England Look To Italy, Balotelli To Save Them
England will be praying Italy do them a favour and beat Costa Rica later on Friday to keep alive their slim hopes of avoiding their earliest exit from a World Cup in 56 years.
Elsewhere France play Switzerland in a clash for control of Group E, where a win for either side would probably ensure they finish top of their pool.
Even were the Italians, who beat England 2-1 in their first game, to beat Costa Rica, which is no certainty given the CONCACAF side beat Uruguay 3-1, England would still require Italy to beat the Uruguayans next Tuesday. They then would have to beat Costa Rica and hope to go through on better goal difference.
Italy's striker Mario Balotelli, who scored the winner against the English last Saturday, took to Twitter after a double from Luis Suarez, in his first match in weeks after undergoing knee surgery, had condemned Roy Hodgson's side to defeat.
“If we beat Costa Rica I want a kiss, obviously on the cheek, from the UK Queen,” Balotelli tweeted with his tongue firmly lodged in the very same cheek to his 2.36 million Twitter followers.
Nothing, though, would have made Hodgson raise even the thinnest of smiles after the promising performance in the game against Italy failed to yield dividends against a streetwise Uruguayan outfit.
“We are more then disappointed, we're devastated,” Hodgson said after the loss, describing his side's chances of remaining in the tournament as “unbelievably slim.”
“To be sure of continuing we needed a result today, a draw or a victory, and we didn't get it,” he added.
Hodgson's nightmare was by stark contrast a dream come true for Suarez - named English football's player of the year after a superb season for Liverpool.
“Yes, I dreamed of this,” Suarez said. “It was something I imagined many times, but I had to calm myself down.”
While England probably face an early flight home, both France and Switzerland are favoured to avoid a repeat of the 2010 finals, where they bowed out in the first round, after both opened with victories over Honduras and Ecuador respectively.
Friday's match falls on the fourth anniversary of the French squad's infamous strike during their South Africa 2010 campaign when the team refused to train in support of Nicolas Anelka. This after the moody striker was sent home early after a foul mouthed outburst at unpopular coach Raymond Domenech.
France captain Hugo Lloris says the anniversary will not be a factor as they chase the win which would leave them on the verge of the knock-out phase.
“We don't have what happened in 2010 in mind, we're really focused on this tournament. What happened in 2010 belongs in the past,” said Lloris, one of the few players still in the squad from the South Africa campaign.
“We're here to live an adventure for as long as possible with the best results possible.”
Earlier Thursday, Colombia maintained South America's strong start to the tournament with a 2-1 win over Ivory Coast, their second successive win which saw them progress to the last 16 for only the second time in the World Cup after the other Group C game ended in a 0-0 draw as Japan failed to beat a Greek side reduced to 10 men in the 38th minute.
The result means Japan and Greece must win their final matches against Colombia and Ivory Coast respectively to have any chance of going through.
Japan's star midfielder Keisuke Honda, who despite his star billing was unable to raise his teammates to greater heights, was more damning about the Blue Samurai's lack of a cutting edge which dimmed their hopes of repeating their performance of 2010 when they reached the last 16.
“To be honest, it's extremely difficult just throwing in crosses and trying to beat these physical defenders to the ball and score,” he said.
“We needed to find a different way to goal but we were lacking the ideas to do it.
“I'm so gutted. It's all about results so it's hugely disappointing not to score.”
His teammate Yoshito Okubo missed an open goal in the second-half and didn't try and hide behind a poor team performance.
“Pathetic. I apologise to everyone in Japan.”