Luis Suarez: Uruguayan superhero, England's nemesis.
There's no shame in conceding defeat to an opponent with skills that make your jaw drop. And so it was with England vs. Luis Suarez — sorry, I mean England vs. Uruguay — in the Arena Corinthians in São Paulo Thursday.
Suarez's fitness has been touch and go up until this point in the tournament, and he's still not judged to be fully fit. But you would never have known that from watching his performance. For his first goal at the end of the first half, Suarez knifed straight through the English defense, casually knocked the ball past keeper Joe Hart, then, without breaking his stride, took his toothy grin to the corner post for a jubilant celebration, his fingers making pew, pew motions.
Wayne Rooney, still struggling to overcome his scoreless curse at the other end of the pitch, must have been boiling with rage at how casually Suarez could knock a ball into a net. But who knows — maybe seeing that goal finally uncorked the superhero in Rooney, too, because the strange-faced savant finally scored, after 10 World Cup games, into that same net exactly thirty minutes later. (The teams had swapped sides in between, of course.)
It was truly astonishing to see the effect their own superkid's goal had on the rest of the England team. The effect was something like 11 men slamming 11 cans of Red Bull and inserting 22 new Energizer batteries. (This concludes the sponsored section of this post.) Time and again in the next ten minutes, they tore off like Roger Bannister towards the Uruguayan goal.
Just for a moment, the Three Lions roared.
But you can't keep a good superhuman down, and Super-Suarez was worth two Super-Rooneys, even two revitalized Super-Rooneys. Suarez capitalized on a mistake by England captain Steven Gerrard — who seemed almost obsequious to Suarez, his Liverpool teammate — and knocked the ball past Hart without hesitation again, with less than ten minutes on the clock.
All of England would have loved to wipe that toothy smile off Suarez's face, but what can you do? (One answer: bust out scenarios of clockwork-like precision under which England, the last desperate team of the group, can still escape to the round of 16).
We might grumble about bad refereeing when the ref should have booked Diego Godin a second time for a hideous challenge that would have ejected him in the first half. But you get the sense that Uruguay could easily have had the same outcome with 10 men, because only one of them really mattered. As long as he was on the pitch, he energized the rest of them the way Rooney's goal energized England.
That's what this World Cup is turning into: the hunting ground for a new breed of goal-eating, super-charged sprinting titans, effortless leaders of their teams whether they wear the captain's armband or not. Men for whom full-backs are just something you see if you're not shimmying fast enough.
It's why the two other games played Thursday seemed to belong to two different eras. Japan-Greece was mildly interesting, but it was old school World Cup: a nil-nil draw after hard fought but ultimately entrenched and uncreative play.
Colombia-Ivory Coast, though: this was new World Cup through and through. A thrilling game with a sudden burst of goals, it boasted its own superhuman in the form of Colombia's James Rodriguez, who scored his country's first and set up the second. The Elephants of the Ivory Coast didn't forget to fight back, and their hero Drogba finished strong, but there was something about the 2-1 scoreline that seemed preordained. Right now, the Suarezs and the Rodriguezs of this world seem near infallible.
And so here we are, 23 games in, 66 goals scored — nearly 3 goals per game on average, more than the Premier League or any of the other major leagues of Europe.
Here we are, in an exciting new world where boring old games of keeping possession are out and the counterattacking style of play is firmly in charge. Teams that don't adhere to it, like Spain, get shown the door very quickly.
Here we are, finally, in the era of the soccer superhero who take the millions of dollars we invest in them, and pay it back tenfold in goalmouth magic.