World Cup: Group D preview

Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England and Italy

Uruguay

Qualification: Uruguay finished 5th in CONMEBOL qualifying and snuck into the World Cup after easily negotiating Jordan in the inter-continental two-leg playoff.

Approach: Seasoned tactician Oscar Tabarez has preferred a 4-3-1-2 system since his return to the helm, which will see them take the game to their rivals.

Key players: Luis Suarez is undoubtedly his side’s most lethal forward man and will be looking to wreak havoc on defences alongside Edinson Cavani of PSG. Diego Forlan was awarded the Golden Ball in the 2010 edition and has the potential to reach similar heights once more.

Likely outcome and prediction: Once regarded as a giant of world football, the group’s seeded team come to the tournament on the back of a 2011 Copa America conquest and a semi-final berth at the 2013 Confederations Cup.

Their aging defence will be tested, although this will be offset if their natural attacking ability is fully utilised. A win against Costa Rica in their first match in Fortaleza will be crucial ahead of tougher challenges against England and Italy.

A tournament on their home continent coupled with an experienced side should see Los Charruas progress as group winners. Anything including a semi-final or final appearance will be possible thereafter.

Costa Rica

Qualification: Costa Rica’s route to Brazil was a comfortable one as they secured their spot automatically through CONCACAF with two matches to spare following a draw against Jamaica.

Approach: Jorge Luis Pinto is certain to employ a 5-4-1 set up which helped them go 476 minutes without conceding in qualifying.

Key players: Captain and creative dynamo Bryan Ruiz who currently plies his trade with PSV Eindhoven and sits in behind the front man is one to watch. Joel Campbell’s speed and precision up front will make him tricky for defences to deal with.

Likely outcome and prediction: Los Ticos face a monumental task to advance past the group stage and better their Round of 16 placing in 1990. Their defensive fortitude and ability to hit teams on the break will need to come to the fore if they are to stand any chance of vying for a top two position.

Any points gained will be greeted favourably in what will be a short stay in Brazil.

England

Qualification: England booked their place in Brazil after edging out Ukraine to get through as group winners.

Approach: A 4-4-2 will greet fans and opponents alike which should make for an enterprising and balanced style.

Key players: Wayne Rooney will once again shoulder the weight of the nation’s expectations and will need to fire in order to propel the Three Lions onward. Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling’s respective form at Liverpool this season bodes well, while Joe Hart will need to show his worth in between the sticks.

Likely outcome and prediction: A youthful side will take to the park in what is a far cry from previous England squads at major tournaments. If they can finally deal with the immense pressure and scrutiny from back home and share the goal scoring responsibility between one another, they may make it out of an exacting group. Avoiding penalty shootouts will also be helpful.

A positive result against Italy in Manaus in their first hit out could put them in a position to ultimately make it to the quarter-finals.

Italy

Qualification: The Azzurri made light work of their direct passage to Brazil in a group that consisted of Denmark, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria.

Approach: Cesare Prandelli’s Italy will line up with a 4-3-2-1 formation, suiting the technical skills of many of their midfielders and enabling them to control the game.

Key players: Midfield architect Andrea Pirlo is a pivotal cog who pulls the strings for his team. The unpredictable Mario Balotelli has the potential to stamp his mark in Brazil if it retains his discipline, while battle-hardened skipper Gianluigi Buffon will be Italy’s custodian in his fifth and final World Cup.

Likely outcome and prediction: Traditionally slow starters at tournaments, Italy always have the knack of performing at the pointy end and could rattle a few feathers if they find their way past the first hurdle.

Fluidity and guile as seen in last year’s Confederations Cup and Euro 2012 would keep the Azzurri in pole position to come out as group winners or runners-up. A win for the four-time winner against England and Costa Rica will see them through and then a quarter-final date likely.

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