England, Uruguay cannot afford defeat
URUGUAY v ENGLAND
(Tomorrow, 3am, SingTel mio TV Ch 141 & StarHub TV Ch 223)
Diego Lugano has a taste for melodrama. Before a decisive World Cup qualifier, the Uruguay skipper prepared a motivational video for his players.
It was the voice of Al Pacino - from the classic American football movie Any Given Sunday - imploring sportsmen to find the extra inch, the extra step; the extra life to cross the line first.
Lugano, who is set to miss the England match due to a knee injury, then went one better this week.
He said it was "do-or-die time" for Uruguay and England.
There could be no other outcome in the Group D contest tomorrow morning (Singapore time). One prevails, the other perishes.
Pacino said the margin for error was small. Lugano believes there is no margin at all. Pacino can only read lines. Lugano can read between them. Uruguay and England have suddenly conspired to produce the most significant World Cup match so far.
Victory suggests progress for England; redemption for Uruguay. Defeat offers condemnation for both; instant humiliation and a confirmed tournament exit inside a week. The press packs will be waiting. The losing side will be ripped apart.
For England, the world still revolves around Wayne Rooney. He's not happy about it and told the world as much in an understandably frustrated Facebook posting yesterday.
In the tropical heat of Manaus, he was left out in the cold. His heat map revealed only two touches inside the penalty box. He has 39 goals from 93 games but none at a World Cup Finals. He can't score from the corner flag against Italy.
The kids are all right for England, but Brazil is proving to be no country for old men. Steven Gerrard floundered against Andrea Pirlo. Rooney was neglected on the left wing.
The Three Lions skipper can raise his game. But Rooney's must be moved.
Raheem Sterling's remarkable promotion from risky proposition to creative fulcrum in a single game makes him an untouchable. He's Elliot Ness with a left foot and an England badge.
The Three Lions' future is already here, leaving Rooney feeling left behind in the present. He has to be switched or dropped against Uruguay.
With Jorge Fucile expected to step in for the suspended Maxi Pereira at right-back, England's left is the right way to go; a key entry point to the knock-out stages.
Pereira's crime could be punished by the pace of either Sterling or Danny Welbeck. Roy Hodgson appears to be leaning that way, getting himself out of a tactical hole by dropping Rooney in one.
At training yesterday, Rooney was shifted across to his more familiar central No. 10 role behind Daniel Sturridge, the focal point of an attacking triumvirate with Sterling on the right and Welbeck on the other side.
The tinkering is subtle, but it allows Hodgson to accommodate all four men, address Uruguay's weaker right side and negate any suggestion that he is compromising his all-new, improved attacking formula.
He is liberating his caged animal.
Against Italy, the most cliched of British bulldogs resembled a big cat trapped in a zoo enclosure, pacing up and down distractedly, trotting along the same well-worn path repeatedly and occasionally lashing out at anyone who came too close.
Unleash the beast or bench him.
Like Rooney against Italy, Hodgson has little room to manoeuvre here.
His opposing number faces the same dilemma in reverse. Oscar Tabarez must remove the shackles that tie Suarez to the bench.
As much as this game fits Lugano's do-or-die narrative, it's also a tale of two strikers. Rooney seeks to prove his relevance. Suarez must prove his fitness.
His task is simpler, but not one entirely within his control.
In the past, Suarez's mind let him down. On this occasion, his body could betray him.
The striker's claim that he is "100 per cent fit" is less revealing than a more damning statistic. He hasn't kicked a ball in a meaningful match for more than a month.
Suarez knows that Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill are an uncertain, brittle partnership. But so is his right knee.
This contest could hinge on which one gives out first.
When both sides meet at the new Arena Corinthians here in Sao Paulo, they will arrive at a crossroads.
For Uruguay, the fourth-placed finishers in South Africa and the Copa America champions in 2011 are The Wild Bunch; gunslingers familiar to millions. Lugano, Arevalo Rios and Diego Forlan form the core of the thirty-somethings ready to go out blazing.
There may not be a new day for Tabarez's ageing side if the Sao Paulo sun sets on their campaign.
The Three Lions, on the other hand, are the young ones with a Sterling future. If it's darkest before the dawn, then Euro 2012 was pitch black. Hodgson is gamely leading English football into the light.
But there are no points for trying. England have never lost their opening two games at a World Cup Finals before. The Three Lions walk a narrow tightrope between invention and ignominy.
Rooney and Suarez might have a point to prove, but it's not enough. They need all three.
To borrow from Lugano's favourite Pacino speech, both men, like their countries, are in hell right now. But only one of them can climb free.