw. Which in turn meant that England hoped of kicking on in the World Cup, despite having lost their first match to Italy five days ago and despite looking like they were going to lose to Oscar Tabarez La Celeste today for the longest of spells. But hope and some more hope had returned; the stadium was brimming with it.

But you know what they say about hope, don’t you?

A Vicious cycle 

“Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man,” Nietzsche had said. He might have been watching an England World Cup game. In the context of this fixture, that said torment was prolonged for only a further nine minutes as Luis Suarez (collecting a pass from his Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard’s head no less) slotted home his second goal of the evening, an 84th minute winner. It handed the Three Lions their second straight defeat in as many group games so far and knocked them out of Brazil. But in reality, the torment will prolong longer. A whole lot longer.

In four year cycles, from the end of one dastardly Cup campaign to the beginning of the next, hope lies in hibernating wait in the heart of the English fan. Then, just before the World Cup begins, it spawns into monstrous proportions — nutritioned by the British media and sometimes by a good Premier League team. This quadrennial year, that club side was Liverpool, whose strong showing in the 2013-14 season ensured that as many as five members made it to the England starting eleven.

But a sixth was also present on the field on Thursday. And it was he, the one in Uruguay’s colours, who reiterated within 90 minutes just why the Merseyside team were so strong in the first place.

Much was printed about Suarez’s availability for the World Cup following his knee-surgery. He promised that he was ready for the campaign opener against Costa Rica as well. But in his eventual absence, Uruguay lost 3-1 to what was considered the weakest side in the group of death. So few believed his claims of being ‘a 100 per cent fit’ for England. Coach Tabarez fielded his star nevertheless. And Suarez gave a 101 per cent.

The Gerrard ‘assist’

Right from the first whistle, he showed his marker Gerrard that he was way too nifty for him. Gerrard, like many of his team-mates soon would, resorted to force and ugly shirt-tugging tackles. But that was hardly going to be a hindrance, not when Suarez was in such terrorizing mood.

He found form early, dodging past Leighton Baines on his left and darting a cross to Cristian Rodriguez on the opposite wing. Uruguay’s number seven shook off defender Phil Jagielka with ease just at the edge of the box and chopped down his crazy left foot towards goal. The ball swung to goalkeeper Joe Hart’s right and then swerved left, missing the top-left by millimetres. Hart, stumped in the centre, must’ve for second believed that this was the real CR7.

Although Uruguay completely dominated proceedings, making a mockery of England’s sluggish defence with some fascinating runs, it was England who came closest to taking the lead at the end of the first half. Just to the right of Uruguay goalie Fernando Muslera, Danny Welbeck was brought down by the outstanding Martin Caceres and Gerrard stood over the free-kick.

He curled it around one wall and perfectly found another, the towering presence of a flying Rooney. The number ten got big over the Brazuca a good distance away from Muslera and thrust in a hell of a header. The impact nearly deformed the edge of the crossbar, swaying out of control in the freezing Sao Paulo air. Rooney fell and rolled into the net but, importantly, the ball didn’t.

Minutes after Rooney missed his chance, Suarez made him pay for it. Making a fabulous trot around a thicket of legs and deep into the ‘keeper’s territory, the Uruguay number nine met Edinson Cavani’s chip from the left with his forehead, nodding it diagonally past a diving Hart. He collapsed on the wet floor and wept with happiness, an act that would repeat itself minutes after Rooney gave everyone a false sense of wretched hope.

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