In the name of decency, can someone please sanction Gaston Ramirez?

In the Walt Disney classic, Beauty and the Beast, the character Gaston is everything a cartoon villain should be; boorish, arrogant, conceited, cowardly and above all else, a small minded bully. It is therefore an unsettling coincidence that Gaston’s Uruguayan namesake Ramirez should display those exact same qualities whilst in action for his country during a crucial world cup match.

The major controversy from Tuesday night’s clash between Italy and Uruguay was not the suspected bite by Luiz Suarez on Giorgio Chiellini but rather the reaction of Ramirez towards Chiellini afterwards. The Italian defender was rightly incensed by Suarez’s conduct and made an attempt to show the referee the teeth marks adorning his shoulder. That Ramirez took umbrage with Chiellini speaks volumes about his character. He even went as far as to attempt to force Chiellini’s shirt back over his shoulder. There is only one word for this kind of behaviour, contempt; contempt for the victim of a crime and an astounding level of arrogance to believe that the victim should remain silent.

Make no mistake about it, Suarez has committed a crime here. If you and I were to approach someone in the street tomorrow and sink our gnashers into their shoulder we would be hauled in for questioning by police and referred for psychiatric examination. However, Suarez does not live in the real world. He lives in the cosseted world of the wealthy individual where indiscretion can be made to disappear like a magician’s handkerchief.

This is the third such incident where Suarez has bitten an opponent. In 2010 whilst playing for Ajax he received a seven game ban for biting PSV’s Otman Bakkal. His transfer to Liverpool occurred during this suspension so were he to return to the Eredivisie later in his career he would start with a ban. In April last year the FA handed down a ten match suspension for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic. As this latest nibbling incident occurred during a match organised by FIFA it is in the hands of the world governing body to sanction Suarez. In a statement released last night, FIFA declared that the maximum ban permissible under their regulations is 24 international matches. If Suarez is found guilty (and I use the word if in the name of democracy) then FIFA should not hesitate to issue a 24 match ban and thus effectively end the Uruguayan’s international career. His behaviour is clearly not unprecedented and the punishment should reflect this.

And yet despite all the recrimination (there was also an eight game ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra) Suarez continues to transgress and, infuriatingly, play the victim. You could be forgiven for asking how one player can have such a lengthy charge sheet without appearing to show any remorse?

The answer lies in the conduct of Ramirez. His outrageous behaviour in protecting his teammate was typical of the indulgence Suarez has received throughout his career. Strong willed managers will, naturally seek to protect their prize assets when the chips are down. One only has to think of the way Alex Ferguson refused to sack Eric Cantona in 1995 following his assault of a Crystal Palace fan as an example of a manager creating a siege mentality to strengthen his club in a desperate situation. However, the indulgences bestowed on Suarez go beyond the realms of siege mentality. Whereas Cantona was punished judicially, and Ferguson made no attempt to resist this process, the reaction of then Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish during Suarez’s racism ban was little more than posturing. The Liverpool players and Dalglish himself wore t-shirts protesting Suarez’s innocence after an independent panel had found him guilty. As a show of defiance, it was lacking in dignity and class.

Ramirez however, has gone above and beyond the previous ways in which Suarez’s teammates have attempted to shield him from blame. In reacting angrily towards Chiellini, Ramirez showed that he is little more than a coward, a coward who felt the need to bully an opponent into concealing the truth. If and when Suarez is suspended, similar punishment should also be handed down to Ramirez though it is unlikely that this will happen as retrospective action against indecency is unprecedented in football. Ramirez the coward will, unfortunately, be able to wriggle his way out from under the microscope.

Huge disappointment but England must continue to be brave

In the end, Roy Hodgson and his youthful charges will go down in history for producing the worst showing by an England team at a World Cup. The first England side to go out of the world cup in the group stages since 1958. The first England side ever to lose its first two world cup matches. The stats make for grim reading.

However, this team should be remembered for being the bravest England outfit at a major tournament since Euro 2004. Faced with an immensely challenging task just to qualify from Group D, England went on the offensive. Although the performance against Uruguay was not quite as impressive as the effort against Italy, there were still signs that England are a much improved unit going forward. Wayne Rooney, back in his prefered number 10 role was a constant threat and it was a relief for all concerned to see him finally break his world cup duck. Daniel Sturridge’s presence and pace when running in behind defenders asks questions of opposing teams that England haven’t been able to pose since Michael Owen was in his prime. Raheem Sterling was illuminating in the first half against the Italians and Ross Barkley impressed in both games from the bench. The kids are alright.

