ENGLAND captain Steven Gerrard has warned his inexperienced team-mates they will be in for a long and painful summer should they lose to Uruguay today and face an early elimination from the World Cup.
Following a narrow defeat to Italy in their opening Group D match, England know the same outcome in Sao Paolo would spell the end of their Brazilian adventure should Costa Rica hold the Azzurri to a draw tomorrow.
Gerrard was part of the England squads that experienced inglorious exits from the 2006 and 2010 tournaments. And though there are relatively low expectations of the squad this time round, Gerrard has stressed the importance of being able to return home with heads held high.
“I’ve reiterated to the players this week the message of the pain of going out of the World Cup. I am sure the lads are aware how difficult a summer it is going to be if we fail,” said the Liverpool midfielder.
“The message is quite clear, we want to get the result and stay here for as long as possible.”
Manager Roy Hodgson has revealed midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain “is not in contention” to play as he continues to recover from a knee injury.
It means England are likely to field an unchanged line-up from the team that started against Italy at the weekend, though Wayne Rooney and Raheem Sterling could interchange positions behind lone striker Daniel Sturridge.
Much focus has also been on the Uruguay frontline in the build up to the clash, with striker Luis Suarez expected to start after ongoing question marks on his fitness following a minor knee operation.
Yet Gerrard believes the standard of defending will determine which team win.
“For me, the key in this game is how we defend because Uruguay’s strengths are their front players,” he added. “I know what is going to happen [when England] go forward. That for me is a gimme with the attacking talent we have in this group. But it is no good us being really good going forward on the break if we can’t defend properly.”
Three points would greatly boost England’s chances of progressing from Group D, though there would still be work to be done. In fact, they could theoretically still be eliminated on goal difference even if they win tonight and in their final fixture against Costa Rica on Tuesday. They could be joined on six points by Italy and Costa Rica, if the latter upset the former tomorrow and the Italians see off Uruguay on Tuesday.
Not a disaster for England, as a win over Costa Rica would give them four points and still be enough to reach the knockout stage, as long as Italy live up to expectations by beating Costa Rica and avoiding a defeat to Uruguay on Tuesday, at which point goal difference would again apply.
England could still make the last 16 with a defeat, although it requires Italy to beat both Costa Rica and Uruguay, and Roy Hodgson’s men to win their final match by the margin necessary to ensure they finish second only to the Azzurri.