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Suarez leaves Rooney to hide in the shadows

EVERY single ounce of hype that conspired to place such incredible weight of expectation on Luis Suarez and Wayne Rooney proved justified.

Luis Suarez goes to the Uruguay fans after his late winner leaves England teetering on the edge of elimination. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA
Luis Suarez goes to the Uruguay fans after his late winner leaves England teetering on the edge of elimination. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

Suarez almost always delivers at the highest level for his country. Rooney too often fails to come up to the mark.

Those were the incontrovertible facts that had turned the spotlight on these two men with such blinding intensity in the lead-up to this win-or-bust affair in Group D.

Rooney's first goal in three World Cup tournaments, levelling this tense and exciting affair at 1-1 with just 14 minutes to go, gives him some ammunition, at least, with which to defend his dented reputation as the dust settles on events in Sao Paulo.

He is no match for his Liverpool counterpart, though. He cannot be categorised in the same bracket of footballer. This proved, if you happened to have any doubts, that Suarez truly is superhuman.

His reading of the game, eye for an opportunity and knowledge of when to take a gamble, hints at heightened senses that operate beyond the normal spectrum. The fact he was capable of almost singlehandedly winning a match on this stage a month after undergoing keyhole surgery on his left knee suggests his physical attributes are like something from the gods.

No wonder his team-mates raised him shoulder-high at the full-time whistle. Given the nightmarish nature of his preparations for this tournament, it is quite remarkable he got on the scoresheet at all just before the interval.

That his winner should come through a turn of pace shown just five minutes towards the end of a draining encounter and topped off with a lethal finish on the move is like something from the pages of a comic book.

Forget him punching the ball off the line against Ghana four years ago and ignore his propensity for biting opponents for a moment. This guy, when it boils down to it, is emerging as the kind of player you will tell your grandchildren you had the pleasure of watching. If Brendan Rodgers manages to keep him at Anfield for next season after this, he will be almost as much of a miracle worker.

Just as goals upon goals from the 27-year-old became part of the story in the red half of Merseyside last season, it was one costly error from Steven Gerrard against Chelsea that ensured that particular tale would have an unhappy ending. Again, the Liverpool captain was left disconsolate in the centre of the maelstrom again last night.

His failure to cut out a long clearance from the goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, the ball skidding off the top of his head, created the opportunity. Suarez somehow appeared to anticipate the error, stealing a march on the England backline and putting himself straight through on goal.

Phil Jagielka was never likely to recover. Suarez was never likely to miss. Joe Hart could do little to prevent his well-struck right-foot shot from rippling the net.

Suarez, surely only half-fit, had no shortage of excuses in his locker. Right fist strapped up like a boxer in black tape, though, his warrior instinct was always going to prevent him from travelling down that road.

Only a matter of minutes into the game, he won a corner after a sharp one-two with Nicolas Lodeiro and almost beat Hart at the front post directly from the flag-kick. His real strength lies in that instinctive ability to be in the right place at the right time, though. Six minutes before the break and with the game very finely balanced, indeed, his merciless nature came to the fore.

Suarez's inclusion was one of five changes made by the Uruguayan coach, Oscar Tabarez. It is the one that, rightly, commands the headlines, but the decision to utilise Lodeiro in midfield was equally wise. He provided greater link-up play between the centre of the pitch and the forward line and offered real creativity before going off.

With England having failed to take control in midfield, he collected possession and sprayed the ball out left to Edinson Cavani. Employing effortless movement that belied his sharpness of thought, the PSG striker spotted Suarez making his run behind Jagielka and popped the most delightful of crosses over the top of the flailing England defender.

From that point onwards, there would only ever be one outcome. Suarez met the ball with the centre of his forehead and it looped past Hart's extended right arm and into the corner of the net.

Not altogether surprisingly, his influence faded as the match progressed. It was tempting to wonder why Tabarez was unwilling to take him off as England dared to dream of snatching a winner themselves. Then, it all became painfully clear.

England are not heading back home quite yet. They need Italy to win both of their remaining matches to have a chance. There will also be continued debate on Rooney's ability to resuscitate their campaign.

After looking desperately unhappy out left in the opening 2-1 defeat by Italy, the Manchester United man looked happier in a more central role behind Daniel Sturridge, but you still have to ask if he influenced the game in the manner a man earning an estimated £300,000-a-week should.

He ought to have done better when watching a close-range header from a Gerrard dead-ball cannon off the crossbar at 0-0 and, with England clinging on to the match by their fingernails in the wake of an early second-half onslaught, he fired a clear shot from 10 yards or so straight at Muslera.

His tap-in from a Glen Johnson cross did re-energise his team and may be something he can build on. England also have reason to feel that Uruguay's captain Diego Godin, already on a yellow card, should have been sent-off for a blatant elbow on Sturridge just before the half-hour.

In the end, though, they just weren't good enough in so many areas. Further errors cost them dear. Put simply, you cannot afford to cut your own throat when the opposition have a man who lives and thrives on the scent of blood.

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