SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Much of the focus ahead of England’s World Cup Group D clash with Uruguay has been on the attacking talent set to light up the Corinthians arena on Thursday, but for English captain Steven Gerrard the game will be won and lost in defence.
Luis Suarez, who scored 31 goals in 33 games as a team mate of Gerrard at Liverpool last season, is expected to start for Uruguay after missing their opening 3-1 loss to Costa Rica.
Suarez could form a frightening forward partnership with the rampaging Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan could also be unleashed on England in a three-pronged attack.
While Gerrard is a big admirer of Suarez, who underwent knee surgery last month, he knows the fearsome forward is just one player England have to be wary of.
”For me, the key in this game is who defends the best,“ he told a news conference on Wednesday. ”You’ve got two very good teams full of attacking players.
”Luis Suarez is a genius, I’ve said it many, many times. I think it’s going to be a boost for the Uruguay players and their supporters to have him back.
”But they are more than one player ... they are a strong team. Of course we’ve got huge respect for them as a team and Luis as an individual, and we have a gameplan in place to win this football match.
“I believe the key to his game is if we can get our defensive side right we’ll get a win.”
While England looked solid enough at the back for most of the game against Italy, Uruguay’s defence crumbled in the face of the Costa Ricans’ direct running.
The South American defence will also be without captain Diego Lugano due to injury, and Maximiliano Pereira, who was sent off against Costa Rica.
Despite the close relationship between Gerrard and Suarez, the England man said there would be no pre-match pleasantries ahead of a game both sides need to win to get their World Cup campaigns back on track.
”I‘m not going to speak to Luis Suarez tomorrow two hours before the game,“ he said. ”That would be very unprofessional and disrespectful to my own team mates.
“I‘m very good friends with Luis, we have had some banter, some conversations in the buildup to this game, but there will be no communication tomorrow.”
England’s attacking performance against Italy drew much praise, even though the 2-1 defeat was not the result they were after. Gerrard said the pace England showed against the Italians would also be a feature on Thursday.
”I was delighted with our attacking performance against Italy, although I think we could have been a bit more calm in the final third with our final pass.
“But I certainly have no doubts about coming into this game that we are going to create Uruguay problems going forward. We’ve got a lot of pace, a lot of ability and I think you will see another good attacking England performance.”
Editing by Ed Osmond