There is no doubt that England let themselves down defensively. The suspicion was, even before a ball had been kicked in anger that the back four would be England’s major weakness in this tournament. Glen Johnson, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines are all very accomplished Premier League performers. However, as a unit they lack that genuine enforcer and organiser that underpins all of the great defences. John Terry’s name will be mentioned repeatedly in the coming weeks but Roy Hodgson should not be condemned for ignoring a player who had turned his back on playing for his country. How Hodgson must wish he had been blessed with the options available to Sven Goran Eriksson who was able to leave Ledley King, Jamie Carragher, Sol Campbell and Jonathan Woodgate out of his starting line up in central defence.

But England’s problems in defence only serve to highlight the importance of continuity for this squad. In the wake of the defeat to Uruguay, FA Chairman Greg Dyke finally said something sensible (as if this world cup hadn’t provided enough shocks!) when he declared that Roy Hodgson’s job would be safe. The manager is contracted until Euro 2016 and for England to be successful that contract must be honoured. With another two years working with the players, Hodgson should be able to iron out the kinks in defence. Either the back four he has now will be stronger for this experience or the development of young players such as John Stones and Luke Shaw will mean that competition for places is a fierce as it was in 2006.

I mentioned on a previous post that the reason for Germany’s success in recent tournaments was the stability garnered from coach and players working together over a sustained period. If Hodgson is allowed to continue then the young players he has nurtured so well over the last two years will be a formidable outfit in France in two years time.

The preparation can begin immediately. The final game in Group D against Costa Rica is almost a free hit for England. How encouraging would it be to see England start with Barkley, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain? There is room also for Hodgson to show sentimentality which is rare enough in any form of football let alone a world cup. This game will undoubtedly spell the end of the road in international football for Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. With 217 caps and 50 goals between them, it would be fitting if both the captain and vice captain were able to bow out on the pitch against Costa Rica. The thought of Gerrard being replaced by Lampard with twenty minutes to go and handing over the captain’s armband whilst both players are applauded by their team-mates is already bringing a nostalgic tear to the eye.

When the qualifiers for Euro 2016 get under way, I would like to see Joe Hart given the captain’s armband. He has not been his usual assured self during this tournament but he has shown at Manchester City under Manuel Pellegrini that he responds well to proactive man management. Appointing him captain of a brave young squad could be a masterstroke for Hodgson.

It is important now that England focus on the positives from this campaign. They have taken the game to two quality sides in stifling conditions and come up just short both times. They have finally embraced the attacking philosophies that the rest of Europe had adopted years ago – the days of four four two are over. They will be inevitably criticised for their naivety but it won’t take them long to realise that the same people bemoaning the lack of experience in the squad are the same people who were praising the manager for putting his faith in youth when the squad was announced on the 12th of May. If Hodgson and his players are allowed to stay together then the future looks increasingly bright.

Euro 2016 will mark fifty years of tournament football since England were world champions. In England’s brave new world, that fatalistic number has a pleasant ring to it.

5 reasons for Englands losses this WC.

England’s defeat makes them the first ever Three Lions side to lose their third consecutive World Cup match.

Luis Suarez

You got the impression in the run up to the game that Uruguay were so confident that the Liverpool striker’s mere presence would befuddle England – that they would have fielded him in a mobility scooter if necessary. And sure enough, a month after undergoing keyhole surgery on his knee and almost six weeks since he last played, Suarez needed only two telling contributions to prove them right.

He took his chances superbly in a manner which underlined the fact that England have not, for a very long time, had a player capable of influencing a match single-handedly at an international tournament.

That is the true barometer of the over used phrase “world class” and frankly, none of our players fit that bill.

Dodgy defending

The one nagging doubt which refused to go away during England’s largely successful qualifying campaign was whether the central defenders would be good enough when it came to facing the likes of Suarez at the World Cup.

Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill, both decent, honest and hard working lads, always felt more like the best of a bad bunch than the cream of the crop and neither covered himself in glory last night. Jagielka was unable to match the anticipation by Suarez of Edinson Cavani’s fine cross for the first goal, and Cahill was caught in no man’s land as Steve Gerrard inadvertently flicked on Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera’s route one clearance for the second.

Both former England manager Glenn Hoddle and ex international defender Rio Ferdinand described it as “schoolboy defending” from their respective TV sofas and one can imagine John Terry, wherever he is on holiday, kicking his sun lounger in disgust and pondering what might have been.

