World Cup Preview: Group D

photo credit: calciostreaming via photopin cc

photo credit: calciostreaming via photopin cc

D may very well stand for death. In England, Uruguay, and Italy, you have three teams who think they can go deep into this tournament. Only two will get past the first round.

Italy: Italy responded to a hugely disappointing performance at the 2010 World Cup by reaching the final of Euro 2012. Spain promptly thrashed them, but it was an announcement by the Azzurri that their struggles were short-lived. In Brazil, Italy is one of the few European teams that will genuinely believe in their ability to raise the trophy at the end of the tournament. This is not, anymore, the brick wall Italy, dedicated to frustrating their opponents and eking out victories. Under Cesare Prandelli, Italy have been a more positive side than their past reputation.

Of course, it is hard to be negative when your side boasts Mario Balotelli. It is hard to believe that he is still just 23 years old, but Balotelli is one of the premier goal-scoring threats in this tournament. At the opposite end of the age spectrum, 35-year-old Andrea Pirlo is Italy’s architect. He plays deep in midfield, with the attack emanating out from him and his pinpoint passes. He also serves as a weapon on set pieces, a free-kick master. If Italy can get the most out of Balotelli and Pirlo, they will be one of the tournament’s most dangerous teams.

England: What is England? Once again, it is a collection of players who, with the exception of the third goalkeeper, all play in England. But the Three Lions have tried to separate themselves from their past. Ashley Cole wasn’t selected, while Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are making last stands. Youth is on the way in, personified by Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, Ross Barkley and Luke Shaw.

Another youngster, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, has an injury poses a problem for England. He isn’t one of their best players, but he has a skillset that isn’t easily replaced by the players available. Theo Walcott is the most comparable player, but he too is hurt. Roy Hodgson—I would hope—isn’t foolish enough to leave a roster spot open in the hopes that Oxlade-Chamberlain returns for a quarterfinal, but the choice of replacement will be an interesting one. Also of note is where the injury was suffered: Miami. England is hoping to avoid becoming yet another European team to wilt in the Latin American heat and humidity.

Uruguay: Diego Forlan won the Golden Boot in South Africa, and yet the story was Luis Suarez. His deliberate, goal-stopping handball, and the ensuing penalty miss by Asamoah Gyan saw Uruguay through to the semifinals. Little did we know then that Suarez would only become more controversial. Biting, diving, racism, and, for good measure, a lot of scoring, Uruguay are Suarez’s team now, and God only knows where he will take them.

Costa Rica: In a different, crueler draw, this could have been the U.S. But lady luck had a modicum of mercy on this group in the form of Costa Rica. Los Ticos are a decent team in CONCACAF, finishing second in the final qualifying group, but they are a clear fourth in this group. Adding injury to insult, striker Alvaro Saborio, who plays for Real Salt Lake, will miss the tournament due to an injury suffered in a preparation friendly. There is still enough talent here to take home a point or two.

Key Player: Wayne Rooney, England

Rooney is only 28, but this is his third World Cup. He has yet to score at the tournament. If England are to advance, they need a savvy, veteran performance from Rooney in an attack otherwise littered with young players. It would be nice if he scored, but providing quality service to those further up the pitch might be enough.

What will happen: I see Italy as the best team in this group, despite a 1-1 draw in a recent friendly against Luxembourg. They and Uruguay should advance, and perhaps that will force England to take a good long look at themselves and acknowledge that they simply aren’t that good.

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