Only Sterling can hit weak spot
Reputation should not trump reality. Past glories do not compensate for present failings. Being a legend does not warrant a place on the left.
Wayne Rooney should step away from the wing and allow Raheem Sterling to dominate the stage his form deserves.
England's long suffering servant must be spared further punishment. Any further attempts to accommodate him only compromise the team's stability.
Rooney hasn't done anything particularly wrong. He just hasn't done enough right. Sterling's star is in the ascendency. His performance against Italy epitomised England's positive evolution towards a more attractive, passing game.
He caused havoc in possession. He spread fear among the Italians. Rooney spread uncertainty among his teammates.
Their next opponents in Sao Paulo have an obvious weakness. Uruguay have been lumbered with a gap they can't adequately fill. It's a rabbit hole of uncertainty.
If Sterling sneaks through it, he could tumble headlong into a World Cup wonderland. His reality would move into the realms of fantasy.
Only the 19-year-old Liverpool man can hit the South Americans' weak spot.
When Uruguayan right back Maxi Pereira lost his cool, his head and his status on the pitch with a frustrated foul on Costa Rica's Joel Campbell, he rolled out a red carpet along his flank for Sterling.
His suspension should be Sterling's confirmation. Just as the Italians targeted Rooney's weak side, the Three Lions are likely to pull focus on Uruguay's wobbling right flank.
The 30-year-old Pereira was a muscular mainstay for club Benfica and his country. His presence possibly offered Roy Hodgson a ready-made excuse to leave Rooney in the left-wing wilderness; where two burly veterans could do battle.
But Uruguay's defensive obstacle is suspended. Sterling has a chance to pass go, collect his $200 and keep England in the World Cup game. He is Hodgson's get-out-of jail card.
Not playing the winger in his natural left-sided position would be stubbornness to the point of recklessness; a hazardous decision to include Rooney at any cost. Such a team selection runs the risk of reading like a tournament suicide note.
For all of England's positive intentions against Italy, they got no points for aesthetic effort.
Travelling from Manaus to Sao Paulo with England fans who've made huge financial sacrifices to travel to the World Cup's spiritual home, there was a grudging appreciation for the Three Lions' change in emphasis.
But patience is wearing thin for the perennial indulgence of fading superstars. Through no fault of his own, Rooney is becoming a victim of his manager's loyalty. He needs rest, not recrimination.
England's initial attacking promise will swiftly be forgotten if they are effectively sent home in five days.
But Sterling can stop England's campaign from drifting towards obscurity. His skipper nearly encapsulated his rare asset.
"He's fearless," said Steven Gerrard.
"That's his character. He doesn't worry about the opposition."
Despite the debilitating humility in Manaus, Sterling charged like the kid from the Queens Park Rangers academy. The attacking intent remained undimmed. Only the opposition had changed. Sterling hadn't.
His temerity should terrify the Uruguayans, particularly the poor chap handed the thankless job of replacing Pereira at right back.
Unless Martin Caceres switches sides, the likeliest candidate is Jorge Fucile.
He's experienced and willing, but the 29-year-old has struggled for consistency. Porto farmed him out to Santos on loan, so he's not stranger to the city of Sao Paulo at least. But he's a stranger to Sterling. Such pace should petrify him.
A tag-team might be an option, but Cristian Stuani struggled to support Pereira against Costa Rica.
Both Stuani and Fucile are ripe for plucking. Sterling will tear away at them like a young hyena attacking wounded buffaloes.
The Uruguayans know Rooney's number. His inclusion would not surprise, but it might throw away the initiative handed to England by the reckless Pereira.
Sterling rings alarms bells. He's primed to wake up England's tournament.
Gerrard is right. Sterling's greatest attribute is not his pace, his close control or even his crossing.
When opponents face off in a sporting theatre, physique and power are often less important than the sign in the eyes.
Fearlessness truly terrifies. Fearlessness forces opponents to retreat. Fearlessness grants an extra inch.
If Sterling gets it, he'll take a mile.
But his fearlessness on the pitch must now be matched by Hodgson on the team-sheet.
He’s fearless. That’s his character. He doesn’t worry about the opposition.
— England captain Steven Gerrard on teammate Raheem Sterling