World Cup Group D Preview
It’s a tough group for England, but with expectations low, England have nothing to lose. Italy’s midfield is mighty, Uruguay’s forward-line is impressive and Costa Rica will be no pushovers, but just maybe with the proverbial exuberance of youth, England can be the surprise package of the tournament.
Uruguay were the surprise package four years ago when they claimed 4th place in South Africa. Their frontline of Cavani, Suarez and Forlan were lethal in that tournament, scoring 7 of the country’s 9 goals in the tournament. There hasn’t been too much change in the squad since then, with Muslera still occupying the gloves and the back four likely to stay the same with Caceres in for Victorino. The front three has become a front two more recently with Forlan used more sparingly given his age and Oscar Tabarez preferring to employ four in midfield.
After their impressive display in 2010, and their Copa America win in 2011, Uruguay have stuttered slightly, needing a playoff against Jordan to qualify from the South American qualifying section (Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Ecuador all finished above them). They could only manage a 0-0 draw in the home leg with a full strength side out, but comfortably qualified due to the 5-0 victory away from home.
Uruguay’s aging squad could be problematic as their midfield has always relied on being resolute, hard-working and consistent. Despite this, they have Diego Godin, La Liga’s player of the month for April and May, organising from the back and a front two most countries in the world would be envious of. It’s also important to note that Uruguay will be used to playing in Brazil, which judging by England’s desperate attempts to acclimatise to the heat, is a crucial factor to success in this World Cup.
Costa Rica are a well organised outfit who feel unfortunate to have been drawn in such a tough group. They are expected to get 10 men behind the ball in an attempt to contain and hit on the break, but that doesn’t mean the South Americans won’t have talent on display. Their most recognisable player will be Brian Ruiz, who cost Fulham £10.6m back in 2011 and showed glimpses of his ability during his two years in the Premier League. Despite making 12 appearances for the South Londoners this season, Ruiz was shipped out to PSV on loan in January in an attempt to recapture his best form entering the World Cup.
Joel Campbell is also a Premier League loanee hoping to star this tournament. The Arsenal man has been electric at times for Olympiakos this season, most notably against Manchester United in the Champions League, scoring in the first leg of their 2-0 win in the round of 16 fixture.
Two big losses for Costa Rica include their first choice striker, Alvaro Saborio, who has scored 32 goals in 93 games for his country, including eight in qualification for this tournament. The second is Bryan Oviedo of Everton. The full back deputised superbly for Leighton Baines during spells this season before breaking his leg in a January FA Cup tie against Stevenage. Costa Rica may have stood a chance with a full strength squad, but in what has been labelled a group of death, it is widely expected they’ll be exiting at the group stage just as they did in 2002 and 2006.
What can you say about England that hasn’t been said already? The media appear content on quietly building up the country’s hopes whilst also chiseling away at any insecurities such as Wayne Rooney’s best position or Glen Johnson’s poor form in the warm up matches. Qualifying undefeated was an impressive achievement but it’s important to remember that Belgium, Italy, Germany, Holland, Spain and even Switzerland achieved it too in their respected qualification groups, whilst the South American system requires at least 16 fixtures to be played against much tough opposition. Argentina only lost twice.
However, Roy Hodgson has earned the trust placed in him going into this tournament, and looks in much better shape than two years ago when he was picking up the pieces from Capello’s reign.
Gerrard has impressed with the armband following Hodgson’s faith in the 34-year-old, whilst the young talent available is being slowly but surely integrated into the squad.
There’s a fresh faced feel about the 23 men (four of them are not yet 21!) on the plane to Rio and fans back home will hope it’s a matter of when, not if, Hodgson employs the in-form young guns.
Sterling, Oxlade Chamberlain, Wilshere and Barkley all deserve minutes in Brazil. It will be interesting to see how much trust and ‘bottle’ the manager has when it comes down to three 90 minute games in the group. Will he be prepared to drop Rooney if he fails to perform? Will he be prepared to bring on Barkley instead of Lampard after the hour mark?
Whatever is said about building for the future, expectations are still high and England will have failed if they don’t progress from the group stages, regardless of the competition in front of them.
Like England, the Italians went through their qualifying group unbeaten with an identical record of 6 wins and 4 draws. Mario Balotelli topped the qualifying goalscoring with 5 goals but Juventus striker Dani Osvaldo, on loan from Southampton, was one goal behind on 4. Osvaldo missed out on Prandelli’s 23 man squad however, as did Guiseppe Rossi and Roma’s Mattia Destro.
There is still firepower up top however, with Borussia Dortmund’s most recent £15.5m capture Ciro Immobile who is expected to lead the line along with the enigmatic Balotelli, who has never tasted defeat when he has scored for his country.
Prandelli is under pressure in Italy. Having qualified with two games to spare, he experimented with his squad and only picked up two draws from those remaining games. Dropped points in FIFA’s ranking system meant they were unseeded and now find themselves in a more difficult group than they probably deserved. With Pirlo still pulling the strings alongside De Rossi, Buffon still holding onto the gloves and Chiellini’s presence at the back, Italy have vast amounts of experience. Prandelli will be hoping the youthfulness of Balotelli, Verratti and Immobile can complement the older heads and shine in a big tournament, as the country usually does. They will still be firm favourites to advance from Group D.
Predicted Top Scorer
It can only be Luis Suarez, undeniably one of the very best players in the world on current form. The Liverpool hitman scored 31 goals in 33 games having missed the first five matches of the season after biting Branislav Ivanovic in April 2013 (not the first time he’s laid those lethal knashers into an opponent!) Whilst he can inflict damage on opponents with his fearless style of play and composed finishing, he can also be his own worst enemy and is prone to self-destruct. Tabarez will be hoping to see only the very best of Suarez this summer in his attempts to continue his impressive record in charge of the national side.
Who will qualify?
Costa Rica will work hard, but with their first choice striker Sobario out of the tournament, they shouldn’t be enough of a goal threat to progress. Italy rarely flatter to deceive when it comes to big tournaments, but Prandelli may be relying on too many older players to last the distance. They should have enough experience to advance from the group however, leaving England and Uruguay to battle it out.
The South Americans have the advantage of the conditions, and will be used to the heat much more than the English. Adapting to these conditions has been a big part of Roy Hodgson’s preparation to the tournament. If the young players are given the opportunity to be brave and get on the ball, they should have enough to edge out Uruguay’s aging squad, but it certainly won’t be easy.
Villa fans should still be rooting for Gary Cahill and James Milner, who both represented the club superbly before leaving on good terms. Born in Birmingham, Daniel Sturridge is also one of our own, having joined the club at 7-years-old, before leaving for Coventry’s youth setup four years later. Luis Suarez and Mario Balotelli have both scored goals against Aston Villa, whilst Diego Forlan was once a target for Martin O’Neill back in 2007. Luckily, we signed Marlon Harewood instead…
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