And so it goes. Barring a sequence of events so improbable that the mathematics of it barely stands thinking about for too long, England are out of the 2014 World Cup finals after a performance against Uruguay that involved a considerable amount of toil for very little end result. There was a period of about five minutes, shortly after Wayne Rooney finally scored his first goal in the World Cup finals for his national team, when it looked as if they might just about go on and win last night’s match. The tempo of the game rose, Uruguay suddenly looked rattled, and the wind was suddenly in England’s sails. And then, with but a couple of minutes left to play, a familiar trope raised its head as Steven Gerrard inexplicably flicked a through-ball into the path of Luis Suarez, who took his chance with predictable efficiency.
Suarez is a most contradictory footballer, capable of spectacular stupidity and spectacular intelligence within something approaching the same breath. This evening, we did at least only get to witness his intelligence. With five minutes to go, he chased down a lengthy punt on the improbable odds that something would come that he could latch onto, and when Gerrard made – not for the first time in his career – the sort of rash decision that he seems to make too frequently in a position on the pitch he simply cannot afford to be rash, there was no doubt over how this particular story would end, and that it would be without a happy ending for England.
So, let the obituaries begin. Whilst Gerrard’s mistake proved to be the game-changer, the responsibility for losing two matches in a row should probably be collective, and in any case it’s worth bearing in mind that, no matter how we may choose to forensically analyse the performance of every player, in broad terms the margins between victory and defeat can be extremely narrow. England have narrowly beaten twice over the course of the last few days, and the truth of the matter is that they probably played better football over the course of those one hundred and eighty minutes than they did at all in South Africa four years ago, when they squeezed through the group stage of the competition before being comprehensively put to the sword by Germany in the Second Round. Presuming that the highly unlikely doesn’t happen in their group over the next few days, it’s back to the drawing board, Mr Hodgson.
England may occasionally do dramatic, but they seldom do downright entertaining and for that we had to look elsewhere, yesterday. Earlier in the day, Columbia and Côte d’Ivoire played out a match that began slowly and then burned slowly before catching alight midway through the second half. Three goals in nine minutes turned the game first one way and then the other. A straightforward header from James Rodriguez – commentators seem to be in two minds over whether to call him “James” or “Ham-ess” – gave Columbia the lead, before a horrific defensive error from Serey Die resulted in Juan Fernando Quintero doubling their lead six minutes later. That should, theoretically at least, have been the end of that, but three minutes later Gervinho skipped inside from the left and shot in from the edge of the penalty area. It set up a tight last quarter of an hour but Columbia, who have looked about as impressive as any team in this tournament so far (albeit in a somewhat understated way), had enough about them to hold on to make it six points out of six from their first two matches.
Finally, a penny for thoughts of the Greece captain Kostas Katsouranis this morning. Katsouranis was sent off last night during the first half of his team’s goalless draw with Japan last night for the daftest of reasons, the accumulation of two needless yellow cards, but his team summoned a little of the spirit of 2004 and held out for a point that did neither team a great deal of good. Japan flickered and sparked without ever really catching light, and when they did break Greece looked as, if not more, capable of breaching there opponents defence. Emergence from this group is now out of the hands of both teams, though neither has yet been eliminated from the competition just yet. It seems more likely than not that both will be joining England on the early flight home after their final group match has been played.
Classic World Cup Match Of The Day
It may just about turn out to be almost academic to England now, but the fourth game in their group takes place this evening when Costa Rica play Italy. The Central American team may well have been lazily written off as rank outsiders before a ball was kicked this summer – and they did fail to get through the group stages on each of the last two occasions that they have qualified for it – but on the first occasion that they did make it through to the finals they did cause a couple of major surprises from what looked like an impossible group in which they were drawn against Brazil, Scotland and Sweden. Here are extended highlights of their opening match against Scotland, in Genoa.
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