Lack of adventure

After the opening game against Italy there were encouraging signs that, although beaten, England had at least shown a spirit of adventure both in the team selection and their willingness to get forward. Having been humiliated by Costa Rica, Uruguay appeared jaded and lacking in pace, with a goalkeeper who looked like a man trying to catch a bar of soap fired from a howitzer every time the ball came anywhere near him above waist height.

Even with Suarez and Cavani back in harness in a team which showed five changes, the 2010 semi finalists approached last night’s game with little more than a narrow 8-2 formation which invited England to attack down the flanks.

Unfortunately it was 75 minutes before the penny dropped. Glenn Johnson’s dart down the right after good work by Daniel Sturridge set up Wayne Rooney to finally tap in his first ever World Cup goal after 760 barren minutes on the biggest stage of all. But it was to be a largely isolated incident as the likes of Egidio Arevalo Rios and Alvaro Gonzalez cut off the supply at source.

The enemy within

Uruguay’s goalscoring hero, of course, has recently been voted by his peers and the press as the top performer in the self proclaimed “best league in the world”. All 14 players who represented England in Sao Paulo are also Premier League stars and yet the maxim “the better the devil you know” does not seem to apply to them, while the foreign imports certainly seem to subscribe to the notion that familiarity breeds contempt.

This is the sixth World Cup match in which an English based player has scored against his adopted country (there are no prizes but try to guess the others) and England have never won a single one of those ties. FA Chairman Greg Dyke’s belief that the premier league’s cosmopolitan nature is stifling the national side will strengthen after this latest capitulation.

But does anyone genuinely believe that country will ever again come before club in English football?

Time to say goodbye?

Just about everyone who attended Fabio Capello’s final media conference of the last World Cup campaign came away with the feeling that an era had ended and that this was the time to take risks and look ahead into the future.

The coach had to go, as did many of his senior players, in order for England’s national team to evolve as other nations already had. None of which happened of course.

This time I detect a genuine feeling that the nation believes Hodgson deserves to survive (as do I) – but only as the custodian of a new generation. We must say farewell and thank you to Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Glen Johnson, Phil Jagielka, James Milner, Rickie Lambert, Ben Foster and possibly even Wayne Rooney.

The time has come for a team built around Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, Jack Wilshere Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, aided and abetted by Luke Shaw, John Stones, Jon Flanagan and Saido Berahino. With the expansion of Euro 2016 into a 24-team tournament you would expect even a new breed of England players to qualify and even if they failed it would be a price worth paying if it meant they came back stronger for the 2018 World cup.

How many more nights like the one in Sao Paulo can we really take?

A Sweet Defeat or a Bitter Victory?

It seems that no matter what he does, Roy Hodgson will always be damned with the tag of conservatism. Despite throwing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in to Euro 2012, Andros Townsend in to crucial World Cup qualifiers and a host of young players in his final 23, there will always be those who prefer to remember the man who seemed almost deferential to Manchester United during his ill fated reign as Liverpool manager.

England started this world cup as massive underdogs. The announcement of a group containing Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica was met with a cut throat gesture by FA Chairman Greg Dyke. Ahead of last night’s game with the Azzurri, England supporters were clamouring for Hodgson to throw the youngsters into the deep end to see how well they could swim in the Amazonian humidity. The general consensus was that it will be better for England to crash out of this tournament swinging from the hip as opposed to the plodding, tentative ineptitude of South Africa four years ago.

It was therefore, a pleasant surprise to see Hodgson and England throw caution to the wind last night and start with Liverpool’s highly rated youngster Raheem Sterling. His inclusion illuminated the first half and one early shot from long range that rippled the side netting had the broadcasters convinced that England were one nil ahead.

England’s performance as a whole was by far the most adventurous and enterprising in a major tournament match since the group stages of Euro 2004. Yet England still, agonisingly, lost the game. Herein, lies the catch 22 situation facing Roy Hodgson for the remaining two group games. Had he not started with Sterling and played an extra man in midfield, England might not have been caught out as easily as they were for either of Italy’s goals. Had England sacrificed their adventure for greater stability, the match would almost certainly have ended in a draw. England must beat Uruguay on Thursday night to have any chance of progressing to the knockout stages but defeat will see them almost certainly out. Do England continue with their attacking intent and risk defeat or do they go back into their shells? For the supporters there is no debate. Watching England on Saturday night was almost a cathartic experience. There was pride in the team’s performance and a sense that the players were connecting with the fans again after being so detached in South Africa. The feeling among England fans was that the defensive naivety and the defeat could be forgiven because of the courageous aspects of the performance. There is definitely a good way to lose and this was it.

