By Peter Rutherford
Start him. Drop him. Move him. The whole of England seems to have an opinion on what Roy Hodgson should do with Wayne Rooney for their Group D clash against Uruguay on Thursday (10pm).
It was the under-fire forward’s inviting cross swatted home by Daniel Sturridge that got England level against Italy in their opener on Saturday but, posted on the left, Rooney looked short of fitness and struggled with defensive duties at times.
Despite the clamour in some quarters for Rooney to be dropped to the bench, Hodgson is likely to switch him to a central role behind Sturridge, pushing the jet-heeled Raheem Sterling out wide to romp up and down Uruguay’s right.
The pace of Sterling, Sturridge and Danny Welbeck could cause real problems for the South Americans’ defence, which crumbled in the face of Costa Rica’s direct running in a shock 3-1 defeat in the first game in the group.
While England’s 2-1 defeat on Saturday was their first in a World Cup opener since 1986, they go into their second game at the Corinthians arena in a confident frame of mind after a fearless display full of pace and promise against Italy.
Striker Sturridge acknowledged the level of performance promised much for the future but said England could not be satisfied with being unlucky losers.
“At the end of the day it’s about results, not performances, and we realise that as a team as well,” he said this week.
“I don’t think we need to change much, we just need a bit of luck, a break, but we will take the positives out of that and the end thing is that we want results,” he told reporters.
Hodgson savoured what he called England’s “best performance” since he took over two years ago, suggesting he feels little reason to ring the changes for Copa America champions Uruguay.
Like England, Uruguay must recover from an opening loss but there were few positives from a dire performance against Costa Rica in which right back Maxi Perreira was sent off in stoppage time.
Coach Oscar Tabarez told reporters this week that his team had to be wary of England’s front men, who showed “great technical potential” against Italy.
“They’re fast in decision-making and running. We have to limit them, because they are going to repeat that offensive style against us,” he added.
Key to Uruguay’s hopes of getting their campaign back on track will be the fitness of striker Luis Suarez, who missed the opener and is still a doubt for Thursday.
Suarez lit up the English Premier League last season with 31 goals in 33 games but underwent keyhole surgery on his left knee last month and was not deemed fit enough to face Costa Rica.
While Tabarez was cagey about his key striker’s chances of facing England, Suarez himself has no doubts about his fitness.
“I’m 100 per cent, otherwise I wouldn’t be here,” he told Uruguayan reporters at the team’s training camp this week.
“I knew it would be difficult to be ready for the first game, but if the proper time was left then I was going to be 100 per cent afterwards. I’ve done everything I had to do.
“I’m training today with the team and I feel in good condition. I never lost the joy and the desire. I never thought I would miss the World Cup.”
While others were reluctant to describe Thursday’s game as ‘must win’, Uruguay captain Diego Lugano is full aware of the importance of the match.
“It’s life or death on Thursday. We’re up against two of the best in the world now (England and Italy). It’s an enormous challenge.”