Luis Suarez will return for Uruguay after his knee injury, presumably replacing Diego Forlan, although how sharp he is remains open to doubt. He insisted that he is “100%” but after almost a month out, a certain rustiness is likely. Other than that, Uruguay will be without the full-back Maxi Pereira, suspended after he was sent off in the opening defeat to Costa Rica. Jorge Fucile seems the most likely replacement. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain trained apart from the main England group, so it seems extremely unlikely he will have any role to play.
THE ROONEY CONUNDRUM
Where should Wayne Rooney play, if he should play at all? He’s a player about whom it’s become almost impossible to have a clear opinion, his form so discussed, so minutely analysed that everything feels as though it’s part of a pro- or anti-Rooney agenda, the urge to avoid any agenda itself then becoming a complicatory factor. Against Italy, he set up England’s goal and, after a smart run and turn, dragged a shot just wide, but at the same time, he left Leighton Baines exposed repeatedly on the left flank. Perhaps in part that was down to his own reluctance to play the role – he has never hidden his preference for playing in the middle – but it was also down to the shape: Rooney was always going to cut infield, not just because he does so instinctively but because the system demanded it. Given Raheem Sterling, at least for the first hour, was one of England’s better performers, moving him would be controversial, but it seems Hodgson will start with Rooney central behind Daniel Sturridge, with Sterling right and Danny Welbeck left.
If Rooney does play centrally, his direct opponent will be Egidio Arevalo Rios. The 32 year old is nowhere near as vaunted as Uruguay’s forward line – or even Diego Godin – but he has been vital to their successes over the past four years. He’s the sort of player referred to in South America as a Pacman, always gobbling up possession just in front of the back four, and that presents a serious problem for Rooney. His space will be limited anyway, and it’s easy to imagine him growing frustrated with Arevalo constantly snapping at his heels.
Steven Gerrard looked uncomfortable defensively against Italy and it may be that he simply lacks the discipline or positional awareness to play in a two at the back of midfield. One solution would be to field an additional central midfielder – or perhaps even to change the make-up of the midfield entirely: James Milner could play on the left of a three to provide cover for Rooney, but that might leave England without forward thrust, in which case it may be that Jordan Henderson stands down for Jack Wilshere (or Oxlade-Chamberlain had he been fit). Then again, given the likelihood that Uruguay will look to contain England, Hodgson reasoning may be there is little need of the extra cover, that Gerrard will not be placed under the same pressure as he was against Italy.
BACK TO REACTIVITY
There were few expectations on Uruguay in 2010. They were able, by and large, to sit back, draw teams into them and then strike on the break. That remains what they’re best at. Taking the game to opponents has never come easily to them and that, perhaps, was one of the reasons behind their difficulties against Costa Rica. Against England, though, they can revert to type, sit two banks of four behind the ball, look to soak up pressure and spring forward to use Edinson Cavani and Suarez on the break. That suggests a game in which England will have the bulk of the possession, but in which the pace of Sterling and Sturridge is likely to be less relevant than it was against Italy because Uruguay will defend so deep.
After both sides suffered opening defeats, caginess is likely to be the order of the day in Sao Paulo. With Uruguay likely to sit deep, looking to frustrate England, who seemed a little frantic and lacking in guile in that defeat to Italy a lack of goals seems probable. Under 2.5 goals at 1.80 is reasonable, while it might also be worth a look at 4.50 on Rooney to get a card or 26.00 on him to be sent off.