World Cup | Group D Preview

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GROUP D
By Russ Gibbs (@RussGibbs10)

England v Italy
(Arena Amazonia, Manaus)
This is a novelty. For the first time in living memory we aren’t being swamped by the tub-thumping English media convinced that ‘our boys’ will be heading back to Blighty with the swag in July. Instead there is a sense of realism surrounding the quest for Roy Hodgson and his troops to win a first FIFA World Cup since 1966. The realism being that, well, it’s just not going to happen is it?

You only need to look at the England squad to be convinced that they simply haven’t got the depth or quality of the major nations. An ageing Steven Gerrard, an injury prone Jack Wilshire and an under-par Wayne Rooney are the main source of inspiration for England as they aim to get off to a winning start in the tournament.

Standing in their way is an Italian team that ended their hopes at the 2012 European Championships through the genius that is Mario Balotelli. His influence, if selected, could have a major say in the outcome of this possibly group-defining match.

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With the peerless Andrea Pirlo looking to pick holes in England’s notoriously wobbly midfield, the 2006 Champions will be confident that they can kick-off their campaign on a positive note.

What could play an even bigger part is the playing surface.

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The BBC recently reported that the pitch at the Arena Amazonia is ‘unsuitable’.

“The players deserve a quality playing surface,” said the International Federation of Professional Footballers (FIFPro) in a statement.

“This isn’t the case in Manaus.”

Even the Head Groundsman has admitted the surface is “in bad shape”. Let’s hope that this doesn’t determine the result. The smart money says a cagey opening and a draw.

Uruguay v Costa Rica
(Castelao, Fortaleza)
Meanwhile in the ‘other’ opening match of Group D Uruguay, who finished fourth in South Africa 2010, will be clear favourites to take a maximum return from their clash with Costa Rica.

All eyes will be on the Uruguayan strike pairing of Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani of Paris St. Germain, who scored in the 2-3 loss to the Germans in the last tournament. This partnership has the potential to be the best in the tournament with the form of the aforementioned Suarez heading into Brazil 2014 a major plus for ‘La Celeste’.

In truth between them they should have more than enough ability to see off a Costa Rica side who appear unlikely to spoil the Uruguayan party. That’s not to say that beating ‘Los Ticos’ will be a walk in the park. They showed enough in the narrow loss to the Socceroos in Sydney to suggest that they could cause one or two problems for the more established teams in their pool.

Striker Joel Campbell, he of the two goals that downed Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League with Olympiakos, has emerged as a genuine attacking threat with the much-maligned Bryan Ruiz pulling the strings just behind. But it’s the central defensive trio of, in all likelihood, Johnny Acosta, Giancarlo Gonzalez and Michael Umana who will be busiest with Campbell forced to live off scraps.

It’s difficult to see anything other than a Uruguay victory here.

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If it doesn’t materialise, they’d be up against it from the get-go.

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