World Cup Preview: Group D

Group D provides for one of the more interesting groups in the competition, being the only one without an odds-on favourite to finish first. England, Uruguay, and Italy will fancy their chances of progressing while Costa Rica will be hoping to cause an upset and grab a last-16 spot, which while highly unlikely, is a possibility.

ENGLAND

Unbeaten in qualifying, and unbeaten in 90 minutes in competitive matches under Roy Hodgson, England will probably be unbeaten in their Group D fixtures, without really setting the group alight. Recent defeats at home to a second-string German outfit and an impressive Chile side brought any over the top expectations back down to earth. Hodgson’s squad announcement, trusting the country’s young stars was a welcome surprise.

The lack of a natural deep-lying midfielder is cause for concern while the form of top scorer Wayne Rooney is an issue, with Hodgson facing a growing public campaign for him to be relegated to the bench. Elsewhere, centre-half Gary Cahill and hitman Daniel Sturridge, as well as his Liverpool team mates, Gerrard, Henderson and Sterling are in fine form, giving hope to The Three Lions. Hodgson’s knowledge of tournament fixtures, coupled with a strong record in the group stages should be enough to ensure progression to the last 16, if not further.

ITALY

Without a win since September 2013, and an inexplicable draw at home to Luxembourg recently, despite fielding a strong team, question marks over the Italians’ credentials have arisen. Despite their form, The Azzurri are usually a different entity when it comes to tournament football and should never be disregarded. Impressive showings at Euro 2012 and the Confederations Cup, while progressing through qualifying unbeaten has caused a rise in expectations back home. Injury to Riccardo Montolivo and Giuseppe Rossi’s exclusion from the squad have left them devoid of attacking balance and pace alongside Mario Balotelli up front.

The opener against England in the Manaus heat will sap energy, while early kick offs in Recife and Natal are likely to leave the Italians exhausted when it comes to the knockout stages. This, along with their long travel distances – their base being 75 miles south of Sao Paulo – make for a horror draw for the Euro 2012 runners-up. Nonetheless, Cesare Prandelli should be trusted to find a way, his tactical flexibility combined with his shrewd squad management should be enough to ensure Italy’s qualification from Group D, and potentially far deeper into the competition.

URUGUAY

The surprise package of 2010, Uruguay are now a well respected outfit. Spearheaded by Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, on paper the sky is the limit. True to form, the Uruguayans struggled through qualifying,  losing five of their eight away games, finishing fifth in South American qualifying. Expect them to line up in a defensive 4-4-2, with an onus on counter attacking, as was the case four years ago where they had less possession, but the most shots in every game. Midfield is a cause for concern, due to the substantial lack of any real creativity, while starters Christian Rodriguez and Walter Gargano have been deprived of regular first-team football with their clubs this season.

Diego Godin at the back has enjoyed a terrific season with Atletico Madrid, and will need to carry that on with the national team, due to the unreliability of captain Diego Lugano, who spent the season on West Brom’s bench. They will need to beat Costa Rica in their opener, and avoid defeat in at least one, if not both, of their remaining games against Italy and England which is no easy task. Generally overrated, I feel the Uruguayans are fallible in the groups, however with conditions in their favour, anything is possible.

COSTA RICA

Very much an unknown quantity, the Wikipedia page of the Costa Rican football team will have been a popular click for England fans when the draw was made. Coach Jorge Luis Pinto sees himself as a bit of a Jose Mourinho, setting his team up defensively and adapting his tactics based on the opposition. Costa Rica finished second to the USA in The Hex, ahead of Mexico and Honduras, having won five out of five at home and leaking just four in their last eight qualifiers. The current squad is regarded as their best since 1990 by Costa Rica fans, despite the cruel loss of left-back Bryan Oviedo. Joel Campbell, Bryan Ruiz, and goalkeeper Keylor Navas will carry the hopes of a nation on their shoulders.

Pinto favours a disciplined 5-4-1 that will sit deep and maintain a constant shape. Scoring first will be integral to any success opponents La Sele have, given their lack emphasis on defensive solidarity. Without wanting to be too dismissive, the Costa Ricans will need to pull off something special to progress from Group D, however don’t expect them to be on the end of any hammerings.

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