Ever since the World Cup groups were drawn back in December last year, we all knew the game between England and Uruguay would have a kind of Liverpool edge to it.
And after their superb finish to the Premier League season and the impact the likes of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez on the Reds’ impressive title challenge, there’s even more emphasis on how the two Anfield stars will do when the countries meet in tonight’s extremely important Group D clash in Brazil.
Both sides lost their opening games, which means there’s even more importance to collect all three points tonight. The loser will be all but out, while the winner will be looking forward to ensuring their spot in the knock-out stages.
They’ll know a lot about each other, which they no doubt will have relayed back to their respective teammates, but who will come out on top? Luis Suarez or Steven Gerrard?
Read their thoughts below as one of the most anticipated England games in recent history edges ever closer…
It’s England vs Luis Suarez. What will it be like facing a player you are used to seeing torment other sides for Liverpool?
It’s not going to be easy, that’s for certain! I can’t speak highly enough of Luis as a player. He’s in the top five players in the world. I’d rather play in the same team than have him running at me with the ball, but I haven’t got much choice in the matter this summer. He’s world-class, and I know him well. I know his strengths and his few weaknesses. So it’s going to be tough.
But you have some great players in the England team, too…
Yes, we have got so much young attacking talent, it is exciting. I’m going to have to use my knowledge and experience of Luis to try and help beat him on the day, but on the other side, he will be doing the same thing with the Liverpool lads. He will be telling the Uruguay side all the insider information he has, he knows the strength of all the great players that he has to face in the Premier League, and that he faces in training. But these stories, these games – that’s what the World Cup is all about.
How exciting is it to be playing in Brazil, a place that just makes you automatically think of football?
It doesn’t get any better, really. It’s iconic. It feels like the home of football, alongside England. They are absolutely football crazy out there, and the crowds will be really interesting. It’s funny playing in England, because you talk to all the foreign lads who come over and they want to play at Wembley, they grew up seeing Wembley on their TVs. But the Maracana has that same feel about it, the same special sense, and the idea of playing a World Cup final at the Maracana – that’s an absolute dream. It should be a really special summer.
Is there less pressure on England this time round than there has been over the last eight to ten years?
Maybe. It’s always there to a degree, but I think the unrealistic expectation and pressure has gone, which is a good thing, and it will help the team. People realise what this team is capable of, what we do well and where we need to improve, and that’s healthy. We have to get the balance right of being confident in our own game and not getting carried away.
So what chance have England got of actually winning the tournament, and should that be the goal?
Things are moving forward, we are coming together well and the manager is doing the right things and creating the right atmosphere. We have got a good side with some exciting young talent in it, and a few older more experienced heads like myself. The first thing is to get out of the group, preferably by winning it, and then take each game as it comes. But you have got to go to a tournament believing that you can compete with anyone on your day, and make it deep, deep into the competition. I believe that. Our goal absolutely has to be to win it.
Will this be your last World Cup, do you think? Might you retire internationally after the World Cup?
You can never say for certain, but I’ll be 37 in 2018! I’d like to play for as long as possible – there are a quite a few outfield players going at 40. That appetite and desire will always be there. But we’ll have to see what is best for me, my body and my game. For now I just want to go to Brazil, give it my best, and after the tournament I will chat to the right people and make a decision. It’s not something you decide overnight.
You’ve had an incredible season at Liverpool, how does it feel to come off the back of that and into a World Cup?
It has been my best season yet. I feel in great shape, physically and mentally, and have been really enjoying life at Liverpool. The club has done so well this year, and obviously I’ve been getting a lot of goals, which is very enjoyable. I just want to keep it going and roll straight into the World Cup with Uruguay, keep the wins coming and hopefully do my country proud out there. Success in Brazil would just cap the best season ever. I’m very lucky and I want to appreciate that, give thanks for it.
What has changed at Liverpool to make things so much better this year?
Nothing in particular, but Brendan Rogers’ planning has come together after more of a transitional year last year. On the pitch, it feels the same, we just went about aiming for the very top this year, and we did really well.
The English will be focusing heavily on you individually before the Uruguay-England game…
Yes, and that will be strange. I have so many friends in England, and in the England team, but on that day we need to put that to one side and try to beat each other. The England captain Steven Gerrard has been incredible for me. I speak to him all the time, he is a humble person and he has helped me so much. He has said some very nice things about me, and so I return those feelings. He is a great player and a great man, and the other Liverpool lads are all fantastic too. I want to see them do well. But not against Uruguay. That day, they’re the enemy.
No doubt the other Uruguayans will be asking you all about the opposition players you know so well.
They definitely will. Maybe I should give a team talk as well as our manager Oscar Tabarez! There are not so many Uruguayans playing in England, although our captain Diego Lugano is at West Brom and there is Gaston Ramirez at Southampton, so we will get asked about a lot of the English players. Although the Premier League is watched all over the world, so a lot is known about them, anyway.
How do you reflect on making it to the semi finals of the FIFA 2010 World Cup in South Africa?
It was incredible for us, for Uruguay, for the whole country. It was so exciting and we got an impression of how much it meant to everyone back home. I can only imagine how it would have been if we’d made it to the final. The game against Netherlands was very exciting, even though I didn’t play in it. When Diego Forlan equalised against them, we started to believe that we were off to a World Cup final. But Holland were very good on the day to win 3-2, and the goals by Sneijder and Robben knocked us out. We want to make it right and get to the final this time round.
Have you thought about winning the Golden Boot?
I got a lot of goals for Liverpool this season and I must say I am confident. I feel like if you put a chance in front of me, I will score it at the moment. That’s a great frame of mind to be in. I’m 27, I’m at my peak, so this might be my best chance to really shine on the world stage, in the World Cup. I think I have become more intelligent as a football player and have learned from the errors I’ve made on the pitch in the past when I’ve played not so well. I am more mature. I’ve got to take advantage of my form and help Uruguay as much as I can.
Q&A courtesy of @adidasuk #allin or nothing