If England continue in this attacking vein on Thursday night and still come up short then so be it. The fans will get behind a team that sets out to entertain. After so many years of seeing England go down with a whimper, it was perversely all the more upsetting to see them lose when playing well, And yet, at the same time, it was undoubtedly more uplifting.

Costa Rica Team Preview

The Players

Keylor Navas goalkeeper, Levante

Johnny Acosta defender, Alajuelense

Giancarlo González defender, Columbus Crew

Michael Umaña defender, Saprissa

Celso Borges midfielder, AIK

Óscar Duarte defender, Club Brugge

Christian Bolaños midfielder, Copenhagen

Heiner Mora defender, Saprissa

Joel Campbell forward, Olympiacos

10 Bryan Ruiz (captain) forward, PSV Eindhoven

11 Michael Barrantes midfielder, Aalesund

12 Waylon Francis defender, Columbus Crew

13 Oscar Granados midfielder, Herediano

14 Randall Brenes forward, Cartaginés

15 Júnior Díaz defender, Mainz

16 Cristian Gamboa defender, Rosenborg

17 Yeltsin Tejeda midfielder, Saprissa

18 Patrick Pemberton goalkeeper, Alajuelense

19 Roy Miller defender, New York Red Bulls

20 Diego Calvo midfielder, Valerenga

21 Marco Ureña forward, Kuban Krasnodar

22 José Miguel Cubero midfielder, Herediano

23 Daniel Cambronero goalkeeper, Herediano

Star man

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Bryan Ruiz, nicknamed “The Weasel” in his days at Alajuelense, is the side’s key creator as attacking midfielder or second striker. Unappreciated at Fulham he is thriving after being sent on loan to PSV Eindhoven.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace
Alvaro Saborio was top scorer in qualifying but has a hot temper, once reportedly kicking a ball at a child during an open training session.

The coach

Standing at 5ft 5in, Jorge Luis Pinto bears all the hallmarks of short-man syndrome. Never short of a terse word in press conferences.

Grudge match

Costa Rica is sometimes known as the Switzerland of Central America because of its peaceable nature but there is no shortage of passion when it comes to fighting Honduras for regional football supremacy. Any meeting between the sides would also have the added flavour of pitting two Colombian coaches against each other.

Holed up

The team have asked for the Hotel Mendes Plaza to build a large relaxation room with sofas, TVs and videogames. It’s in the port city of Santos, so they can perk themselves up at the Coffee Museum or hope some magic will rub off from the statue of the local club’s most famous player, Pelé.

How they qualified
Beat the USA and Mexico on their way to second place in the six-team North American group.

World Cup high
Reaching the last 16 at Italia ’90, beating Scotland and – more impressively – Sweden in the process.

World Cup low
Losing all three of their group games, conceding nine goals, in Germany in 2006.

Familiar faces
Bryan Ruiz (Fulham).

Title odds: 1000/1

The stereotype is …
An impeccably-drilled outfit of small, compact midfielders and big, leggy strikers.

The reality is …
An impeccably-drilled outfit of defenders, defenders and more defenders. Pinto likes his 5-4-1 formation, and against the bigger nations, expect it to get another outing.

What are they known for?
Outstanding natural beauty 56 per cent
Fleeting but unbreakable bond with Derby County 44 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
In the tenacious battle of fruitful work, reddening the face of man, conquered your children, simple peasants eternal renown, esteem and honour.

Duration
Just under two minutes.

How to dress like their fans

costa-rica-national-soccer-team
Slip on a poncho and make it rain with ticker tape. Look unimpressed if anyone asks you the way to San Jose.

Commentator’s go-to stat
Costa Rica has no standing army. Cue plenty of jokes about having a shabby defence.

