Group D: Uruguay stunned, Azzurri take control
It has been a frantic start to the World Cup so far with its fair share of goals, controversies and shock results keeping the blood pumping and the adrenaline rushing despite the matches falling in the dead of night…and morning. Group D has proved no different, as the much talked about Group of Death maintained the blueprint of the tournament so far with its a large of excitement.
Time to pack your bags?
Winners of the trophy the last time the tournament was played in Brazil, semi-finalists four years ago, and highest ranked team in the group.
With so much pedigree coming into the tournament, no one would have expected Uruguay to slip and fall face-first at only the first hurdle against supposedly the “easiest” opponents in the group.
Everything was going according to the script when Edinson Cavani struck a brilliant penalty to give his side a first half lead. But while Costa Rica did not really cause trouble in front of the Uruguayan goal in the first period, there were signs that the La Celeste’s defense was not entirely convincing. True enough, they were duly found out in the second half as they were rocked by two quick goals which they were unable to recover from.
The absence of Luis Suarez would definitely be thrown into the pot of excuses for their attacking impotency, but really, it’s the defense that needs more, err..bite.
Yes, there are still two games to play for to salvage a qualification spot, but what’s the likelihood of the South American side taking maximum points from both Italy and England?
Unlikely me thinks.
Who you calling whipping boys?!
As the only team in the group to not have had their name on the World Cup trophy before, Costa Rica were not even given the slightest chance of qualifying from the group, much less earn a point. But Los Ticos have created perhaps one of the most shocking results in World Cup history, and more significantly, put themselves in an unlikely position to qualify from the Group of Death.
Now who could have predicted that? The lowest ranked team in the group put in a commanding second half display to leave early group favourites Uruguay shell shocked.
The defensive toughness they brought to the game came as no surprise though, considering this team raked in only seven goals in the final round of qualifying matches.
But what was more impressive was their precision in front of goal. Joel Campbell was undoubtedly the star of the show with a goal and an assist to his name. He scored the equaliser which gave the Costa Ricans belief that the impossible was actually achievable, and Oscar Duarte and Marcos Urena followed up with a goal apiece to seal what is likely to be the greatest ever victory for the country so far.
Special mention has to be given to highly rated goalkeeper Keylor Navas too, who made a series of eye-catching saves from Diego Forlan’s deflected effort and Edison Cavani’s headed attempt on goal.
So looking ahead, can they actually make it to the knockout stages?
Avoid defeat in the next two games and they could very well get there (gasp!).
Much promise in wake of defeat
Unlike Uruguay, England’s defeat was greeted with a little bit more optimism than, well, condemnation.
There was a lot of talk about the ‘young uns’ and whether they had what it takes to go out and prove their worth in the biggest stage of world football.
And the verdict? Yes they do.
Raheem Sterling is the main reason for that, as his effort in the opening minutes caused a few media outlets to embarrassingly note down a score despite the ball hitting the side netting. But that chance was a precursor to an impressive performance by the fearless 18-year-old, who gave the Italian defense a torrid time throughout.
It was his penetrating pass that found Wayne Rooney on the left, whereupon the latter's inch-perfect cross gave Daniel Sturridge an invitation to show the world his famed robotic dance.
Oh and speaking of Rooney, the record goal scorer for England in World Cup qualifiers is still looking to get his first goal in a World Cup tournament (this is his third campaign). Bizarre statistic that. The £300k a week man failed to impress yet again despite that assist, and his abysmal overall contribution will surely allow Ross Barkley a sniff at the starting eleven after a lively cameo appearance.
But fair play to England, they did equalise a couple of minutes after they conceded, and had enough chances to at least draw level after trailing again. Fortunately for the Three Lions, Uruguay’s defeat to Costa Rica still puts them with a shout to qualify to the round of 16, but they do need to sort out this young vs old dilemma fast.
Crisis? What crisis?
Winless in seven matches, the Italians came into the tournament in less than ideal form. Injuries affected their preparations, while the horror from the previous editions of the tournament still lingered. Such was the gloom over the Azzurri that they were not even labeled as favourites for the opening game against England.
But somehow there was an air of quiet confidence surrounding the team, and it showed as they saved their form for the big occasion in typical Italian style with a narrow 2-1 win.
Having lost talismanic goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon to an ankle injury in training the day before, Salvatore Sirigu stepped in and played his part in keeping the Englishmen at bay for the majority of the game.
As anticipated, it was Andrea Pirlo who stole the show with a breathtaking showcase of control and panache alongside his midfield partner Claudio Marchisio, with the latter chipping in by breaking the deadlock 10 minutes before the break.
Eventually, it was none other than "Super Mario" Balotelli who headed in the match winning goal from a sublime Antonio Candreva cross early in the second period, and they saw out the game in typically Italian defensive fashion.
The victory definitely puts the Azzuri in pole position to qualify from the Group of Death, with their performance against England (arguably their toughest opponents in the group) a clear indication that they will be here to stay well beyond the group stages.
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.