In terms of history, Group D is the group of death in the 2014 World Cup, as three national sides with a championship in their past – Italy, England and Uruguay will try to shrug off the pesky Costa Rica on their way to the round of 16.
One of them will be left disappointed amid the big expectations. What might be universally true about this group is the football – all four teams don’t mind playing defensive, even cynical football in order to get their way, with draws, especially in the matches that don’t include Costa Rica, not perceived as bad results, at least before we have further developments.
We’ve never seen England reach a major tournament with so little expectations. Maybe this will be the difference between disappointment and feeling satisfied, like they did in Euro 2012, once again finding penalty kicks too difficult for them. While there aren’t world class players in their prime except for Rooney, the Liverpool bunch along with Jack Wilshere and Ross Barkley means this is a side that can play some nice attacking football if Roy Hodgson won’t be too afraid to do it.
The defense might be a problem – they seem set when it comes to centre backs, but Glen Johnson as the right back is a huge problem, and Joe Hart has never been the most consistent of goalkeepers, although he had a very strong second half to this season at Manchester City. While no one sees England as contenders for the title or even the Semi finals, casting them aside and neglecting their abilities wouldn’t be wise.
Italy seem to be consistent – bad tournament, good tournament. They were horrendous in the 2010 World Cup but surprisingly efficient in Euro 2012, reaching the final. There aren’t any surprises with Italy – the same crowded, wing-less formation, something of a 4-3-2-1 that has Mario Balotelli in front, getting too much responsibility for such a troublesome player. However, the ability of Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi as defensive midfielders, one in charge of defensive duties while Pirlo is in charge of moving this offense, is much more important.
Gianluigi Buffon with his two Juve teammates, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, will be the base of what should be a very strong spine, that will need to get a lot from the limited Milan duo at full back, Mattia De Sciglio and Ignazio Abate. Italy showed in the Confederations Cup that they can score, but opening up too much isn’t an option, as it might result in their heralded defense being torn apart.
No matter how you try to look at it, this Uruguay side peaked in 2010 and 2011, reaching the World Cup semifinal and winning the Copa America. Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani might be better than they were back then, but Uruguay have regressed in almost every other area: Diego Godin is fantastic, but Diego Lugano next to him doesn’t have a team. Their defense does have some attacking talent with Martin Caceres and Maxi Pereira who had a brilliant season, but it’ll mostly fall on the shoulders of the Liverpool star to get this side going.
The midfield doesn’t have creativity in it except for Cristian Rodriguez, and if Gaston Ramirez gets a chance he might be a factor as well. The rest are play destroyers in the middle of the pitch – Nicolás Lodeiro, Walter Gargano, Diego Perez and the rest. Diego Forlan might appear from time to time as a super sub, but at this stage of his career, using Abel Hernandez of Palermo will be a wiser decision.
Costa Rica has quite a few players in Europe, and the expectations will be on the shoulders of Bryan Ruiz who failed during his time in England before returning to the Dutch League and Joel Campbell, who did well for Olympiakos but is going back to Arsenal in hope of getting more opportunities there. Along with Christian Bolanos of FC Copenhagen, this trio will try to find the same kind of magic that made them so successful in the qualifiers.
But that trio will be alone. Costa Rice will probably defend with seven players in front of the goal of Keylor Navas, which means that it’ll be up to those three to maximize the few opportunities they’re projected to have. Guys like Cristian Gamboa (Rosenborg) and the experiences Junior Diaz (Mainz) will try to give some sort of width and attacking dimension from the wings, although they’ll probably be busy on the wings defending.