Group D: The happiest country on Earth
It was a telling second round of fixtures in Group D as England crashed out of the tournament while surprise package Costa Rica beat the odds and earned the right to be the in the Round of 16 of the World Cup. Italy and Uruguay, on the other hand, will face each other in the final group match to determine the other qualifying spot.
Without further ado, I present the winners and losers in the 'Group of Death' this week.
Biggest winner – The happiest country on Earth
They are the only team in Group D not to have a World Cup trophy to their name. Yet, somehow, Costa Rica are the first team to have qualified from the Group of Death. The happiest country in the world, according to a Happy Planet index in 2012, have just broke new ground with the joy and ecstasy for its people as they followed up their giant killing act of defeating Uruguay 3-1 by beating Italy in the second round of group fixtures.
Bryan Ruiz scored the only goal of the game just before half time, and were deserved winners as the Italians crumbled under the pressure and intensity from Los Ticos.
The two consecutive wins, the first in the CONCOCAF side's history, coupled with Uruguay’s victory over England, means that they have qualified for the knockout stages of the competition for the first time since 1990.
One can only imagine the kind of celebrations that are taking place in the happiest country in the world at the moment.
Luis Suarez - It was written in the stars for him to have the telling say against the country he plays his football in. Having not played a game in almost 40 days after a knee injury, there were doubts about his fitness and how much impact he could make. But how dare any of us question his ability! That supposed ‘half fit’ Suarez was sprinting, hassling and wreaking havoc amongst the England defense. Two chances, two goals. Luis Suarez was undoubtedly the star of the England - Uruguay match.
Wayne Rooney – There was a lot of debate about whether Rooney should have started the match and where he should have even played. But the Manchester United ace proved his doubters wrong by finally breaking his World Cup duck with an easy tap in after a fantastic run at the far post. He was one of the few better performers for England and now has 40 goals for his country, on par with Michael Owen on the all-time goal scorers list.
Alvaro Pereira – the Uruguayan midfielder plugged the gap left by his namesake Maxi Pereira, starting the game at left back after the latter was sent off in the first match against Costa Rica. His evening though seemed to have been over after he was knocked out by Raheem Sterling’s knee midway through the second half. But the 28-year-old got up, defied the doctor’s orders and continued playing for the remainder of the game to help Uruguay to victory. What a warrior.
The Queen – Mario Balotelli tweeted after England’s loss to Uruguay that the Queen owed him a kiss should they beat Costa Rica. Well, that’s a sight we will never get to see as Los Ticos saved the Queen with a narrow victory over the Azzurri. Her royal majesty should honour Bryan Ruiz for being her knight in shining armour with the match-winning goal.
Biggest loser - England's defense
For all the talk of the England team’s heartening performance up front with their new breed of promising youngsters, they somehow lost track of the defensive side of things. The entire England backline was shockingly poor and uninspiring as they struggled throughout the game.
Phil Jagielka was the chief culprit, notably after his mistimed clearance early in the game went straight to Christian Rodriguez, who almost punished the Three Lions with a fierce shot that went just over the bar. The Everton defender was also blindsided by Suarez’s run for his first goal, of which the ball shouldn’t even have reached him in the first place had Glen Johnson closed down Edison Cavani and not left him with all the time in the world to place a pinpoint cross.
Even Joe Hart’s performance was questionable as he almost got caught out by Suarez’s near-post corner kick on a couple of occasions.
The rear guard had a torrid evening against the South American side, and their inability to contain the Uruguay's attacks, especially from Suarez, proved to be their ultimate undoing as they bid an early farewell to this World Cup.
Steven Gerrard – The England captain had a game to forget. He must have thought he was in Liverpool’s colours as his header backwards provided the assist to Suarez scoring the match winning goal. But who can blame him? Liverpool’s representatives formed the biggest contingent in total for both teams, with six of the starting 22 players all plying their trade for the Anfield outfit. Poor Gerrard, first he had to get over that title slip, now this.
Raheem Sterling – The Liverpool youngster received rave reviews for his performance in the opening game against Italy. Such was his impact that even Andrea Pirlo was quoted to have been impressed with his performance. Yes, Pirlo. But the heightened expectations came to a stuttering halt as he provided an indifferent performance against Uruguay, lasting just over an hour before he was replaced by Ross Barkley.
Roy Hodgson – Remember how Hodgson said a few days ago that Suarez is not a world class player yet? Well time to eat humble pie, good Sir. He proved you wrong, if ever there was any proving needed. For all the ideal preparation and talk of confidence to play attractive football, the “devastated” England manager has failed to deliver on the biggest stage in world football, and looks set to follow in the footsteps of Spain with an early exit from the tournament.
Italian attack (or lack thereof) – The Azzurri did well enough to beat England in the opening match of the group stages, but they were absolutely abject against the Costa Ricans. Their impotency and inability to trouble their opponent’s defense was shocking. The strike force succeeded in getting more offside calls than shots on goal. Mario Balotelli started the match, while the additions of Lorenzo Insigne, Antonio Cassano and Alessio Cerci in the second period all failed to inspire the side to get at least a point from this game.
Ahmad Khan is currently a Presenter/Producer for Red Card Sports Radio. He idolizes John Dykes and hopes to be the Singaporean equivalent of the renowned football presenter one day. He also has the potty idea that football makes the world go round and is convinced the beautiful game forges even greater bonds than the United Nations to bring people together.