Alternative Group D Preview: Balo to Panama, Joel Campbell's rampage and replica kits

England have their work cut out against Italy, Uruguay and, er (who else again?), writes Paul Watson...

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As ever, all eyes will be on England, except in countries other than England. While tiresome commentators and newspaper headlines will assert that ‘England Expects’, expectations are unusually low coming into the competition. In fact, most fans will be happy if the England team manage to travel successfully to Brazil, get a bit of a tan and bring back some souvenirs.
England will have to contend with Italy, Uruguay and the feeling they’ve forgotten someone else like Costa Rica. In preparation for the stifling heat in Manaus, Italy have been training in a sauna at their Coverciano facility, and testing a formation that allows a floating trequartista to add water to the rocks at regular intervals while allowing the wide men plenty of space to fetch face cloths.

World Cup pedigree

Uruguay won the first World Cup in 1930 on home soil. Cynics suggest the hosts benefited from playing in their home environment, while the European teams saw their campaigns marred by shipwreck, scurvy and an obligation to grow beards and use nautical terminology. The Uruguayans’ other success came in 1950 when they rudely won the competition in Brazil, in a massive faux pas.
Italy tend to win the World Cup during periods of socio-economic crisis such as 1982 and 2006, so the nation’s record-high unemployment level will be a massive boost. Costa Rica have progressed through the group stage only once in their first finals in 1990, aided by the fact their opponents believed the players to be ballboys and often allowed them to shoot through the goalkeeper’s legs.
Although not much is made of it, England won the World Cup in 1966. 
Just in case you hadn't heard

Star players

If Luis Suarez can recover from a knee injury, then he will pose a threat to defences, arms and common decency alike. Uruguay also have Cristian ‘The Onion’ Rodriguez, so named because he begins to smell delicious when he sweats. The enigmatic Mario Balotelli is capable of leading Italy to glory but equally capable of eloping to Panama, setting up an effective shipping company or playing an intense oboe sonata, according to scouting reports.
England have been accused of being dependent on Wayne Rooney but detractors will have to concede that there’s a wealth of strong young players who will be able to carry his bags around in Brazil. Costa Rica’s man to watch is Joel Campbell, who will try and play his way into Arsenal’s first team for next season by impressing against England, or injuring Arsenal’s existing first-team players.

Kit watch

Uruguay will wear their distinctive sky blue, which renders them more or less invisible should they take to the air. Italy will play in a much deeper blue, which makes them tough to spot in an azure ocean. Many England players will be forced to wear the cheaper £60 replica shirt, after an unnamed member of the England squad flogged the official £90 match kits for £70 a pop on a market stall on Miami Beach. Costa Rica will don a handsome red and blue outfit, as is their wont.
"Mine says 'WE 8 SCOTLAND' on the back, what about yours...?"

Did you know?

The term ‘Group of Death’ was first coined in the 1970 World Cup when England, Brazil, Czechoslovakia and Romania were drawn together. In those days it was the custom to decide drawn games with a round of Russian roulette.