World Cup : Group D Preview by Paul Dargan

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There is a lot more confidence about England this time around with coach Roy Hodgson deciding to give youth a chance. Everton’s Ross Barkley, Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling, Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Luke Shaw of Southampton are names that immediately sprung out from the 23 when the squad as officially confirmed.

In addition, John’s Flanagan and Stones – again of the two Merseyside clubs previously mentioned – were unlucky to miss out of the final selection, but their time will come and they have the European Championships of France 2016 to aim for. However, there is no pressure on the Three Lions in Brazil, with so many logistical and climate issues to battle against, not to mention the tough section they find themselves in. Although I see England getting out of the group alive and if they can click, by getting the best out of Wayne Rooney for the first time in an international tournament since representing Everton in his breakout success in Portugal 2004, coupled with goals from Daniel Sturridge and Rickie Lambert then they could surprise many.

I see them losing out to either Colombia in the last 16 or the hosts in the quarters, but they will play attacking football, throw caution to the wind and we could see excitement in white/red shirts for arguably the first time since Euro 96. So much depends on that crucial first game against Italy in the much-debated humidty of Manaus in the Amazonian rain forest. Win that and they could top the group…

The favourites for this group for me are Uruguay. With the goals and ingeniuty of Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani, they will bring fear to any backline in the tournament. Their first game against Costa Rica is more like a penalty kick than a fierce battle and that should give them the advantage over the two main rivals of Italy and the aforementioned England.

I see that England-Italy clash ending in a 0-0 damp squib and if it does, Uruguay will be nailed on to finish top. Going forward, Oscar Tabarez’s men are as good as anything else in the competition, but they can be got at when defending. That, I feel, will be their undoing when it comes to the business end of things in Brazil. But playing in their home continent will fill them and their support with hope and confidence and if messrs Cavani and Suarez can keep up their goalscoring exploits then they will be a match for the best. However, I see them being undone by one of Spain or Argentina and a third World Cup triumph may be a bridge too far. One things is for certain though, they will entertain.

Italy are a funny old bunch. At the time of writing, I am also reviewing Andrea Pirlo’s autobiography and reading that shows me just how passionate the Azzuri are about playing for their country. The four-times World Cup winners can very rarely be discounted in shortlists of teams who can go all the way and in 2006, there were many doubters who were made to look stupid as Marcelo Lippi’s men beat France on penalties in the final, in Germany. This time around, they are somewhat of an unknown quantity. Pirlo will be there orchestrating things from the familiar position of defensive midfield, while that extraordinary talented maverick, Mario Ballotelli, appears in his first World Cup after helping his country reach the 2012 Euro final, only for them to capitulate horribly against Spain, 4-0.

Whatever happens, Cesare Prandellli should avoid a bottom-place finish, something which Lippi was ‘rewarded’ with on his return to manager of the national side, with Costa Rica in the section – no offence meant to La Sele. Italy, as ever, will be hard to break down, but I don’t see them scoring many – as proved in their two warm-up matches against Republic of Ireland and lowly Luxembourg. They did manage to beat Brazilian club side Fluminense 5-3, with Dortmund striker Ciro Immobile proving the exact opposite of his surname by netting a hat-trick. But I don’t see Italy progressing. I will buy a hat ready to eat, though…

Costa Rica aren’t coming just to make up the numbers, but unfortunately I don’t see them doing any but that. If they were hosting the tournament, I would have them down to provide an upset or two, as they did in the qualifying section by winning all five of their home fixtures. However, they drew three times away and lost the other two finishing second in the CONCACAF group to the USA. They did have the best defence in that section, conceding only seven times in the ten matches. Scotland will never forget their shock defeat to the Costa Ricans in Italia 90, but England shouldn’t really be afraid of this happening 24 years later; but under-estimating any opponent at an international tournament is dangerous. They’ve won just one of their six friendlies (against Paraguay) since sealing qualification in September, with two games to spare.

Bryan Ruiz, formerly of Fulham and now at Dutch Eredivisie side PSV, is their main striking hope, while Arsenal’s Joel Campbell will want to be celebrating his 22nd birthday with unlikely qualification for the knockout stages on Thursday 26th June – the last day of the group matches. Not to be nasty, but there is about as much chance of that happening as me receiving an emergency call to the England squad if Wayne Rooney breaks his leg! I wouldn’t even get a call if every player is injured for every country at the finals. Though, that’s not because I am a bad player. Anyway, enough about me. Costa Rica may go home without scoring a point or a goal.


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