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Soccer-Suarez exposes England's soft centre

Reuters

By Mike Collett-White

SAO PAULO, June 19 (Reuters) - "England's defensive frailties" is probably the most oft-repeated phrase in the country's soccer journalism and the 2-1 loss to Uruguay at the World Cup on Thursday underlined why.

Man-of-the-match Luis Suarez, back from injury and the focus of intense media attention in the buildup to a game both sides desperately needed to win, scored twice to put England on the brink of elimination from Group D.

Both goals underlined his attacking brilliance - peeling off a defender for a well directed header in the first half, and rifling an angled shot past Joe Hart after a speedy run on goal in the second. And he was not even fully fit.

But England will feel both goals could have been prevented.

For the first, central defender Phil Jagielka allowed the prolific striker to lose him and get a free header on goal.

That would have been doubly depressing for England manager Roy Hodgson because Jagielka's partner in central defence, Gary Cahill, was beaten by the same trick in the first match against Italy last week when Mario Balotelli headed their winner.

The second goal was more calamitous.

A clearance from Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera brushed England captain Steven Gerrard's head, ensuring that Suarez beyond him was onside.

This time it was Cahill who was flat-footed and ignoring the most basic rules of centre-back play, leaving the most deadly finisher in the English Premier League a free run on goal, and his sizzling strike was simply too hot for Hart to handle.

Jagielka did not try to paper over the cracks.

"We are very disappointed as defenders, that is the last thing you want to see from a punt down the field," he said in televised remarks after the match.

Hodgson, naturally, looked for positives in defeat, which came despite England having 62 percent of possession and eight shots on goal to Uruguay's six.

"I thought we controlled Suarez well in general play, he did very well to get away to the back post for the first goal but frankly for long periods of the game we kept him quiet," he said.

"The second goal was an unfortunate flick off Steven Gerrard's head and when he (Suarez) gets free with the goalkeeper he doesn't miss."

That will be little comfort to the thousands of England fans in fine voice at the boisterous Corinthians arena in Sao Paulo and millions more tuning in at home.

KNIVES ALREADY OUT

England were given the benefit of the doubt by pundits and the public after losing their opening game against Italy.

A youthful side showed plenty of attacking promise, raising hopes that they would be well placed to expose a slower Uruguay team which had been outclassed by unfancied Costa Rica 3-1 in the first round of matches.

The defeat by Uruguay is unlikely to be so easily forgiven.

England are bottom of their group without a point, while Costa Rica, Italy and Uruguay all have three.

Italy play their second match against Costa Rica on Friday, meaning there is a mathematical chance England could still reach the next round. All will become clear on Tuesday, but English hopes are fading fast.

Rio Ferdinand, England's experienced former central defender, had harsh words for his successors.

"The second goal is just a straight ball," he told the BBC.

"Phil Jagielka is in no-man's land and leaves Gary Cahill in a bad predicament. Personally, I would drop off and make sure there are no players between me and the goalkeeper, or you go and attack the ball and we have done neither."

Former England captain Alan Shearer was equally blunt.

"As long as we continue to defend as we did tonight and against Italy, then we'll struggle to progress. I didn't see many positives in that performance," he said. "The huge concern was the way we defended for the goals conceded."

"DYSFUNCTIONAL AND DISORGANISED"

The Daily Mail newspaper's match report struck a shriller tone, one that Britain's popular tabloid press is likely to mirror when the first editions hit the newsstands on Friday.

"England's defence was dysfunctional and disorganised, brutally exposed at the very highest level of the game," it said.

"England were petrified by his (Suarez's) sheer presence on the field after five weeks out through injury. Yes he's world class and yes it's your job to stop him."

One of the few bright spots for England was Wayne Rooney's first ever World Cup goal, a tap-in after a slick move down England's right, but his celebrations were cut short by Suarez.

For Uruguay, it was a battling display and victory was all-important, but playing on coach Oscar Tabarez's mind may be his team's heavy reliance on a single player who has only just recovered from knee surgery.

Suarez was out for the Costa Rica game and the attack looked toothless without him. With three points and a tough fixture against Italy to come, Uruguay are not safe yet. (Additional reporting by Saul Hudson and Kieran Murray; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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