Persistent underperformers England have been drawn in Group D for this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, along with Costa Rica, four-time world champions Italy and Uruguay. The group is widely regarded as this tournament’s ‘group of death’ with England, Italy and Uruguay all considered to be world class sides.
Costa Rica are unquestionably the side that is expected to falter with such a high standard of opposition, and it would be a major surprise to see La Sele progress to the Round of 16 – incidentally the furthest they have ever made it at a World Cup. However, it is always dangerous to underestimate your opponents, especially at the international level – and even more so when it is at a World Cup.
Notable results in their qualifying campaign included a draw with Mexico and victory against the United States. Costa Rica ended their qualifying campaign in second place above fellow finalists Honduras and Mexico. And with Bryan Ruiz in the side, they have a player with excellent attacking flair when he is at his best.
One to watch for the Central Americans could be Joel Campbell. The Arsenal youngster spent the last season on loan at Greek giants Olympiacos, scoring eight goals in 32 games including a stunning strike against Manchester United in the Champions League.
Costa Rica kick off their campaign against a side with a strong footballing history – Uruguay. This summer will be the twelfth World Cup that Uruguay have contested, with two wins under their belt. They won the inaugural competition in 1930 in their homeland, beating Argentina 4-2, and then beat hosts Brazil 2-1 in the final of the 1950 tournament.
That was the last time that Brazil hosted the tournament and will be seen as a good omen by many Uruguayans ahead of this summer, but their hopes are not without substance. They have a good squad and with Fernando Muslera, Diego Lugano and Diego Godín they will be organised at the back, but it is in attack that La Celeste will be the most effective.
Record cap holder Diego Forlan again plays at a World Cup for Uruguay but it is the duo of Edinson Cavani and PFA Player of the Year Luis Suarez that will strike the Group D defenses with fear. Suarez’s record for Uruguay is phenomenal and he has scored 38 goals in 77 games for his country. Despite being 33 games behind fellow striker Forlan, Suarez is his nation’s record goal scorer, but he is struggling for fitness ahead of the big kick-off.
If Uruguay can get out of the group, they will be hoping that momentum can carry them through on to a successful tournament. They came fourth in 2010 when Suarez etched his name in World Cup folklore after handling a goal-bound header against Ghana in the last minute of their quarterfinal in South Africa. Asamoah Gyan missed the resulting penalty and Uruguay moved on to the semifinals.
Four time world champions Italy are also in Group D and will be hoping to go one better than they did in Euro 2012, where they lost to Spain in the final. Whilst they have not been tipped as one of the favorites this year, they will know that if they pull off a shock success, they will equal Brazil’s record of five World Cup wins.
Main man Mario Balotelli will have to be firing on all cylinders for Italy to do well this summer, but the whole squad is packed with quality for Cesare Prandelli to choose from and legends Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo will again be part of the core of the squad. But aside from those two and Balotelli, Giorgio Chiellini, Daniele De Rossi, Claudio Marchisio and Lorenzo Insigne will all be vital for the Azzuri.
Italy rounded off their World Cup warm-up with a 5-3 win over Brazilian club side Fluminese after failing to win in their previous seven games, with six draws and a defeat against Spain.
Making up the group are, of course, England. The Three Lions qualified top of their group and have had a solid build-up to the tournament, despite drawing their last two warm-up games against Ecuador and Honduras.
Manager Roy Hodgson has picked a mixture of youth and experience with the likes of Luke Shaw, Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley joining players like captain Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney for the tournament. Daniel Sturridge could be a key player for England this summer after his brilliant season for Liverpool. But the key will be how well they can defend, with Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill set to play alongside Glen Johnson and Leighton Baines in front of Joe Hart.
Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling may all make a big impact this summer in their first major tournament for their country. All three have looked good ahead of their first game – against Italy on June 14th.
The expectations are not high for England and not many will be looking at them as potential champions, but if they can progress through the group stage, then they will hope to at least reach the quarterfinals.
The nation that invented the beautiful game visits football’s spiritual home this summer 48 years since their last success, and they will be one to watch this year – even if they do not win it.