• Liverpool forward to use insider knowledge to gain edge
• Wayne Rooney looks for sharpness with extra shooting drills
Luis Suárez has declared himself “100% fit” to start Uruguay’s critical World Cup group game against England on Thursday and has pinpointed defensive deficiencies he feels the South Americans can exploit when the teams meet in São Paulo.
The Liverpool forward, who was an unused substitute in Saturday’s defeat by Costa Rica, is available for his team’s second game having recovered from keyhole surgery to repair damage suffered to the meniscus in his left knee last month.
While he was telling reporters in Sete Lagoas that he was fit Wayne Rooney was taking it on himself to do extra shooting and training drills at England’s base in Urca while team-mates conducted a lighter session as he, too, seeks greater involvement, and a central role, in the contest.
England had been braced to confront Suárez regardless but the striker’s desperation to make an impact for Óscar Tabárez’s team and revive his nation’s campaign is now clear, with Uruguay to tap into his knowledge of the English back-line as they prepare for a pivotal fixture.
“I was looking forward to getting involved and I wanted to help [against Costa Rica] but maybe it was better I didn’t because fate could have played a trick on me and set me back again,” Suárez said.
“But I’ve done everything I had to do. I haven’t missed a day of recovery time and I’m 100% fit, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. I’m training with the team again and I feel in good condition. I never lost the joy and the desire and I never thought I was going to lose out on playing in the World Cup because of injury.
“I know all the players in the England team, either as team-mates at Liverpool or as rivals at other clubs in the Premier League. They have defensive weaknesses that we can exploit but I’m not going to tell the media how we will do so. We have to play our own way, with our own style, if we are going to progress. But trust in us. No one wants us to go forward in the tournament more than we do as a team.”
That bullish sentiment was echoed by England’s players as they, too, seek to revive their group campaign, with Rooney desperate to make a more positive mark on the tournament after his relatively peripheral display in Manaus.
While the rest of the side who started at the Arena Amazônia undertook a very gentle half-hour warm-down at Urca, the 28-year-old trained more intensely in a second group of nine players who had been substitutes or had no involvement in Saturday’s defeat by Italy. The striker did extra ball work while the 10 other starters from Manaus conducted their own shooting drills. Then, once they had left the training ground, he undertook his own passing and shooting routines in an effort to work on his sharpness, while the other squad members in the second group played a small-sided game.
Rooney actually ran 11,223 metres in the humidity of Manaus, more than any other player – Claudio Marchisio was second with 11,152 metres – according to Fifa’s statistics and contributed the second greatest number of sprints by an Englishman (35) behind Leighton Baines (37).
The striker also ran the most in possession of the ball – 4,477m – and set up England’s first-half equaliser, though the sense remained that he would be better utilised in a central No10 role rather than spending time on the flanks. “Rooney is a class player and, wherever he plays, he can make a massive impact,” said his club-mate Danny Welbeck, who had started on the right on Saturday. “All the forward players have the flexibility to interchange positions. He was on the left in the first game and could be in a different place in the next match. It can be frustrating for anyone playing out of position but that is football. You deal with it. It is the decision of the manager and you have to respect that but I know Wayne and he can handle any situation.”
Rooney was described on Monday night by Gary Neville, one of the England manager Roy Hodgson’s assistants, as a “very important player”.
“He is our top goal scorer under Roy, he is our main assist man and probably but for a yard he would have been man of the match if he had scored that goal [against Italy],” Neville told BBC 5 Live.
In a debrief involving the coaches, Neville said, “there was no other suggestion than that Wayne Rooney had played pretty well for us in that game, that he had done everything we asked for”.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who suffered medial ligament damage to his right knee in the draw with Ecuador in Miami, trained alone with two fitness coaches on Monday and was given an intense work-out: vaulting mini hurdles, running with a bungee rope, shuttle runs and sprint works and some ball drills. The joint was heavily strapped – as was one of Joe Hart’s ankles – but, while he may struggle to play on Thursday, he continues to make progress.
Uruguay share England’s desperation to make amends for their opening defeat to put themselves back in contention to emerge from the group and the West Bromwich Albion defender Diego Lugano described the forthcoming fixture as “life or death”. “We’re up against two of the best in the world now [England and Italy] and it’s an enormous challenge,” he said. “We were annoyed, furious and disappointed with what happened against Costa Rica but this is football and mistakes cost you hard. Now we’re united again. Our faith is intact.”