Soccer may be the beautiful game, but the World Cup is a competition that inspires ugly emotions.
Only one of the 32 nations that arrived in Brazil this month will experience the ecstasy that comes from winning the biggest prize in international sport. For everyone else, there will be four years of anguish, torture and despair.
If England’s 2014 World Cup campaign came to an end here Thursday, as seems certain after a 2-1 loss to Uruguay at the Arena Corinthians, there is no doubt about the image that will haunt the nation’s soccer fans in the dark years to come.
It will be the sight of Luis Suárez sprinting toward the corner flag after slamming a shot into England’s net.
Suárez, who was making his first appearance here after missing Uruguay’s opening loss through injury, Suárez scored both goals for Uruguay, including the decisive late strike that has left England on the brink of elimination.
No team has ever qualified for the knockout round after losing both its opening two games of the tournament. With two losses from two games in Group D, England’s World Cup is all but over. “We came with such high hopes and were not able to deliver,” said England head coach Roy Hodgson. “It’s hard to know what to say.”
For Uruguay, the victory kept alive a campaign that had opened with a 3-1 defeat by Costa Rica. It also brought back memories of the late-game heroics that had propelled this team to the semifinals of the World Cup four years ago.
The winning goal came five minutes from the end and as a stomach punch for England, which had equalized moments earlier. Most painful of all, it came from on exactly the sort of straightforward, direct play for which England is famous.
Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera launched a high punt downfield, the ball was inadvertently flicked on by England’s Steven Gerrard and out of nothing, Suárez was sent clear through on goal. The Uruguay forward took one touch, steadied himself and slashed a thunderbolt high into the left corner of England’s net.
“The last thing you want to see is a punt down the pitch, a flick-on and a goal,” said England defender Phil Jagielka. “We had played pretty well. It’s gutting.”
The goal sent elation through the large contingent of Uruguay fans in a crowd of 62,575 as Suárez was mobbed by his teammates in the corner of the field.
But the return of one of international soccer’s most electric players is something that will also be cheered by fans of the sport across the globe.
Suárez had looked in danger of missing out on the tournament after undergoing knee surgery six weeks ago. He sat out Uruguay’s first game and was far from certain to start here. But in need of a win following a loss to Costa Rica in their opening game, Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez gambled by starting Suárez.
He took less than 45 minutes to justify the decision with the opening goal. From the top left corner of the area, Edinson Cavani clipped a delicate cross toward the far post. Suárez planted a header back across goal to put Uruguay in front.
As an even game went deep into the second half, it appeared that England fans would be left cursing a different striker for their failure here. In nine appearances stretched across eight years and three tournaments, Wayne Rooney hadn’t scored a single goal at the World Cup. And as he flubbed a series of simple chancers here, it appeared he might end his career without ever doing so.
Early in the first half, he hit a curling freekick just an inch wide of the left post. Shortly after halftime, his low shot off a corner was saved by Muslera. By then, he had already passed up the clearest opening of the game on a freak play in which he headed a cross from Gerrard onto the bar from barely one yard out.
But just when it appeared that Rooney might be destined to end his career without ever scoring in this sport’s biggest tournament, the goal that had eluded him finally arrived. Glen Johnson powered into the penalty box and from his low cross, Rooney prodded the game-tying shot low into the left corner of the net.
Had England held on, it would have been a redemptive moment for Rooney, whose failures in this tournament have been picked over for more than a decade. On this night, however, it was Suárez who would have the final word.