The World Cup is just a few days away and the speculations on the outcome of the World’s greatest sporting event have never been scarce. As the excitement preceding the World Cup is surrounded by an effort to analyze the early stages, we shall take a look at Group D – Uruguay, England, Italy and Costa Rica.
The so-called ‘Group of Death’ indeed comes down as the most competitive of the lot, with three former World Champions who share seven world titles between them. From the perspective of history, Italy are the highest ranked with four titles followed by Uruguay having two and England one, while Costa Rica have never won the World Cup.
The group of death, is compiled of teams who are equally well-equipped to match each other’s caliber. There are some exciting matches in the mix which we are looking forward to.
|7||Uruguay v Costa Rica||15 June||21.00||Estadio Castelao, Fortaleza|
|8||England v Italy||15 June||23.00||Arena Amazônia, Manaus|
|23||Uruguay v England||20 June||21.00||Arena de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo|
|24||Italy v Costa Rica||20 June||17.00||Arena Pernambuco, Recife|
|39||Italy v Uruguay||24 June||17.00||Arena das Dunas, Natal|
|40||Costa Rica v England||24 June||17.00||Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte|
The six matches in Group D will take place at distinct locations.
The Sao Paulo Arena is the highest of the lot being at an altitude of 792 m, which could prove detrimental for England, who have been judged by Stephen Hawking as not performing properly above 500 m.
Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte is the most palatable stadium which favours no specific team. With dry and warm temperatures and surrounded by mountains, the lack of wind action could be a major factor in determining the style of the teams.
Estadio Castelao, at Forteleza is at mean sea level but the temperatures there peak up to 32 degrees. Coupled with that are the nearby coasts, therefore we could expect potential rains and strong winds.
Arena Pernambuco, in Recife is a dangerous arena with the city averaging 224 days of rain a year, and the months of June and July being the wettest. The humidity in this region is high during these, which ensures the players would have to put their bodies in line to get results.
Arena Amazonia in Manaus follows suit with wet conditions and a 40% chance of thunderstorms and expected humidity up to 80 %. Italy, whose adaptability is reportedly better than that of England, should have climate as an advantage in their clash at Manaus.
Estadio das Nunas, in Natal is the most punishing arena with an average humidity of 97% in the middle of June. This could result in a lot of tiring and frequent drink breaks, with Italy and Uruguay upon whom this arena is thrust. They play the final match of the group stages here, so it could be a really tough encounter.
Back in 2010, in South Africa, Uruguay defied the odds to reach the semi final with Diego Forlan leading them from the front. Their attack has come a long way since then and they possess one of the most complete striker pairings in the form of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. The latest FIFA rankings see Uruguay placed at 7th, and by extension, they are highest in the group. The Uruguayans could be expected to pose a sturdy challenge this time as they would want to recreate Maracanazo, the last time they won a World Cup.
Their road to Brazil has been a rather shaky one with them playing the play-offs, and performing inconsistently in their qualifying rounds. They finished fifth in the CONMEBOL region and had to endure a two-legged play-off against Jordan, which they won comfortably with a 5-0 aggregate. Luis Suarez was the top scorer in the entire qualifying with 11 goals and he will be expected to follow suit in the finals, should Uruguay pose a legitimate chance of winning the World Cup.
Key Player : Luis Suarez
FIFA Ranking : 7
For more information, read Uruguay Team Preview
taly’s 2010 World Cup exit was a shocker, as the then defending champions exited in the first round. However, citing their strong performances in recent tournaments such as the 2013 Confederations Cup and Euro 2012, the Azzurri are a team enver to be ruled out. They are second in line to Uruguay, being ranked 9th according to FIFA’s latest release. The Italians are the only team who could match Brazil’s record of five titles if they win the World Cup.
Italy were placed in a relatively easy group in their qualifying campaign and they emerged out never losing a match. Securing 22 points from a possible 30, Italy ensured that they directly qualified for the finals.
Prandelli will be relying on his older players such as Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo, the backbone of the team, for his expert poise and pin-point passing; while he will have the experience of Daniele De Rossi, Claudio Marchisio and Thiago Motta at his disposal. Mario Balotelli will lead the cause for the youngsters in the team, having scored two goals against Germany in the semis of Euro 2012 and belting 17 goals in 39 appearances for AC Milan this season. Meanwhile, they will be supported by the expertise of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who will be appearing in his fifth consecutive World Cup.
Key Player : Andrea Pirlo
FIFA Ranking : 9
For more information, read Italy Team Preview.
