Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail: For England, and Roy Hodgson, the World Cup now gets very real. On Thursday, for the first time since qualification was confirmed on October 15, 2013, it can be taken away from them. There is a permutation of results in Group D that would see England removed from meaningful competition by 3pm, local time, on Friday. Another sequence would make progress a possibility in mathematical terms alone. For all the praise afforded Hodgson and his players after a spirited performance in Manaus, the reality is that no margin for error remains. England are vulnerable: to rotten luck, to random events and in particular to the dark arts.
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Paul Hayward in the Telegraph: Brazilian TV has called it the 'jogo dos desesperados' – the game of the desperate. But even if England lose against Uruguay in Sao Paulo, Roy Hodgson is unlikely to have to go on the run back in Rio like Ronnie Biggs. The local goggle box is right. England and Uruguay are playing catch-up here in the world’s third biggest city, where there is no Sugarloaf Mountain for the bossa nova boys to gaze at. This is hard graft in a world of concrete and traffic. Uruguay looked to be over the hill in Costa Rica’s vibrant win in Fortaleza but they were World Cup semi-finalists four years ago and are not planning to slip into the ranks of has-beens. The change in mood around the real fallen giant of world football, though, is such that Hodgson’s job as England manager looks safe even if the team with the most photogenic training ground effectively go out after two matches and nine days of the tournament.
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Dominic Fifield in the Guardian: Take a moment to recall the atmosphere the last time England’s World Cup prospects teetered on the brink at the group stage. Rewind four years and a spluttering draw against the USA and a dismal goalless repeat against Algeria had left Fabio Capello’s side third in their section. A group of senior players had sat up in Cape Town over a rare beer and grumbled their frustration. Back at the team’s isolated Royal Bafokeng Sports complex the next day, with the decisive third game against Slovenia looming large, it was John Terry who suggested the time had come for the squad to clear the air with the hard-line management. Fast-forward to the present day and Roy Hodgson’s team are involved in an even more anxious game of catch-up. Beaten by Italy in Manaus, they confront Uruguay on Thursday knowing a second defeat could be terminal and ensure a first three-game World Cup campaign in 60 years. And yet, while the implications of defeat are lost on no one, the mood remains buoyant.
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Martin Lipton in the Daily Mirror: We saw the future of England in Manaus, even in defeat. And whatever happens against Uruguay on Thursday night, or over the days and weeks to come at these World Cup finals, there must be no retreat, no return to the tactical comfort blanket. Roy Hodgson is only the current custodian of the most pressurised job in football. He may not be around to reap all the benefits of what he has sown over the past few months. England managers, even moderately successful ones, have only a limited life-span, especially in this most demanding of ages. Yet by doing what he promised - what, in truth, few of us, even Hodgson fans, truly believed he could deliver - by integrating the next generation, introducing a progressive, passing, aggressive and potent pattern of play, the Three Lions' current boss has altered the long-term dynamic.
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Steven Howard in the Sun: In a fantastic match we need Captain Fantastic. Not the so-so midfield player who played second fiddle to Andrea Pirlo in Manaus. Last Saturday he also shared the midfield with Daniele De Rossi, a long-time admirer. Just before Italy and England met at Euro 2012, the Roma man said: “Gerrard has been my idol for 10 years and is one of the best players in the world. He’s always there in the heat of battle, leading by example. He’s everywhere — in defence, in the middle of the pitch, in attack." Now you could hardly tell the two players apart — aside from the fact De Rossi always ends on the winning side. The hour is nigh. England expects. And, Rooney aside, from no one more than their skipper.
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Glen Moore in the Independent: From Tim Cahill to Mario Balotelli, it has been a theme of this World Cup that a country’s big players have delivered. That is the context in which Wayne Rooney is being judged. Having made England’s goal, found space for a good shooting chance himself, and covered more ground in the heat of Manaus than anyone else, it is hardly surprising he was unhappy at some of the criticism he received after the defeat to Italy. But he is being measured against the best. Tonight he should have the chance to meet those high expectations. Rooney, it appears, will be back at the hub of the attack, in what is probably his best position. Tonight he should flourish there because Uruguay, unlike Italy, are likely to allow space in the hole to play.
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