Group D Preview: Many Plots in the Group of Death

Group D Preview: Many Plots in the Group of Death

Saturday, June 14, 2014 1:39 pm

Group D promises to provide a number of sub-plots at the World Cup, with Uruguay aiming to match or even improve on reaching the semi-finals at the last World Cup, Italy desperate to make an impression having failed to go past the group stage in 2010 and England counting on fresh blood to kickstart a new, more accomplished era.

Suarez in Uruguay training [via FIFA]

A contentious handball by Luis Suarez contributed to Uruguay reaching the last four at the expense of Ghana back in 2010, going on to win bronze over an exhausted Germany. This year, the Liverpool striker heads to Brazil in fearsome form which saw him finish the last Premier League season as top scorer with 31 goals.

Alongside PSG striker Edinson Cavani and veteran Diego Forlan, Suarez forms a dynamic Uruguay attack which, on their day, wins the Copa America like in 2013 or otherwise, struggle through World Cup qualification and only make it to the competition via a play-off win over Jordan.

Coach Jose Pekerman would hope he is served with a bit of the former when Uruguay open their campaign in Brazil against the unfancied Costa Rica, with Suarez a doubt for that match due to a knee injury picked up in Uruguay’s training camp.

Stuani celebrates a goal for Uruguay [via FIFA]

In Suarez’s absence however, there is Christian Stuani who chips in with a few goals as he has in the warm-up matches leading to the World Cup and surely, Cavani who is an equally fearsome striker as Suarez and finished his debut season at PSG with 25 goals despite being played out of position most of the time to accommodate Zlatan Ibrahimovic and himself in the starting XI.

Coupled with the likes of goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, defenders Martin Caceres and Sebastien Coates as well as Gaston Ramirez, Walter Gargano and Atletico Madrid trio Diego Godin, Christian Rodriguez and Jose Gimenez, Uruguay could once again impress at a major tournament having won the last Copa America and finished third at the last World Cup.

In that 2010 World Cup, Italy had come as defending champions only to bow out at the group stage without winning a match. Since then though, the Azzuri have finished runner-up at Euro 2012 and third at last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup; Spain their nemesis both times.

The Italians undoubtedly have the psychology and grace to win the World Cup, especially as veterans Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon and Daniel De Rossi (and Andrea Bazargli) were part of the 2006 winning team.

Pirlo takes a free-kick for Italy [via FIFA]

Thus Cesare Prandelli’s men are primed to go as far as possible in Brazil with a squad brimming with such vast experience along with in-form new faces such as new Borussia Dortmund signing Ciro Immobile, Alesio Cerci of Immobile’s former club Torino and PSG midfielder Marco Veratti.

But as the recent warm-up match against lowly Luxembourg as well as the 2010 World Cup campaign showed, the Azzuri can stumble at unexpected times.

And though the presence of Immobile and the likes in the squad makes the absence of AC Milan captain Ricardo Montolivo through injury and Fiorentina striker Giuseppe Rossi one Italy can afford, their inexperience on the big stage could be one Italy cannot afford.

England on their part can be described as a pseudo-Italian squad comprising a mix of experienced players and talented upstarts that some way or the other fall short of the expectations their collective potential raises.

Taunt Steven Gerrard all you want but he has a UEFA Champions League winners’ medal, as does Frank Lampard who with Gerrard heads a midfield comprising a host of those upstarts including Ross Barkley, Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling and Jack Wilshere.

England captain Steven Gerrard [via FIFA]

And for once, the Three Lions can boast of a potent attacking line-up led by Daniel Sturridge, with Wayne Rooney aiming to prove critics wrong by proving his worth and late bloomer Rickie Lambert itching to do his part.

Along with a goalkeeper in Joe Hart who, on his day, is arguably among the best in the world and a decent enough defence, England once again will fancy their chances of doing well at a major competition.

What would determine how far Roy Hodgson’s men go would be their psyche at crucial points in their campaign. England fell apart after Lampard’s effort against Germany in the second round of the 2010 World Cup was infamously not awarded. That was followed by a penalty shoot-out loss to Italy – their first opponent in Group D – at the quarterfinal stage of Euro 2012.

If England can overcome their psychological block when such moments come up in Brazil, only getting depleted by injuries could keep England from making it to the last four.

For the fourth nation in Group D, it is safe to say Costa Rica are unfortunate to find themselves in a group where the other nations are in the top 10 of FIFA’s latest world rankings and it most likely would be a case of putting in a decent outing in Brazil.

Main Players to Watch

Immobile with Italy teammate Cerci [via FIFA]

Ciro Immobile finished the last Italian league season as top scorer, ahead of Luca Toni, Antonio Cassano and Argentina’s Gonzalo Higuain. Now with German giants Dortmund, Immobile looks set to lead a three-man attack for Italy alongside Mario Balotelli and one of Cerci or Lorenzo Insigne.

Marco Veratti is also another to watch from Italy, if he gets the chance to play in a central midfield that comprises De Rossi, PSG teammate Thiago Motta, Alberto Aquilani and veteran Andrea Pirlo, whom Veratti has been likened to.

Luis Suarez set the English Premier League alight with his 31 goals, but more so for managing to make headlines for only the right reasons unlike previous seasons.

England have a host of players to watch out for. Adam Lallana has impressed so far on the right wing, Raheem Sterling continues to get plaudits while Jack Wilshere and Ross Barkley combined very well when paired against Ecuador.

Sturridge and Rooney celebrate a goal for England [via FIFA]

However, Daniel Sturridge has come a long way from a peripheral, frustrated figure at Chelsea to being half of the Premier League’s most lethal partnership last season. His place at Liverpool is cemented and similar form at the World Cup would cement him as England’s top choice upfront.

Funnily, none of the four teams in the group have left a great impression heading to the World Cup but form in preparatory matches could be deceptive and the matches in this group have the prospects of being epic battles.

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