Hope turned to despair once more, as so often in England’s World Cup campaigns – and what now for Roy Hodgson with a batch of unwelcome new records poised to arrive on his watch?
Faced with a Uruguay side that had little going for them beyond a genius in the number nine shirt, England were tactically inept and terminally naive in another 2-1 defeat.
The World Cup campaign is not over, Hodgson may proclaim, but history will tell you otherwise: no team has ever lost two World Cup group games and advanced. No England team has ever lost their first two World Cup games either, and you have to go back to 1958 to find the last time England failed to get out of the first group stage.
No wonder the England players trooped off the Sao Paulo pitch with heads bowed at the final whistle, after a 90 minutes where, Wayne Rooney apart, the team had had a stinker.
England’s heroic failure against Italy in Manaus had raised expectations, as well as some fears, that Hodgson’s men should finally produce a World Cup performance and result to be proud of.
It has been a dozen years since England have contrived to achieve that: not since 2002 when victories over Argentina and Denmark promised a glorious future for a golden generation that never quite materialised.
There was also the feeling that Uruguay could be there for the taking, having been humiliated 3-1 by Costa Rica and missing injured skipper Diego Lugano plus the suspended Maxi Pereira.
The South Americans had Luis Suarez back of course, but after that match in Manaus where England were so brimming with vigour, and with the Liverpool striker only just back from a knee op, surely there was only going to be one winner?
Except that England’s players took their instructions to attack relentlessly too literally: it was all horribly frantic, constantly disjointed and low in terms of skill levels.
Going forward, England were hasty while in defence they were hesitant.
Joe Hart looked uncharacteristically nervous in goal, while the outfield England players were headless chickens clad in white, running here, there and everywhere but too often to little purpose.
Uruguay were not much cop themselves, especially compared to Italy, but were ruthless when necessary, dirty when they thought they could get away with it, and had that man Suarez as a constant, nagging and brilliant presence.
Two excellent goals by Suarez were enough to do for England, the first an outstanding header after being superbly picked out by Edinson Cavani, despite the Uruguayans being outnumbered by six to two.
The second was a rasping, devilish strike that soared past Hart into the back of the net after England failed to deal with a route one ball straight from a goalkeeper’s kick.
That came after Rooney, playing in his favoured central role, had finally broken his World Cup hoo-doo to pull the scores level.
Rooney had a far better game than in Manaus but until that long-awaited goal must have thought he was cursed: a wicked free-kick bending a whisker wide with Fernando Muslera in the Uruguay goal rooted to the spot, a header that crashed against the angle of bar and post from point-blank range, and a chance from 10 yards that looked odds on but was too close to the keeper.
The rest of the team who had impressed against Italy found themselves suffering by comparison. Raheem Sterling buzzed around but showed little composure, while Daniel Sturridge’s touch appeared to have deserted him. Steven Gerrard looked off the pace and played an unfortunate role in both Uruguay’s goals, while Jordan Henderson seemed out of his depth.
England’s fate is out of their hands now but this World Cup is already looking disastrous. As John Cleese said, I can take the despair – it’s the hope I can’t stand.
Colombia beats Ivory Coast, secures 2nd-round spot
Starved of the World Cup action for 16 years, Colombia – and its fanatical traveling supporters – are certainly making the most of being back on football’s biggest stage.
Driven on by a partisan pro-Colombian crowd that turned the Estadio Nacional into a sea of yellow, the South Americans scored through James Rodriguezand substitute Juan Quintero in a devastating six-minute spell in the second half to beat Ivory Coast 2-1 on Thursday.
A second victory in Group C, following a 3-0 win over Greece, helped Colombia qualify for a place in the last 16. A 0-0 draw between Japan and Greece in the later group match ensured Colombia would progress to the next stage.
”We have had two wins with players who are playing their first World Cup,” Colombia coach Jose Pekerman said. ”We’re happy to have defeated such a good opponent. We have a lot of young players, and this is going to help them grow.”
Known for his midfield artistry, playmaker Rodriguez showed his prowess in the air by getting clear of Ivory Coast captain Didier Drogba – again only used as a substitute – at a corner to head in Colombia’s opener in the 64th minute, lighting up a disappointing match.
The celebrations had hardly died down among the vast hordes of Colombia supporters by the time a defensive mistake by Ivory Coast midfielder Serey Die allowed Teofilo Gutierrez to play in Quintero, and the midfielder slotted home a low finish.
Ivory Coast replied with a brilliant 73rd-minute solo goal by Gervinho, his second of the World Cup, but couldn’t find a second despite a strong finish. The Ivorians remain on three points after their 2-1 opening win over Japan.
Instead of Radamel Falcao, the country’s star striker who was ruled out through injury before the tournament, the most important factor in Colombia’s march through the group stage has arguably been its amazing support.
With supporters wearing yellow shirts dominating the stadium, it was effectively an away game for the Ivorians.
”It was extraordinary,” Rodriguez said, ”it was very much in our favor that Colombia could win.”
The crowd roared with relief at the final whistle, with Drogba’s introduction in the 60th minute helping pep up Ivory Coast’s attack that had previously looked rudderless with Wilfried Bony as the lone striker.
”I must say that we didn’t deserve to lose,” Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi said. ”It was very experienced Colombia team who waited for us to make mistakes.”
Drogba may now start that match but Lamouchi will also be looking for more from the squads top player, Yaya Toure, who seems like a shadow of the player who starred for Manchester City in the English Premier League last season.
There was no mistaking the passion of the Ivory Coast lineup – Die was in tears during the national anthem – but the team’s undoubted attacking quality has been lacking so far at this World Cup and Colombia looked more threatening going forward.
The best chance of a cagey first half was spurned by Gutierrez, who miscued a volley with the goal at his mercy after being perfectly set up by Rodriguez’s left-wing cross in the 28th. Otherwise, the highlight of the first 45 minutes came when a large inflatable ball bounced onto the playing surface, causing a brief stoppage.
Tricky winger Juan Cuadrado struck the bar with a fierce, angled shot before teammate Rodriguez, named man of the match, broke the deadlock with the kind of header that Drogba – the player supposed to be marking the Monaco playmaker – has been used to delivering.
Quintero’s side-footed finish gave Colombia breathing space, meaning that Gervinho’s goal – he jinked through two defenders, beat another and shot inside goalkeeper David Ospina’s near post – proved to be just a consolation.
Colombia faces Japan in its last group game.