England Team Preview

The Players

Joe Hart goalkeeper, Manchester City

Glen Johnson defender, Liverpool

Leighton Baines defender, Everton

Steven Gerrard (captain) midfielder, Liverpool

Gary Cahill defender, Chelsea

Phil Jagielka defender, Everton

Jack Wilshere midfielder, Arsenal

Frank Lampard midfielder, Chelsea

Daniel Sturridge forward, Liverpool

10 Wayne Rooney forward, Manchester United

11 Danny Welbeck forward, Manchester United

12 Chris Smalling defender, Manchester United

13 Ben Foster goalkeeper, West Bromwich Albion

14 Jordan Henderson midfielder, Liverpool

15 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain midfielder, Arsenal

16 Phil Jones defender, Manchester United

17 James Milner midfielder, Manchester City

18 Rickie Lambert forward, Liverpool

19 Raheem Sterling midfielder, Liverpool

20 Adam Lallana midfielder, Southampton

21 Ross Barkley midfielder, Everton

22 Fraser Forster goalkeeper, Celtic

23 Luke Shaw defender, Southampton

Star man

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A toss-up between the captain Steven Gerrard, who until a certain stumble was inspirational for Liverpool, or Wayne Rooney, who needs to rediscover his mojo after a quiet season for Manchester United. Both are big-game players for club and country, and cop much more flak than they deserve.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace
John Terry, after smuggling himself into the cargo hold and turning up for England’s first training session in freshly-ironed kit.
Other than David Beckham, Rooney is the only man to have been sent off twice in an England shirt. He also had a pop at his own fans at the last World Cup, incredulous as they were at the laughable dross served up in a goalless draw against Algeria.

The coach

Roy Hodgson: just one of those regular blokes who takes the Tube and tells jokes at half-time, and hardly ever has to regret it. Occasionally wild of bouffant, Roy Hodgson is often likened to an owl. Not the most flattering lookalike but people are called worse and he is considered a wise old bird after all.

Grudge match

England always fancy a rumble with Germany, though in truth the enmity only really goes one way, especially as the highly amused Germans have lasted longer than the English in every single World Cup since 1966. Argentina are a better bet. The Malvinas and Maradona affairs of the 1980s didn’t help but it’s a rivalry that stretches back to the Antonio Rattín debacle of 66, when Argentina’s captain was sent off in the quarter-finals for “violence of the tongue”, and took the best part of 10 minutes to walk off.

Holed up

England have wisely decided against staying in Copacabana, as they did in 1950 to disastrous, sleep-bothering effect. Instead they’re at Rio’s Royal Tulip. Only four stars, which might raise a well-plucked eyebrow or two, but it suggests pragmatism has won out over luxury. How very Roy.

How they qualified
With great difficulty and much anguish, despite not losing a game and scoring more goals than Spain and France put together.

World Cup high
Geoff Hurst still hasn’t had to buy his own pint since 1966. Roger Hunt probably has, though.

World Cup low
Not qualifying in 1974, 1978 and 1994 was pretty bad, but for nation-defining collapse, you can’t beat the 1-0 defeat to Ellis Island in 1950.

Familiar faces
Take your pick. Wayne, Stevie G, Frank, Welbz …

Title odds: 25/1

The stereotype is …
Pampered, overpaid prima donnas who choke under pressure and boot the ball long at every opportunity.

The reality is …
Pampered, overpaid prima donnas who choke under pressure and boot the ball long at every opportunity.
Then there is the encouraging emphasis on youth, quoting the German model. Although deprived of Theo Walcott and Andros Townsend, Raheem Sterling’s effervescence, and his connection with Daniel Sturridge, fills the void rather handily. Similarly Ross Barkley’s growing maturity and Jordan Henderson’s thrusting performances for Liverpool provide options.

What are they known for?
Bagpuss 38 per cent
Prog rock 35 per cent
The Shipping Forecast 19 per cent
Playing Paul Scholes on the left eight per cent

How Google translates the national anthem (into Portuguese)
Deus salve a nossa rainha gracioso, vida longa a nossa nobre rainha, deus salve a rainha.

Duration
Long enough for some nitwit to shout “No surrender to the IRA”.

How to dress like their fans

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Head-to-toe Jacamo for the guys, baggy T-shirt and jeans for the girls. And the odd St George Tribute.

Commentator’s go-to stat
The last man to score for England in a World Cup match? Matthew Upson against Germany, although Frank Lampard was hard done by.

Group D Preview, Uruguay, Italy, England and Costa Rica

 

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.

Group D Schedule 
Match Fixture Date Time Stadium
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

Locations

Image of the das Dunas stadium in NatalArena das Dunas, Natal

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.

Teams

Uruguay

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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

 

Italy

Italy-National-Team-Getty-Images1

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)

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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

Costa Rica's national football team

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

For more information, read Costa Rica Team Preview.


Important Fixtures

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.

Predictions

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.

Group D Predictions
Team Position Country Points
1 Uruguay 7
2 England 5
3 Italy 4
4 Costa Rica 0

 

Summary

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’.