England have not been blessed with an enviable challenge to advance to the knockout stages of this summer’s World Cup. Italy and Uruguay provide stern enough competition for progressing out of Group D, while Costa Rica pose an undoubted threat in a section that should prove riveting.
Roy Hodgson stayed true to his principles of selecting form players ahead of names, regardless of which club they represent. There will likely be a strong Liverpool contingent in the starting XI for the opener against Italy, reflecting the Anfield outfit’s excellent season that was defined by attractive attacking football.
As ever over the past decade, the spotlight is on Wayne Rooney in the build-up to a major tournament, yet this time the forward should be fit and raring to go come the big kick-off. The relative inexperience of those around him will mean the Manchester United man and captain Steven Gerrard are looked to for leadership and guidance. Should these two players perform to the maximum of their capabilities, England will stand a decent chance of progression.
This could be aided by the luck of the draw in that notoriously tournament-savvy Italy are first up for England in the high heat and humidity of Manaus, a game that boasts the tournament’s shortest odds for a scoreless draw. This would not be the worst result for either side, considering that they get the game with the worst expected conditions out of the way first against a dangerous opponent.
Four-times World Cup winners Italy are looking for a huge improvement on last time out in South Africa, where they entered the tournament as defending champions and departed ignominiously at the group stage without a win, and indeed on the poor showing in drawing against Luxembourg on Wednesday.
The Azzurri’s most-capped player, Gianluigi Buffon, provides a steadying influence behind a relatively inexperienced backline, while midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo will be central as ever to what will surely be the important issue of ball retention in the difficult and slow conditions. Up front, Mario Balotelli provides the excitement, while the promising Lorenzo Insigne could impress following the controversial omission of Giuseppe Rossi.
Uruguay and Costa Rica face off in their group opener, a contest the South Americans are favourites to win. However Costa Rica are Central America’s most successful side, and finished some seven points ahead of Mexico in qualifying. They will be no pushover, and in Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz they have a couple of threatening forwards known to Premier League fans.
Uruguay, however, are bursting at the seams with attacking talent, not least Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. These two men alone are enough to intimidate Group D, and the rest of the competition to boot. The concern for La Celeste is getting Suarez fully fit and firing in Brazil. At the back, Uruguay will be fortified by the presence of Diego Godin, a star of Atletico Madrid’s stellar season, and widely regarded as one of the most in-form central defenders in Europe.
All of Group D’s teams are aware of a decent draw for the first round of knockout matches, where one out of Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan will be waiting. However, simply getting out of one of the tournament’s most difficult sections is most pertinent for each nation.
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