NATAL, Brazil (AP) — The must-win World Cup encounter between England and Uruguay could boil down to which team best targets Luis Suarez. Both former champions realize a loss Thursday could signal the end of their World Cup campaign after just two matches.
Uruguay, semifinalists in 2010, will be desperate to have Liverpool striker Suarez back after he missed the opening loss to Costa Rica with a knee problem. He has declared himself fit, and if he starts Uruguay will be trying to feed him as many balls as possible.
England, all too familiar with his goal-scoring abilities from the Premier League, will be aiming to shut Suarez down.
The other matches on day eight at the World Cup are in Group C, with Colombia taking on Ivory Coast — the winners of the opening group matches — and Japan against Greece in a struggle to stay alive in the tournament.
Things to watch for Thursday:
FOCUSING FORWARD: There are six Liverpool players in the England squad, and they all know better than most the threat that their club-mate Suarez can pose.
Having Suarez consigned to the bench was a major setback for Uruguay in its opening 3-1 loss to a rampaging Costa Rican team. Even if he plays, though, Uruguay has a weakened defense because of the loss of captain Diego Lugano. He was ruled out of the England match due to a left knee strain.
Suarez had surgery on his left knee immediately after the Premier League season and while Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez is happy to have him back, he’s lowering expectations.
“In the case of whether Luis plays, there is a possibility that he won’t be like the Luis Suarez that was the top goal scorer of the Premier League,” Tabarez said.
Suarez scored 31 goals to help Liverpool finish second in England’s top flight, helping in some way restore his image that was tarnished after bans for racism and biting and his blatant handling of the ball on the goal-line that deprived Ghana a winning goal in the 2010 World Cup quarterfinals.
Uruguay will be relying on Diego Forlan and Edinson Cavani to take some heat off Suarez as he finds his feet.
England lost its opener 2-1 to Italy, but took some consolation from the impressive performances of Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge.
England’s biggest concern remains Wayne Rooney’s inability so far to score a goal in three World Cups. Rooney played out wide against Italy, and there’s been speculation in Britain that the Manchester United star may not start against Uruguay.
Venue: Sao Paulo. Kickoff: 4 p.m. local time (3 p.m. in New York, 8 p.m. in London, 4 a.m. in Tokyo).
LIKE A FINAL: Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi believes his team’s second match against Colombia is shaping up as “a final of the group.”
Both teams won their openers, with Colombia beating Greece 3-0 despite the absence of star striker Radamal Falcao and Ivory Coast scoring a 2-1 comeback win over Japan.
Teofilo Gutierrez has stepped in as Colombia’s chief striker — scoring the second goal against Greece — while playmaker James Rodriguez had an outstanding game against Greece.
Didier Drogba’s entry against Japan sparked the turnaround — the Ivorians scored twice within four minutes after he went on as a second-half substitute.
Despite his impact, Lamouchi is again likely to keep the 36-year-old Drogba on the bench to begin, with Wilfried Bony likely to start.
Venue: Brasilia. Kickoff: 1 p.m. local time (noon in New York, 5 p.m. in London, 1 a.m. in Tokyo).
MUST-WIN MATCH: The famed Greek defense that carried it to the 2004 European Championship title and in qualifying for Brazil was unstitched by Colombia, which opened the scoring in the fifth minute.
A more attacking game plan didn’t work against Colombia, but Greece forward Andreas Samaris says that won’t stop them trying it again against Japan. This time, they need it to work.
“We went out to win against Colombia, and that philosophy will not change,” he said. “We just hope it brings a better result.”
Japan is a fast, attacking lineup but it was worn down by the bigger, more physical Ivorians. Keisuke Honda scored a gem of a goal in the first half but was contained after that. He said he was unhappy that Japan didn’t play to its strengths, and promised to rectify that against Greece. Expect Yuto Nagatomo to have a busy game, and for Honda and Shinji Kagawa to be more in the thick of the action.
Venue: Natal. Kickoff: 7 p.m. local time (6 p.m. in New York, 11 p.m. in London, 7 a.m. in Tokyo).
Follow John Pye on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/JP_at_AP