FIVE DAYS to go! The World Cup is getting closer and today we preview Group D which is being claimed as the “Group of Death”. With three sides in the top 10 of the latest FIFA World Rankings it is sure to be an exciting battle between South Americans Uruguay and European pair England and Italy. CONCACAF’s Costa Rica make up the rest of the group and go into the tournament as huge underdogs.
64 years after producing one of the biggest upsets in world football, Uruguay will look to once again cause a shock and go all the way in Brazil.
In 1950 Uruguay were much unfancied in the final against their more illustrious opponents however they overcome the favourites 2-1 and that success is still talked about in both countries now.
Heading into 2014 Uruguay have an impressive crop of players in which the majority of them have been playing for the national side since 2007. In coach Oscar Tabarez they have the longest-serving manager at the finals, with the 67-year old in his eighth year in charge. He has overseen this golden generation of players and they have vast amounts of experience in the international arena. In the 2010 World Cup in South Africa they reached the semi-finals before they were eventually knocked out by Holland. They also won the following year’s Copa America trophy to place themselves further up in the upper echelons of world football.
At last summer’s Confederations Cup they succumbed to a late goal in the Semi-Final against Brazil and lost 2-1, however, they showed just how good a side they are.
Tabarez’s side is a dangerous opponent due to their ability to counter-attack at will. Their defence is ageing, which is a concern, however due to their 4-4-2 formation, the defence is marshalled comfortably by two holding midfielders. Over the years this has proved very successful with the likes of Cristian Rodriguez, Cristian Stuani and Luis Suarez breaking with pace and the finishing prowess of Edison Cavani and Diego Forlan.
With the attacking quality at their disposal opponents will be wary of La Celeste this time around, however, will look at Uruguay’s qualification results as a sign of optimism.
Uruguay, with all their attacking talent and international success, are lucky to be in Brazil. They finished 5th in South American qualifying and had to overcome Jordan in a play-off to qualify. Four draws and five defeats in 16 games wasn’t good enough for a nation that expects better and included heavy defeats to Argentina (3-0), Bolivia (4-1) and Colombia (4-0).
Even so heading into the finals Uruguay look impressive in their warm-up games and have managed clean sheets in their last two which will reassure them heading into their first game with Costa Rica.
That game against the CONCACAF side is key to Uruguay’s potential participation later on in the competition. They will be expected to win comfortably, nothing else will do. If they claim all three points they can go into the remaining two games with the upper hand knowing a win against either England or Italy will be enough to take them through to the second round.
Uruguay’s defence will boast Champions League finalist and La Liga winner Diego Godin and with his experience it is hoped he can help organise a defence which will be crucial to Uruguay’s chances.
“Uruguay have one of the most promising strike partnerships in world football, backed up by a solid team behind them. I think that at world level Uruguay are not given the respect we deserve and this could be a favourable point for the chances of Tabarez and his team”. Diego Perez Llundain, El Pais.
Route to the finals: 5th in South American qualifying. Beat Jordan 5-0 on aggregate in play-off.
Preferred formation: 4-4-2
Key man: Luis Suarez
Manager: Oscar Tabarez
Qualifying for the World Cup is an expectation in this Central American country and after missing out in 2010 they are relieved to be in Brazil. They dream of reaching the knockout stages, which they did on their World Cup debut in 1990, however this time around it is almost an impossible ask.
The Ticos have been handed the hardest possible group with three former World Cup winners battling it out. England, Italy and Uruguay should prove a step to far for Costa Rica however they will certainly be giving their best to make their nation proud.
Arguably this is the best crop of players that have ever come out of Costa Rica however in the run up to the competition they were dealt a major blow when Alvaro Saborio broke his foot in a warm-up match.
The Real Salt Lake man was the main man up top and his absence means that much will be expected of young striker Joel Campbell. The Olympiakos man, on-loan from Arsenal, has impressed during his time in Greece. His domestic and European displays have a number of clubs eyeing a move for the 21 year-old. Experienced head and team captain Bryan Ruiz will play the number-ten role and much will be expected of the Fulham man to deliver.
With Celso Borges and Yeitsin Tejeda in central midfield they have a pairing who will be vital to protecting the back four against the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Wayne Rooney and Luis Suarez and they also boast one of the best goalkeepers in Europe. Keylor Navas had a fantastic season with Spanish side Levante and will need to come up trumps again.
Qualifying for the World Cup was comfortable enough. In Round 3 they finished second behind Mexico and didn’t have to break sweat to advance. In the final round of qualifying they finished second again, this time behind the USA. Crucial victories against fellow finalists Honduras, Mexico and the States ensured they qualified with minimal fuss.
Not much is expected of Costa Rica with many seeing them as the whipping boys, but Jorge Luis Pinto’s side will go into the World Cup looking to do their nation proud. They will set-up to defend their penalty box and make it hard for their opponents to beat them.
Don’t expect the Ticos to claim a win against the big three, but don’t expect them to be beaten heavily either.
“It could hardly be more difficult or complicated for us: two great European sides and the 2010 semi-finalists. But we want to go to Brazil to compete, not just to participate. We want to make history and leave a footprint for the future generations.” Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica captain.
Route to the finals: 2nd in North, Central and Caribbean qualifying.
