The No 6 jersey has been an iconic one for England in this tournament, on this continent. It conjures the image of Bobby Moore, Mexico, 1970; a lion of the nation’s defence. It left us with a different image last night.
The goalscorer who has probably ended England’s World Cup was the most predictable one in the tournament. His threat will have been analysed 100 times. Steven Gerrard said the course of England’s night would stand or fall on the defence. And still Luis Suarez cleaved open England’s central defence. Again and then again. There can be no preparation for the lack of requisite class.
The mathematics mean it is not conclusively over for England, who need a win in Belo Horizonte against Costa Rica and defeat for Uruguay against Italy in Natal. But the World Cup adventure is fading for Wayne Rooney.
He found a form of vindication at last. He also discovered the net for the first time on the biggest stage of all, in the course of delivering as much as anyone in the famous white shirt on this occasion. But the gulf in class between his country and the opposition leaves him a very long way from feeling that the World Cup can ever be a tournament he can look back on and smile. England simply lost the vigour they had found in Manaus and went back to the functionality which they had put in the past.
One of the banners paraded by the exuberant Uruguayans who processed to the stadium recalled the words of Jose Artigas, the father of Uruguayan nationhood, who declared “Nadas podemos esperar si no es de nosotros mismos”. We can hope for nothing if we are not ourselves.
The question was could Rooney be himself? Release his mind to the signature evening at a World Cup which we have been waiting for from him since 2003, by discovering that free spirit and fearlessness that Frank Lampard recalled to mind only this week, when he talked of a 17-year-old Rooney first arriving for training, warming up, getting his kit on and just getting out and playing.
The prospect of that happening is never encouraging when a player has taken to Facebook to express his frustrations – in Rooney’s case, at others observing that he had not warmed down with England on Monday. He stared into space in the tunnel as he prepared to walk out and Steven Gerrard approached him in the last seconds before England went to work, wrapped an arm around his neck and speak a few last words into his ear.
The man on his shoulder five minutes later was not quite so convivial. Egidio Arevalo is what you might politely described as a midfield enforcer. “Aggressive little hit man” is how World Soccer put it recently and from the way he was deployed, it was hard to avoid the impression that the Uruguyans knew that Rooney would be tucked in behind Daniel Sturridge, in his best position.
He was not entirely controlled by Arevalo during a first half in which he needed to announce himself as the rightful custodian of the No 10 shirt and douse the criticism about his worth. England’s two best opportunities of that period belonged to him. The first was the free kick, hoisted up over the wall, and two inches wide of the left post.
The second connected with the right post – a header he manoeuvred himself for at the back post from Steven Gerrard’s inswinging corner but which he was so close to goal when he connected that he could do no more than let the ball meet his head and hope. A well measured ball for Daniel Sturridge into the left hand channel counted in the credit column too, drawing a sharper save from Fernando Musler to his right.
But Rooney could not take the game apart. There was nothing to put the fear of God into the Atletico Madrid central defensive pairing that stood before him and nothing to suggest that one of the world’s best paid players was on the pitch.
His flickers of life continued into the second half: a drive into opposition before a give-and-go. And then he scored. He looked to the heavens when he scored and blew a muted kind of kiss for supplications answered. The tap-in that presented itself to him was more elementary than any mental image he will have nurtured of how his World Cup goal might have come. Just stepping in front of the full back, finding he had not been followed, and waiting there for the tap-in would do. It had taken 94 caps for that to arrive.
There would be no papering over the realities of England, though. For a defence to be so inferior to the threat that Suarez posed required a phalanx of threats for the Uruguayans to face. There were pitifully few. Raheem Sterling could not conjure the spirit and imagination that we saw against the Italians.
Danny Welbeck disappeared without trace. And while Daniel Sturridge provided some unpredictability – working up and down the Uruguay back line – he struggled to deliver anything like the venom that his Liverpool shooting partner serve up.
He could get no power on the opening which presented itself when he ran into the left hand channel and found space opening to shoot, not long beyond the hour
It would have required a performance of giant proportions for Rooney to rescue England from this. A Rooney at the searing best we saw from him in those early England years.
A Rooney who had scaled the height that his old partner Cristiano Ronaldo has managed by dint of his obsessive work ethic and self obsession.
He could not lift himself to that level and though the physicality of the Uruguayans took its toll at times, Roy Hodgson could have no complaints last night. England had been dealt a tough hand and – though two Italy victories and a win over Costa Rica might be enough to extend England’s tournament, the hope seems forlorn.
Rooney had the faraway look in his eyes again as he left the pitch last night. After all the talk and the expectation and the criticism, there could be only one conclusion: that England are a moderately good football nation who can hold their own against most but scrape into the world’s top ten for a reason
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