• England
  • Costa Rica
  • Italy
  • Uruguay
  • Prediction
  • Matches
Tab 1
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England
England, certainly, will be wary from previous encounters with Italy. Hodgson is likely to emphasise defensive discipline in their opening game, being careful not to give away free-kicks on the edge of the area. The heat of Manaus will have an impact on the pattern of the game, with both sides likely to give up possession in favour of conserving energy and trying to hit the opposition on the break. England go into the tournament with low expectations, though not for the reason the nation expected. The assumption was that Roy Hodgson’s selection would include mostly old heads who have never quite performed at their best on the international stage, giving them one last forum for failure. However, his selection surprised many, leaving out the likes of Michael Carrick and calling time on Ashley Cole’s career in favour of young and talented players such as Saints’ very own Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana, plus the scouse duo of Sterling and Barkley. The end result is a nicely balanced squad. Even so, it is one selected with future battles in mind.

Hodgson has given himself an abundance of attacking flair at his disposal, even if it is not yet clear how he intends to use it. It is likely that he will field horses for courses, varying his formation during games to gain the upper hand, just as he did to turn the match in Brazil last year. With Rooney likely to be given defensive duties as he is with his club, much will fall on Daniel Sturridge’s shoulders. He will need to continue the form he has shown since joining the set up; England will need his goals.

They meet Italy, who are traditionally not good starters in tournaments, at the right time, who they will look to break down with the pace of the likes of Sterling and Sturridge on the break. If the Liverpool contingent can inject some of the urgency that they do at club level, Italy may be rattled. An early goal will force Italy to venture from their defensive shell.

The match versus Uruguay is one that Hodgson should be targeting for a victory that could seal the team’s passage through the group. If Suarez is missing through injury, the South Americans will have very little to scare England, particularly if Tabarez lines up in his preferred 4-4-2, which should play into England’s hands by giving space between the lines for Lallana to run with the ball at his feet.

If this was the old England, it would be easy to predict a valiant loss to Italy and a frustrating draw with Uruguay, with qualification hinging on their ability to break Costa Rica down. However, Hodgson’s selection has made such predictions difficult; this is a positive new world for England, with a number of untried players who may just fly on the big stage.

And then there is Rickie Lambert, who’s footballing fairy tale may have one more golden moment for him, on the biggest stage of all. And even though he is now a Liverpool player, I'm sure every Saints fan would celebrate as if he was still our own.


What to look out for :

How Hodgson utilises the various skills of Sterling, Lallana, Barkley and Oxlade-Chamberlain against different opposition.

Batts


Tab 2
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Costa Rica
The names of Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell are unlikely to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition, but Costa Rica’s Colombian manager has organised Los Ticos well during a campaign in which they comfortably qualified ahead of Mexico. However, a pre-tournament injury to Alvaro Saborio, their first choice striker who has scored 32 International goals, is a significant blow to their chances. However, this is not to say that Costa Rica will not have an impact on this group. Whoever fails to beat Costa Rica faces early elimination. Unless England can beat both Italy and Uruguay, this means that their final match will be ‘do or die’.


What to look out for :

Will Costa Rica be organised enough to give a Suarez-less Uruguay an early scare?

Batts


Tab 3
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Italy
Despite using 40 players in qualifying, it is likely that Italy’s starting XI will retain a familiar look to it, with the likes of Buffon, Pirlo and Balotelli featuring heavily. Although Italy failed to get out of the group in South Africa, there has been a European Championship final appearance since then, and manager Cesare Prandelli has worked hard to eliminate any disharmony from the squad, dropping Dani Osvaldo, who scored 4 goals in qualifying, in the process.

Although the squad does contain a number of younger names, Prandelli has struggled to introduce too many of them into the team, so their chances are heavily reliant on whether Pirlo, 35, and Buffon, 36, are able to perform one more time on the biggest stage. They are likely to start with Balotelli up front, so Prandelli’s most important job between now and their first game against England is to ensure that Balotelli’s head is screwed on correctly.

