One of the most difficult packs to predict at the 2014 World Cup, Group D has three teams who could finish first or tumble to third. Between England, Italy, and Uruguay, Group D’s contenders have seven World Cups and 10 world titles, a collection of honors that ensures one impressive résumé will be cast aside with 15 other teams that fail to make the knockout round.
On the edge of that trio, CONCACAF qualifier Costa Rica will try to play spoiler, but with their group-mates seeing battles with the Ticos as an opportunity for needed points, the four-time qualifiers are long shots to make a second knockout round.
Here’s a quick look at Group D, which begins play on June 14 (click on country name for full preview)
Uruguay: The 2010 World Cup semifinalists and 2011 South American champions feature two of the best attackers in the tournament, though Luis Suárez’s health (knee injury) makes it unclear if or when he’ll join Edinson Cavani up top. Diego Forlán, Gastón Ramirez, and Cristian Rodríguez will have to pick up the slack.
Costa Rica: Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell give the Ticos two threats going forward, but without an injured Álvaro Saborío, Costa Rica’s attack won’t be 100 percent. A midfield of led by Celso Borges will be hard-pressed to protect the defense in a talented group.
England: Consistent scoring from Daniel Sturridge and Wayne Rooney would give a team with no clear weaknesses the punch it needs to get through. Solid if unspectacular both in midfield and defense, the Three Lions are capable of playing mistake-free soccer over 90 minutes.
Italy: A team built around veteran distributor Andrea Pirlo will need another attacker to complement Mario Balotelli up top. At the back, a defense leveraging Juventus’ veteran stalwarts could be hard-pressed to keep up with Sturridge or a healthy Suárez.
Who’s going through: The consensus from the panel is Uruguay and Italy, leaving an England team with second round talent left to reconcile a harsh first round exit.
Who’s going home: Costa Rica and England, but if Suárez isn’t healthy, and if Italy plays to its talent instead of Cesare Prandelli’s impressive results, the Three Lions could make a their fifth straight knockout round.
Marquee match: England versus Italy on the group’s first day will captivate, but June 19th’s meeting between the Three Lions and Uruguay will prove more important. If Uruguay takes care of business in game one against Costa Rica, a win over England could punch their ticket for the second round. England may need a result to maintain control of their own destiny if it can’t beat Italy to open their tournament.
Top players to watch:
5. Wayne Rooney, England
4. Edinson Cavani, Uruguay
3. Mario Balotelli, Italy
2. Andrea Pirlo, Italy
1. Luis Suárez, Uruguay