Profiling England’s World Cup opponents

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It has now been over a week since we found out who would be in England’s group at the 2014 World Cup, and although you may not want to be reminded, we will face Uruguay, Costa Rica and Italy. My immediate reactions were anger and disappointment, but after time to digest the draw, I seem to have found the c’mon England mentality. I profile our three opponents below…

Uruguay

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The Key Facts

  • Nickname: La Celeste (The Sky Blue One)
  • Manager: Oscar Tabarez
  • Captain: Diego Lugano
  • World Cup appearances: 11
  • World Cup Best: Winners (1930 & 1950)
  • World Cup 2010 performance: Semi-finals
  • Current FIFA World Ranking: 6

Overview

Probably the favourites to win the group, Uruguay will be used to the conditions in Brazil not only because they are a South American country, but because they featured in the Confederations Cup last summer, finishing fourth. They have players in all positions capable of playing at the highest level, with their attack definitely one to look out for. Having won the World Cup when it was last hosted in Brazil, Uruguay are 25/1* to win it again. Their last meeting with England was a friendly in 2006, when the Three Lions won 2-1, thanks to a last minute winner from Joe Cole.

Star Man – Luis Suarez

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Who else but the Liverpool striker would be Uruguay’s star man. At only 26, he is the country’s record goalscorer with 39 goals. He may controversial at times (in his last World Cup match, he saved the ball on line with his hands, virtually knocking Ghana out of the competition), but when he is at his best, the striker is virtually unstoppable. England’s defenders will be have to wary of his deadly partnership with Edinson Cavani.

How they qualified

Uruguay were the last team to qualify for the tournament, but still took their place amongst the seeded teams. They struggled in their qualifying group and failed to take one of South America’s four automatic spots, finishing. They were drawn against Jordan in a play-off tie, in which they finished the job in the first leg with a 5-0 victory. A 0-0 in the second leg saw out the aggregate victory.

Costa Rica

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The Key Facts

  • Nickname: La Sele (The Selection)
  • Manager: Jorge Luis Pinto
  • Captain: Bryan Ruiz
  • Previous World Cup appearances: 3
  • World Cup Best: Round of 16 (1990)
  • World Cup 2010 performance: Did not qualify
  • Current FIFA World Ranking: 31

Overview

Probably a team that could pick up 0 points next summer, the 2014 World Cup will only be Costa Rica’s fourth appearance at the finals. They failed to qualify in 2010 and in 2006 lost all their games. The omens don’t look good for the nation, and they 2000/1* to win the tournament, only in front of Honduras at 3000/1* in the betting odds. However, if either of the sides in the group gets too complacent, Costa Rica’s pressuring game could catch them out. They have faced England before, not in a friendly or competitively.

Star Man – Keylor Navas

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Goalkeeper Keylor Navas has already reached a half century of caps at the age of
26 and he kept seven clean sheets in 14 qualifying matches. He is now first
choice for Levante in Spain’s top flight, with bigger clubs taking an interest. Watch out also for Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz, who is their captain, and emerging Arsenal talent Joel Campbell.

How they qualified

They finished comfortably as runners-up in the final group stage of the North American sector, with their five wins all coming at home. They only conceded seven goals in the final phase, fewer than any other team.

Italy

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The Key Facts

  • Nickname: Gli Azzurri (The Blues)
  • Manager: Cesare Prandelli
  • Captain: Gigi Buffon
  • Previous World Cup appearances: 17
  • World Cup Best: Winners (1934, 1938, 1982 & 2006)
  • World Cup 2010 performance: Group Stage
  • Current FIFA World Ranking: 7

Overview

It has been a topsy-turvy last few World Cup for the Italians, winning in 2006 but failing to win a game in 2010. They are predicted to go to the quarter-finals this time around and are 22/1* to win. Their experience at the Confederations Cup will stand them in good stead, so they should be able to cope with the heat better than other European teams. They actually faced Uruguay in the third place play-off at tournament and won on penalties. Their last competitive match against England was also decided on the penalties, when the pair met in the Euro 2012 finals. However they last played the Three Lions in a friendly after the finals in  August, when goals from Phil Jagielka and Jermain Defoe helped Roy Hodgson’s side come from behind to win 2-1.

Star Man – Mario Balotelli

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AC Milan forward Mario Balotelli, 23, heads to the World Cup as a maturing
performer. He inspired Italy to the Euro 2012 final, scoring twice in the
semi-final against Germany, and top scored in qualifying with five goals.
Balotelli has managed 12 goals in 29 appearances – and Italy have never lost
when he has scored.

How they qualified

Arguably too easily. Italy qualified with two matches to spare, along with the
Netherlands becoming the first European nation to book their place. Prandelli
experimented for the final two matches – both games were drawn, crucial ranking
points were dropped, and Italy’s seeding hopes dashed. At the draw 11 days ago**, they were picked as the European side from Pot 4 to be transferred into Pot 2 before the start of the draw.

Round of 16 prospects 

Whoever qualifies from Group D will face two teams from Group C, which contains Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan.

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As the World Cup draws closer next summer, I will be providing more in depth analysis on the tournament, focusing just on topics related to the players, games and groups in Brazil. Watch out for that as we get nearer to what is looking likely to be a very exciting month in the world of sport. There’s only 176 days** left until Brazil and Croatia kick-off proceedings in Rio!

* Odds supplied by Paddy Power

** Figures correct at time of writing

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