KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- South America is thrashing Europe 5-1 so far in the World Cup finals in Brazil.
England’s 2-1 defeat by Uruguay in Sao Paulo in Group D – the so-called Group of Death – was painful enough for Roy Hodgson, skipper Steven Gerrard, goalscorer Wayne Rooney and the squad.
But the wider picture was equally intriguing, particularly with CONMEBOL’s Colombia becoming the third nation guaranteed a place in the knockout stage with a game to spare – after Holland and Chile.
Most of the South American players at the finals play their club football in Europe. Europeans do not, of course, play in South America. Hence the various stars of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay have an inbuilt advantage here in knowing the conditions.
Switzerland’s 2-1 defeat of Ecuador is the only European success in this intercontinental duel.
As the finals continue so home advantage could prove significant for the entire South American contingent not only Brazil.
Colombia defeated Ivory Coast 2-1 after a focused, pacey performance in Group C. Outstanding individuals such as James Rodriguez and Teo Gutierrez proved that, for all Radamel Falcao’s goals in qualifying, the Cafeteros are far from a one-man team.
Colombia’s place in the second round was guaranteed when Greece and Japan shared a poor goalless draw later in the day. The Greeks dragged out a draw which their fans celebrated as if they had won the World Cup itself.
A resolute defensive operation had been demanded after veteran Kostas Katsouranis was sent off for a second yellow card in the 38th minute.
But the day’s heavyweight contest was in Sao Paulo where Luis Suarez, barely recovered from knee surgery before the finals, scored both goals for the Celeste against England – one early and one late.
England fans’ post-mortem, focusing on Hodgson’s choice of tactics and personnel as well as a clutch of defensive mistakes, did the Uruguayans less than justice.
Washington Tabarez has seen his men beaten 3-1 by Costa Rica in their opening game so this match meant everything and they responded the traditional ‘garra’. Later The Teacher suggested that the dramatic conclusion would have been worthy of a movie script.
He also had the grace to acknowledge that “the gap between winning and losing is very small.”
Tabarez added: “When we lost to Costa Rica it was not the first time we were on the brink of going out but we never, ever give up. Sometimes, also, you learn more from a defeat than a victory.”
Uruguay were as powerfully committed against England as they had been lazily inefficient against Costa Rica. England contested every minute and every inch of the game but the outcome revealed that human sporting spirit is far more than mere statistics.
Hodgson’s men boasted more possession and more passes ‘completed’ and with more accuracy. So much for all the blind faith placed in statistics as a secure foundation for judgment. Football is more complex than that.
Uruguay, subjectively, were the superior team, better organised in defence and midfield and deserved their redemption.
They now need to beat Italy in their last game to ensure a place in the second round.
As for England, they take only faint chances into their last group game against Costa Rica. The omens are not good. Last time England came to Brazil for a World Cup, in 1950, they were pushed fatally and notoriously towards an early exit by the United States.
That game was played in Belo Horizonte . . . where England must confront Los Ticos.