Group D Preview

Steven Gerrard will look to inspire England to Group D glory - Clive Rose

With controversial names such as Luis Suarez, Mario Balotelli and Wayne Rooney headlining, Group D is likely to get as many column inches for issues off the pitch as for the action on it. However, this group could turn out to be one of the most closely fought groups in the World Cup. Costa Rica may be the rank outsiders but if they are able to conjure up any draw or victory, that could be vital in determining which sides go through to the next round. Uruguay, England and Italy may be closely matched but it’s difficult to see Group D producing any of the World Cup’s last 4 as Spain and Brazil almost certainly await in the quarter-finals for the top two from this group.

Let's have a closer look at the teams and a few players to look our for:

Uruguay

FIFA Ranking – 6

It may be 64 long years ago but Uruguay will be hoping for a repeat of their World Cup win the last time Brazil hosted the tournament. Chances are that history will not repeat itself but Uruguay will be hoping to emerge from Group B and follow-up their semi-final place in South Africa in 2010 with another big performance.

Players to watch

Luis Suarez – Controversy and headlines never seem far away for Uruguay’s undisputed star man. From biting opponents to his red card for a goal-line handball at the last World Cup, Suarez is already a big story at this tournament with a knee injury that could force him to miss the opening game. If he can regain fitness, Suarez will be looking to build on his fantastic season of 31 EPL goals and 12 assists and who better to do it against, than England’s squad filled with his Liverpool teammates.

Diego GodinCentral defender Godin is the defensive lynchpin for Uruguay and a huge threat at set-pieces. He only has 3 international goals but notched important goals for Atletico Madrid at the tail of the season against Barcelona and in the all-Madrid Champions League final. Don’t be surprised to see Godin emerge as a contender for the team of the tournament especially if he can find his way onto the scoresheet.

Rising star

Gaston RamirezRamirez has had a poor season at Southampton in the EPL but often reserves his best performances for the light blue shirt of Uruguay. I was at Old Trafford to see him score a stunning free kick against UAE in the 2012 Olympics and mark his arrival on the international scene. The attacking midfielder could start the World Cup on the bench but given the opportunity, he could provide plenty of chances in front of goal for the likes of Suarez and Edison Cavani.

Prediction – Quarter-finalists

England

FIFA Ranking – 11

Roy Hodgson’s England approach this World Cup with lower expectations from the English public than any recent tournament and this could work in their favour. England’s success and attractiveness to watch could depend on how brave Hodgson’s team selection are. He has selected a squad packed full of young exciting inexperienced attacking talent who, if selected, could take the World Cup by storm or freeze on the big stage.

Players to watch

Daniel SturridgeThe Liverpool forward has had a fantastic season in the EPL, finishing second behind club teammate and World Cup rival Luis Suarez in the goalscoring charts with 21 goals. Sturridge is expected to take the key centre-forward’s role and Hodgson will be hoping his selfishness in front of goal will bring glory for the Three Lions.

Steven GerrardThe England captain has matured from an all action midfield general into a pocket passing defensive midfielder. In the heat and humidity of Brazil, the Liverpool man will play a key role in trying to keep possession and will look to add to his record of scoring at the last two World Cups.

Rising Star

Raheem SterlingThere are a number of rising stars amongst the England squad and any one of Ross Barkley, Jack Wilshere, Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could catch the eye. Sterling, who is full of tricks and willing to run any opponent, could prove to be the pick of the bunch. The fact he is wearing the same number 19 shirt famously worn by Paul Gascoigne at Italia ’90, could give fans even more reason to dream of greatness from the young Liverpool attacker.

Prediction – Qualify from the group but ultimately outclassed in the Quarter-finals

 

Italy

FIFA Ranking – 9

The way that Italy will play in this World Cup will come as no surprise to football fans around the world. Their tried and trusted possession game has propelled them to 4 World Cup titles, the final of Euro 2012 and third place at the Confederations Cup. Their first challenge to emerge from a group with two other evenly matched teams but their past history shows that if they can avoid an early exit they will be one of the toughest teams to beat.

Players to watch

Mario Balotelli – The controversial forward is the spearhead for the Italian attack and a lot of pressure rests on Balotelli’s broad shoulders to score the goals to propel Italy to World Cup success. If the inconsistent forward can use this pressure to his advantage then he could cause a lot of problems for the shaky looking defences in Group B. Italy have never lost when Balotelli has scored.

Andrea PirloThe Juventus man’s performances for Italy have been as consistently stylish as his hairstyle and all the Group B opponents will be looking for ways to neutralise the Italian playmaker. Despite his advancing years, Pirlo’s passing abilities are second to none and will be key to dictating the pace of games in the hot and humid conditions of Brazil. It also wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see a Pirlo long-range free kick figure in the goal of the tournament competition.

Rising Star

Ciro ImmobileHe may sound like a player who struggles to move around the pitch but the fantastically named Immobile (pronounce it like an Italian would!) is actually a speedy striker who is excellent on the counter attack. He has just completed a move to German side Borussia Dortmund on the eve of the World Cup and will be able to focus on the tournament without speculation raging about his future. Immobile will start the opening game on the bench but Cesare Prandelli may be forced to turn to the youngster if things don’t go to plan against England in their opening matchup.

Prediction – Another high profile first round casualty

 

Costa Rica

FIFA Ranking – 34

Costa Rica may appear to be at the World Cup to make up the numbers but they are Central America’s most successful nation, with Brazil 2014 being their 4th World Cup appearance. It would appear that a repeat of the 1990 exploits, when they upset Scotland and qualified for the second round, are beyond them but they could prove a tricky opponent and prevent one of their more fancied Group rivals from progressing in the competition.

Players to watch

Bryan Ruiz – Ruiz represents the most widely known name in the Costa Rican squad and will skipper the side in Brazil. Known for his casual approach, silky skills and the occasional fantastic goal, he certainly has the ability to live with the big boys of the World Cup but may be let down by the team around him. Ruiz, who spent 2013/14 season on loan at PSV Eindhoven from Fulham, has 12 international goals but has yet to score at a World Cup.

Keylor Navas – It may seem obvious to call out the goalkeeper from the weakest team in each group but Navas has this year established himself as Levante’s goalkeeper in Spain’s La Liga and the World Cup will be a great chance to raise his profile still further. Named in La Liga’s team of the year, alongside more illustrious names such as Ronaldo, Messi and Bale, the 27-year-old kept 15 clean sheets this season.

Rising Star

Joel Campbell – The 21-year-old World Cup rookie has been on the books of Arsenal for three years but has yet to play a match in England for the Gunners. Having spent the last three years on loan, Arsene Wenger will be watching Group B closely to see if the young striker has got what it takes to play in the EPL. He has not been prolific in his loan spells but has already demonstrated his burgeoning talent in Greece with Olympiacos by scoring a spectacular goal against Man United in the Champions League. Campbell and Ruiz are likely to form an attacking partnership and try to make the most of the meagre pickings they are likely to get in front of goal in Group B.

 

Prediction – Out of their depth and falling at the first hurdle

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