Four-time World Cup winners Italy don’t seem to be mentioned very often when you think of the favourites in Brazil this summer, but the Azzurri are coming off a strong Euro 2012 performance, where they finished as runners-up to reigning world champions Spain in the final, and are predicted to top a competitive Group D. The following year, they lost to the same side in the Confederations Cup during the last-four stage. This was certainly a vast improvement from their disastrous World Cup campaign in 2010, which saw them finish fourth in a group consisting of Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand. It was their worst World Cup showing where they failed to win even a single game. However, with a strong squad led by Cesare Prandelli, the Italians will be particularly motivated to win this year’s World Cup — if they do, it will be their fifth title, tying them with Brazil, who currently hold the record. Prandelli will be relying on his older players such as Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo, the backbone of the team, for his expert poise and pin-point passing; while he will have the experience of Daniele De Rossi, Claudio Marchisio and Thiago Motta at his disposal. Mario Balotelli will lead the cause for the youngsters in the team, having scored two goals against Germany in the semis of Euro 2012 and belting 17 goals in 39 appearances for AC Milan this season. Meanwhile, they will be supported by the expertise of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who will be appearing in his fifth consecutive World Cup.
The last team to book its ticket to Brazil, Uruguay, a two-time World Cup winner including their 1950 win in Brazil, did not have an easy qualifying process as they lost three and played two draws in their first five matches before regrouping and winning four out of their last five games. However, they head into the 2014 World Cup with some momentum after picking up a fourth-place finish in the previous edition in South Africa, continuing with a win at the 2011 Copa America and taking the fourth spot in last year’s Confederations Cup. Boasting some of the most dangerous strikers in the world, coach Oscar Tabarez’s offensive system banks on Luis Suarez, who scored the most goals in the English Premier League season by a 10-goal margin, and Edinson Cavani, who has more than 20 goals for the French Club Paris-Saint Germain since his signing in July. Him and Suarez pose as one of the best 1-2 combinations in the World Cup this year; however, much is dependent on the latter’s recovery from a knee surgery. Tabarez’s side also includes Diego Forlan, who was named the best player of the 2010 World Cup and also scored twice in Uruguay’s 3-0 win over Paraguay in the 2011 Copa America final.
England, who won the 1966 World Cup at home, have only managed to place themselves in the top four since then, finishing fourth in 1990. During the 2010 World Cup, they finished alongside the US in Group C to advance to the round of 16, where they ended their campaign after a 4-1 loss to Germany. Thus, expectations on the side’s progress this year have been played down. With their second-youngest World Cup squad, the Three Lions may, however, cause a surprise through their pace and youthful nerve, led by one of England’s biggest assets, Roy Hodgson, who made the side tough to beat in the qualifying campaign, letting their goal breached just four times. Wayne Rooney, with 89 caps and 38 goals in his England career, will be the player to watch out for, but his form in the English Premier League for Manchester United was up and down this season, besides this, he can’t very well do it on his own – Daniel Sturridge will need to replicate his form from Liverpool to take the pressure off Rooney. The 19-year-old Raheem Sterling could be the X-factor in the midfield to see the side through, with support from the ‘old guards’ of the team such as Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.
Costa Rica are the odd one out in the group as they have never won a World Cup and only made it beyond the group stage just once in 1990. They did not qualify for the 2010 edition, and this year will mark their fourth appearance in the World Cup. However, the Ticos boast probably their best group of players since the legendary Italia 90 side and qualified for the 2014 World Cup with the best defensive record in the CONCACAF. Colombian coach Jorge Luis Pinto will be relying on goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who plays for Spanish club Levante and has been one of the best keepers this season. Perhaps the best-known player for Costa Rica after his spell at Fulham, Bryan Ruiz’s creative spark could help provide chances for young striker Joel Campbell, who is on loan from Arsenal to Greek club Olympiakos.
Any of the teams from the high-powered trio of England, Italy and Uruguay can book their place past the group stages, with underdogs Costa Rica expected to miss out after being drawn in the ‘group of death’. Italy is the most likely to top the group given their boasting record, while much depends on Suarez’s health and the Three Lion’s confidence to determine the fate of Uruguay and England.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2014.
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