In the majority of this World Cup’s eight groups, we have one or two clear leaders and at least one team that is a good bet to play only three games. Group D is not one of those groups.
With three teams in the top 15 in the world rankings, this group is one of the most difficult to predict which two will make it to the Round of 16.
Although we have perennial European powers No. 8 Italy and No. 15 England, this group is headed by none other than a CONMEBOL team — the one that placed fourth in South Africa — Uruguay.
What makes this Uruguay team so special is a frontal offensive attack which no other team in the world possesses.
Four years ago, the entire world saw what Diego Forlan, a player who has had his fair share of criticism throughout the years, was truly capable of. The now 34-year old striker was awarded the Golden Ball, the tournament’s most prestigious individual award, after he led his team on a Cinderella run to the semi-finals, falling just short in a 3-2 loss to the Netherlands.
That run could have gone even further had Luis Suarez not been suspended for his handball against Ghana in the previous match. The Liverpool star has exploded to superstardom these last two seasons, and currently leads the Premier League with an astounding 23 goals, seven more than the second most of 16 goals scored by his teammate Daniel Sturridge.
If Forlan and Suarez’s unbelievable offensive abilities weren’t enough, the rest of the teams in the group will also be watching out for PSG’s Edinson Cavani. Another world-class talent, Cavani recently became the most expensive transfer in French football history, signing a five-year contract to play alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic for France’s best club.
A mediocre supporting cast will be Uruguay’s only weakness, as it was four years ago, but we will have to wait and see how far their offensive talent can carry them.
Next up, the Italians come into Group D after having completely opposite outings in the last two World Cups. In 2006, led by Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo and Francesco Totti, Italy won its fourth World Cup Final, conceding just two goals through seven games.
In South Africa, however, they did not have the same good fortune, coming away winless and getting knocked out in one of the weakest groups in the tournament.
Italy is not the same team it was four years ago, though. Buffon will be his side’s captain once again, playing in what may be his final World Cup at the age of 36. Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi anchor an experienced midfield and will be backed up by more solid experience in Riccardo Montolivo, Claudio Marchisio and Thiago Motta.
However, the main focus of this team will be on the offensive front, where the 23-year old Mario Balotelli will be the man in charge. The AC Milan star has had a controversial start to his career, with attitude problems recently causing him to be shipped from Man City in England to his home country’s top league.
Balotelli’s physical prowess and strength combined with his brilliant skill and powerful rocket of a leg make him an impossible player to defend. If he can keep his head on straight, “Super Mario” will be a sight to see.
Coming in at a disappointing No. 15 in the world, England has a lot to prove this time around. With a reputation of choking, especially when it comes to penalty shootouts, the English, for whatever reason, can’t find a way to beat teams they should be beating, especially when they run into Germany.
They will be led once again by some of the same familiar faces: Wayne Rooney up front, backed up by Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and the exciting young Jack Wilshere in the midfield. However, we have seen the last of former English stars in John Terry, and Rio Ferdinand with the national team, leaving a gaping hole at center back.
Man City’s Joe Hart has become a superb goalkeeper over the years, giving England a clear leader on the defense, while Leighton Baines and Ashley Cole provide their team with one of the best wingback duos in the world.
Striker Jermaine Defoe has played a large role with the team in the past, but he is clearly on the decline, recently being transferred from Tottenham to Toronto FC in the MLS. Young talents in Sturridge and Danny Welbeck will provide a goal-scoring punch and some athleticism and flash for a team in need of it up front.
An ACL tear for English crowd favorite Theo Walcott will sideline him for the World Cup, but 20-year old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will look to fill in and play a very similar role. Since Walcott’s injury, Oxlade-Chamberlain has made a great impact for Arsenal, giving his country hope that the ridiculous speed on the wing that Walcott has shown for years will not be completely lost.
Rounding out this competitive group will be Costa Rica, coming in at No. 35 in the world. After missing the 2010 World Cup, the Costa Ricans made a strong push in World Cup Qualifying this time around, finishing second behind the United States.
A team without a clear star leader, Costa Rica will scrap with the best. Their inability to score goals might be a problem against some of the world’s more talented squads, but at any time this team is able to pull one out of nowhere and shock a defense.
Overall, Group D is going to be one of the most fun to watch. Costa Rica has the ability to come out in the top two of any group, but they will have their work cut out for them playing against three top-15 teams playing with championship-or-bust mentalities. This is an extremely difficult group to bet on, but one thing is for sure: England will be happy to know that for at least three games, they won’t have to take part in a penalty shootout.