Five Points: Uruguay finds its sharpness, England loses its footing

Few players command the spotlight quite like Luis Suarez. His compunction for controversy nearly matches his staggering talents. It is a potent mixture designed to compel attention in the best and the worst of times.

Suarez returned from knee surgery in time to take his place against England on Day 8. His expansive influence on that encounter provides the ideal starting spot for the latest edition of Five Points.

Lodeiro and Suarez transform Uruguay

Oscar Tabarez might have wondered what happened to his veteran side as Costa Rica rampaged through it on Saturday. La Celeste crumbled in the second half as the Ticos exposed their fading legs and their inability to conjure any sort of thrust without the influential Suarez in the starting XI. The display left pervasive doubts about whether this side could respond well enough to dispatch a mobile England side.

Uruguay did not exactly capture the imagination in its 2-1 victory over England, but it did acquire the sharpness required with the inclusion of Nicolas Lodeiro in midfield and the restoration of Suarez up front to turn its defensive improvement into three points.

Lodeiro constituted a bit of a gamble with his lack of defensive tracking, but he presented problems for England with his starting positions between Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson. Both players struggled to cope when Lodeiro placed himself in good spots to pressure them occasionally and turn intelligently they lost the ball. Lodeiro’s influence on the first goal – a diagonal ball toward Edinson Cavani after Gerrard conceded possession in the middle third – largely justified his inclusion and reinforced the importance of a creative element in a side largely set up to destroy.

Suarez created his usual problems with an excellent all-around performance to punish England for his mistakes. His movements off the ball – particularly when he checked either side of Gerrard or Henderson – presented Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka with awkward decisions time and again. His runs carried their usual menace with Jagielka essentially undone by an inside-out feint on the opener and a straight burst onto Gerrard’s unfortunate flick for the winner.

Tabarez faces a dilemma about his options – can he afford to field Lodeiro again with Arevalo Rios in this sort of pugnacious form? – in the decisive game against Italy on Tuesday in Natal, but he knows now that his side now boasts the edge necessary to succeed.

England on its way out due to its lack of solidity

Most of the scrutiny heaped upon Wayne Rooney rather misses the point. Rooney – England’s best player by quite some distance against Uruguay despite his misses, by the way – isn’t the problem. The fatal flaw in this side: The defensive core of the side simply isn’t strong enough to withstand the scrutiny under close examination.

The problem extends well beyond one or two players. It is a structural issue borne from collective concerns and individual frailties in this 4-2-3-1 shape. Most of the issues start when England concedes possession. Opposing teams find it far too easy to play through Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson once the ball turns over and subsequently pull apart the back four. Decent movement unsettles the entire shape. There is no compensation available and no steady cover to paper the cracks when they emerge.

The inability to exchange assignments or make the proper decisions showed on both goals. Uruguay constructed a fine move for the opener, but six England players failed to cope with Cavani and Suarez in the final accounting. The second goal – a straight Route One delivery from Fernando Muslera with an unfortunate Gerrard flick to play Suarez through – underscored the dearth of anticipation and concentration inherent within this group.

Roy Hodgson can’t solve the issues in time to change the course of this tournament. England is likely heading home after its final group match against Costa Rica unless other results fall kindly. And it isn’t because of Rooney.


Tactical battle ultimately pushes Colombia over Côte d’Ivoire

This game constituted one of the more fascinating matchups in this group stage given the strengths of both teams. Colombia functions best on the counter with Juan Cuadrado and James Rodriguez proceeding rapidly through midfield to pounce on the opposition when its shape is a bit stretched. Côte d’Ivoire operates primarily in possession with plenty of emphasis on playing wide on the right through the overlapping Serge Aurier and spreading out enough to allow Yaya Touré to drive the proceedings directly through the middle.

Both teams did a good job of mitigating the strengths of the opposition, particularly in the first half. Colombia dropped intelligently and pinched inside defensively to restrict the amount of service to Wilfried Bony (zero touches in the Colombian penalty area, per Opta statistics) and shunt the Ivorians back toward the wide areas. By choking off the ability to play more directly, the Colombians forced Côte d’Ivoire to resort to aimless crosses (three out of 30 completed) and largely fruitless one-versus-one endeavors. Côte d’Ivoire limited Colombia’s effectiveness on the break by taking up good positions most of the time with Didier Zokora an important piece of those plans when he stepped into passing lanes. Colombia responded by playing over the top to stretch the game vertically, but Zokora gobbled up most of that service and watched his adversaries shoot wildly when they did profit.

The fine margins between the teams and the tactics in place increased the threshold required to break the deadlock. Colombia eventually cleared the hurdle from a set piece with Rodriguez making an excellent run to the near post to nod home Cuadrado’s corner. Teo Gutierrez – guilty of a generally poor display and a wretched first-half miss – punished Serey Die for conceding possession by playing second-half substitute Juan Quintero through for the second. Gervinho offered a stellar reply with a fine solo run and finish, but the Colombians held out for a 2-1 victory with the Ivorians ultimately short of creativity.

It proved a largely fair result in the end with Colombia boasting a bit more quality in the final third to essentially book its place in the round of 16.  Côte d’Ivoire will need to focus on its supply lines to garner the expected points against Greece on Tuesday.

Inevitable stalemate unfolds between Japan and Greece

There were always fears about the entertainment value in this fixture, but Kostas Katsouranis’ first-half dismissal led the two teams down an inevitable path in this 0-0 draw. Japan kept the ball almost exclusively without consistently devising any sort of way through. The rare moments of incisiveness ultimately led to the usual wayward finishing with Yoshito Okubo’s miss after 68 minutes particularly egregious for its wastefulness. Greece relinquished most of its ambition on the counter with 10 men, sat deeply and soaked up all of the pressure required to remain alive in Group C heading into the final day.

Costa Rica faces a difficult road on the counter against Italy

Italy will not fall into the same trap Uruguay did when it steps onto the field against Costa Rica on Friday (12:00p.m. ET). Daniele De Rossi provides the sort of intelligent cover required to thwart the Ticos on the break with the odd foul and the right starting spot, while the Italian rearguard possesses an extra step of pace required to track Joel Campbell. Costa Rica must also set its line a touch higher to ensure Andrea Pirlo is closed down quickly in midfield. Pirlo will navigate his way into spaces, but the Ticos cannot permit him to cross through lines as easily as he did against England on Saturday.

Switzerland and France (3:00p.m. ET) meet in Salvador to determine the inside track for Group E. France must mind Switzerland in the wide areas, particularly if Stefan Lichtsteiner and Ricardo Rodriguez improve their service on the overlap. Switzerland needs to limit the supply into Karim Benzema and mind the channels carefully with Antoine Griezmann and Mathieu Valbuena buzzing about menacingly.

Expect Ecuador to try and stretch the game as often as possible against Honduras in the nightcap (6:00p.m.). Reinaldo Rueda’s side likely needs all three points to maintain reasonable hopes of claiming a berth in the knockout stages. Look for the Hondurans to foul in the middle third to disrupt Ecuador’s rhythm and prevent quick exchanges into the wide areas. If Ecuador can thrive in that department and provide good service into the penalty area, then Enner Valencia could expose a Honduran defense weakened by the injury to Victor Bernárdez.