Preferred formation: 4-4-2
Key man: Bryan Ruiz
Manager: Jorge Luis Pinto
A lot has changed in four years since England were humiliated by Germany in South Africa. The majority of the line-up from that game in Bloemfontein has now changed, with a new young-looking side ready to take on the “Group of Death”.
Football Association chairman Greg Dyke made a cut-throat gesture when the draw was announced last December and his reaction typifies that of the English public – expectation levels have significantly dropped compared to tournaments in the past.
That could work in England’s favour however they are up against two inferior opponents in Italy and Uruguay, who will be confident of beating Roy Hodgson’s men.
That being said the pressure to impress is huge. A mixture of youth and experience has been put together in recent months and optimism is high amongst the camp. The likes of Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamerlain, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck are in the early stages of their England careers and are regular starters for their club sides. With the likes of Gary Cahill, Steven Gerrard, Joe Hart and Wayne Rooney providing the experience maybe England are being underestimated.
One thing that England have now, which they have lacked in the past, is pace. Chamberlain, Sterling and Welbeck will be looking to use their abilities to catch out their opponents and create chances for England’s front pairing of Rooney and Sturridge to convert.
A major plus for England is the experience of their head coach Roy Hodgson. In 1990 England favoured having Sir Bobby Robson in charge as he had already guided the team through the 1986 tournament. Hodgson was in charge of Switzerland in 1994 and his stewardship will be vital as he knows what it takes to deal with the added pressure of a World Cup tournament.
Qualifying for Brazil was comfortable enough for the Three Lions. Being drawn in a tricky looking group with Ukraine, Montenegro and Poland, Hogson’s men finished top however still needed a last-day victory over Poland to confirm their ticket to South America. Two draws against second-placed Ukraine had threatened a possibility of a play-off.
What can we expect from England? Well even though they have been dealt a tricky route to the second phase they are confident they can cause a surprise or two and qualify for the next round due to their new-look squad. In all honesty Hodgson is preparing for Euro 2016 however there is nothing stopping them having a good tournament this time round and making their nation proud once again.
“There are always ifs with England. If Wayne Rooney stays fit. If the balance is right in midfield. If the players can keep the ball. If the players don’t melt when the heat rises. If they don’t sit deep on taking the lead. If they find some psychological strength. If the game doesn’t go to penalties. England have some strengths. The keeper Joe Hart is in form. The captain Steven Gerrard is on a mission. Jordan Henderson, Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana all bring energy and ideas. If England get out of a tricky group that ill be success.” Henry Winter, Daily Telegraph football correspondent.
Route to the finals: 1st in European qualifying Group H
Preferred formation: 4-2-3-1
Key man: Wayne Rooney
Manager: Roy Hodgson
The Italians are one of the best international sides in World football and have a proud record in tournaments. They generally save their best football for them, apart from the World Cup in 2010, and much will be expected this time round.
Their failure in South Africa four years ago will spur on Cesare Prandelli’s men to do better this time around, but it will be difficult after being placed in the hardest group of the lot.
Costa Rica, England and Uruguay wait the Azzurri with the latter two expected to be challenging the Italians for the top two positions.
Italy are known for their impressive performances in moments of great difficulty. In fact they thrive on being up against it which was shown in 1982 and 2006, when against all the odds, they went on to claim the trophy. Since 1982 Italy have reached five finals and two semi-finals in 12 attempts and will be confident of doing the same again this time around.
Italy qualified for Brazil with ease. In a group with Czech Republic and Denmark as the only two dangers they remained undefeated and finished seven points ahead of the Czechs in third place.
Experience is the key for Prandelli as he leads the Euro 2012′s runners-up into Brazil with a host of players who have been around for a number of years. Mario Balotelli, Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Pirlo have 436 international appearances between them and form the spine of the side. They will need to make sure they are at their best in Brazil, otherwise they could be eliminated in the first round.
Their first game against England is vital to both sides. Neither will want to lose as defeat would be a disaster. However heading into the tournament Italy aren’t in good form. Six draws and a defeat in their last seven games have raised concerns back home. Indeed on June 4th Italy were held at home 1-1 by lowly Luxembourg, a result which caused embarrassment and a poll in newspaper Corriere Della Sera stated that 29 per cent of Italians don’t believe they will make it through the group stage.
If Italy are to be successful this time around they need their top three players to perform. Buffon and Pirlo are ageing however they will be crucial to how the Italians do. Up front Balotelli has a history of losing his temper in matches which have hindered his career to date. If he can keep that under control then Italy could go all the way.
“I think it will go very well for Italy. We have a good team with a good coach who has been able to create his own space and impose his own ideas, both tactically and ethically. Our record is good and history also shows that when little is expected of Italy, then Italy do well. Some people say that, given the climatic conditions, Prandelli will pick as many young players as possible but I doubt that. A national coach has to pick the best players available, regardless of age. Sometimes it matters more to have experienced players. Look at Buffon and Pirlo, they’ve had great seasons in Serie A so you have got to pick them.” Gianni Rivera, former Italy international.
Route to the finals: 1st in European qualifying Group B
Preferred formation: 4-3-2-1
Key man: Andrea Pirlo
Manager: Cesare Prandelli