Pirlo himself recently admitted in his autobiography that he doesn’t enjoy being man-marked because it means he isn’t afforded the space he needs to play his game. A somewhat strange statement to make so publicly with a World Cup on the horizon, one has to wonder whether he is indulging in a certain degree of kidology; certainly there would be much to gain for Italy if their opponents were to fit their plans around Pirlo. For England, it is likely that Rooney will be given the task of snuffing out the Italian maestro, which could lead to a limited attacking threat from Rooney if he is too pre-occupied with closing down the spaces that Pirlo likes to occupy. If Uruguay are to deal effectively with Pirlo, they will either need to change their formation from their preferred 4-4-2 or give unwanted defensive duties to Suarez or Cavani, which will again limit their attacking capabilities. Either way, it will be a feature of Italy’s games to see how the opposition deals with Pirlo.

the battle between Pirlo and Rooney.


What to look out for:

The battle between Pirlo and Rooney.

Batts


Tab 4
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Uruguay
After a 4th placed finish in 2010, Uruguay are tipped to do well once again but qualifying results suggest that they could be a team in decline. Their qualification campaign started strongly but tailed off, to the point where they needed a ‘bye’ in the play-offs against Jordan. And with doubts over the fitness of Luis Suarez, around whom the team’s gameplan is squarely focused, Uruguay are currently the most vulnerable of the teams in (the) Group (of) D(eath).

The Uruguayan FA are remaining tight-lipped over the severity of Suarez’ injury, but the people of Uruguay less so, as some have taken to Twitter to issue death threats to the young Newcastle defender that perpetrated the foul which caused Suarez’ injury. Burning effigies of Paul Dummett on the streets of Montevideo could be one of the more bizarre images of the 2014 World Cup.

Their manager, Oscar Tabarez, is very much a disciple of Nigel Adkins, preferring the 4-4-2 formation with Cavani doing the legwork up front to create space for Suarez. If the Liverpool striker does indeed miss the tournament, it will be interesting to see if Tabarez sticks with this formation and brings in a straight swap for Suarez, or if he tinkers with the formation to get the best out of his other players capable of creating chances for Cavani. Sticking with 4-4-2 will pose few threats to the opposition as tactically it is an easy formation against which to gain the upper hand, and without their trump card of Suarez, they could prove to be a very predictable outfit. They will therefore be very reliant on a solid defence, but with Diego Lugano at the heart of a defence which leaked 25 goals in 16 qualifiers, they may not have the organisation to withstand the likes of Pirlo and Lallana.

Their campaign starts against Costa Rica and this game will be key to deciding their fate. As with Italy and England, their entire qualification strategy will be centred around beating Costa Rica. A strong victory will give them the confidence to perform without Suarez, while a draw or even defeat could see them capitulate as they did during qualifiers, in which they didn’t manage a victory for an entire year between June 2012 and June 2013.

What to look out for:

Without Suarez, does Tabarez line them up in a 4-4-2, or does he change to a more flexible formation in order to get the best out of their other creative talents such as Gastón Ramírez and Diego Forlan?

Batts


Tab 5

Batt's Prediction

Costa Rica are dead in the water.

It's going to be a very tight 3 way. It is quite possible that all 3 will end on equal points. On that basis it is very difficult to predict so I'm going to go with my hunch; I just have a feeling Italy might be the big scalp to struggle early on.

So I'm going with England and Uruguay.

Batts


Tab 6

Group 'D' Matches


  1. Uruguay 1-3 Costa Rica - 14th June 2014
  2. England 1-2 Italy - 14th June 2014
  3. Uruguay 2-1 England - 19th June 2014
  4. Italy 0-1 Costa Rica - 20th June 2014
  5. Italy 0-1 Uruguay - 24th June 2014
  6. Costa Rica 0-0 England - 24th June 2014

Group Table


As at 24.06.14

Country

P

W

D

L

GD

Pts

Costa Rica

3

2

1

0

3

7

Uruguay

3

2

0

1

0

6

Italy

3

1

0

2

-1

3

England

3

0

1

2

-2

1