England (Trying not to be biased)
England, who won the 1966 World Cup at home, have only managed to place themselves in the top four since then, finishing fourth in 1990. During the 2010 World Cup, they finished alongside the US in Group C to advance to the round of 16, where they ended their campaign after a 4-1 loss to Germany. Thus, expectations on the side’s progress this year have been played down. With their second-youngest World Cup squad, the Three Lions may, however, cause a surprise through their pace and youthful nerve, led by one of England’s biggest assets, Roy Hodgson, who made the side tough to beat in the qualifying campaign, letting their goal breached just four times. Wayne Rooney, with 89 caps and 38 goals in his England career, will be the player to watch out for, but his form in the English Premier League for Manchester United was up and down this season, besides this, he can’t very well do it on his own – Daniel Sturridge will need to replicate his form from Liverpool to take the pressure off Rooney. The 19-year-old Raheem Sterling and 20-year old Ross Barkley could be the X-factor in the midfield to see the side through, with support from the ‘old guards’ of the team such as Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.
They are ranked 10th in the world and are coming off an undefeated qualifying campaign. They finished just above Ukraine and secured a direct qualification into the World Cup. While they have had strikers such as Lambert and Sturridge rise meteorically, Rooney remains their best marksman with 7 goals from 10 matches in the qualifying.
FIFA Ranking : 10
Key Players :
For more information, read England Team Preview.
Costa Rica is perhaps the piece of meat that all of the above teams can gobble up. Unfortunately placed in a group with three heavyweights, their progress from the group stages would be nothing short of a miracle. They are the odd one out in the group as they have never won a World Cup and only made it beyond the group stage just once in 1990. They did not qualify for the 2010 edition, and this year will mark their fourth appearance in the World Cup. However, the Ticos boast probably their best group of players since the legendary Italia 90 side and qualified for the 2014 World Cup with the best defensive record in the CONCACAF.
Costa Rica is ranked 28th in the world and are expected to take a defensive approach in each game. Their road to Brazil was straightforward with them finishing below USA in the CONCACAF region and earning a direct spot in the finals.
Colombian coach Jorge Luis Pinto will be relying on goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who plays for Spanish club Levante and has been one of the best keepers this season. Perhaps the best-known player for Costa Rica after his spell at Fulham, Bryan Ruiz’s creative spark could help provide chances for young striker Joel Campbell, who is on loan from Arsenal to Greek club Olympiakos. Alvaro Saborio, has been their highest goalscorer in the qualifying with 8 goals.
Key Player : Bryan Ruiz
FIFA Ranking : 28
England v Italy
Arguably one of the most awaited matches in this tournament, this match could turn out to be the most crucial fixture in the group. A rematch of the Euro 12 quarter final, Italy and England both possess very good squads and excellent managers. Prandelli has been instrumental in Italy’s showings recently and Hodgson has been doing his job silently. While Italy could be expected to dominate the midfield, England’s squad has pace in abundance and could do well on the counter. Their resolute defense must be up to task in stopping Balotelli and one of the rising stars, Ciro Immobile. On paper, this looks a must-watch fixture and we could hope that it turns out to be one in reality.
Italy v Uruguay
Italy’s three man defence could face their toughest game in the World Cup against Uruguay. Headed by an in-form Luis Suarez, with Cavani to support him, their mobility across the frontline gives them a real edge in outscoring the opposition. However, Pirlo would be up to task at the other end as he is likely to control Italy’s attack from the midfield. His precision and excellent conducting skills need to come to the fore as Italy would look to outsmart Uruguay from the middle. In all, this match would be essential in determining the team that could potentially exit in the group stages.
England v Uruguay
This group is such that a three-way battle would ensue between the top three teams, making sure that no match can be discounted as not having any impact. Once again, Luis Suarez holds the key and would most likely be the decisive factor. Being familiar with the English players, he may just possess the key to unlocking the English defense. However, England aren’t to be taken lightly either with Sturridge heading their attack and Rooney complementing him from behind. This match would be a cracker to watch and potentially decide England’s fate in the World Cup.
This is the toughest group of the lot and predicting those who will proceed isn’t easy. I am going to try and let my head rule and not my heart. The recent trends could point towards a potential exit for England. Their friendlies have been rusty with Hodgson playing around his team a little too much. Italy haven’t been at their best either but their experience could turn the tide in their favour. In either case, Uruguay is most likely to top the group. Their recent performances coupled with Suarez’s excellent form means that they are genuine contenders.
The reality is any of the teams from the high-powered trio of England, Italy and Uruguay can book their place past the group stages if they have their day, with underdogs Costa Rica expected to miss out after being drawn in the ‘group of death’.