Of all the countries playing at the World Cup this year, there is one—and one alone—that has been put on the map entirely by soccer. Uruguay. Had it not been for soccer, few outside its own cartographical ‘hood would know more than the most perfunctory basics about this nation of three million people. Like where it is… sort of…and the language spoken there. Those with a little more general knowledge might know that Uruguayans are keen on beef.
If one word—soccer (or football)—sums up Uruguay, two words—Luis Suárez—capture the potency of the Uruguayan game. Suárez, a stocky, powerful man, is a forward no less accomplished than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and today, against England, he showed that he may be a better player on the highest world stage than either of those two. If your children were in the grip of homicidal bandits who would return them to you alive only if you could guarantee a World Cup goal in exchange, you’d pick Suárez to bail you out over any other player in the game. He’s that good, and that unerring.
Twice he scored against England today, first in the 38th minute and again in the 84th, to drive a stake through English hearts. The defeat will hurt England more than most others in recent history, for after its game against Italy five days ago—which England lost, but lost with a certain nobility—English fans had come to believe that they had a fine and creative team, easy on the eye, brainy on the pass. The defense, while suspect, was unquestionably tenacious. So going into this game against Uruguay, there was none of the usual English self-deprecation.
What were England’s coach and players thinking? Were they, in fact, thinking at all?
Of course, the Uruguayans had a point or two to prove. A laughingstock had been made of them by Costa Rica only days ago, the Central Americans winning 3-1 in the upset of the tournament. Suárez hadn’t been fit for that game, so he was thirsting to get back to the business of scoring goals. Remarkable it was, then, that England should give him so much space. For much of the game, this most dangerous of strikers roamed about unpatrolled, as if he were on a gambol through his hometown of Salto (pop. 104,028). What were England’s coach and players thinking? Were they, in fact, thinking at all?
The second goal by Suárez came off a punt by Fernando Muslera, Uruguay’s goalkeeper: Whump, he went, booting the ball upfield. It soared over the halfline, slid off the back of the head of Stephen Gerrard, England’s captain and chief defender, and fell horribly (if you’re English), beautifully (if you’re Uruguayan) to an unmarked Suarez. Two taps and a fast dart later, it was in the back of the net. Gerrard is Suárez’s teammate at Liverpool, and within seconds a cruel tweet was doing the rounds: “I thought I’d seen enough Gerrard assists for Suárez for one season.”
In other news, now no more than a footnote, Wayne Rooney—a striker as talented as he is infuriating—finally delivered a World Cup goal, in his 10th Cup game. Rooney is England’s talisman, encapsulating his team as perfectly as Suárez does his, and the jinx-breaking goal was the 74th-minute equalizer. For some minutes after he’d scored, England swarmed all over Uruguay, but seasoned fatalists knew in their hearts that England wouldn’t—couldn’t—deliver the coup de grace. They are now on the verge of elimination. Winning at the World Cup has stopped being the English way. Instead, it was Suárez from Salto who won. Uruguay is still on the map.