World Cup Preview Group D: Balance leaves no clear favorite as Costa Rica joins England, Italy, Uruguay

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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

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

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The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

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The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

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Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.

Frank Yallop resigns as Phoenix Rising coach shortly after Drogba arrival

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The timing is a bit sudden and certainly leaves many questions up in the air, but Phoenix Rising will have to look for a new manager.

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On Monday, head coach Frank Yallop resigned from his position with the United Soccer League (USL) club less than one day after former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba joined the organization as a player-owner.

With Phoenix seen as one of several lower-level clubs with ambitions of making the leap to MLS over the coming seasons, Yallop’s departure is surely a shock to many.

According to ESPN FC, Rising lead owner Berke Bakay was quite surprised by Yallop’s decision to step down, as was Drogba.

“Didier was as surprised and disappointed as we were that Frank is unable to continue coaching our Club,” Bakay told ESPN FC. “But, we all respect his decision to put his family first.

“Didier’s focus will remain on improving our team as a player and assisting our MLS expansion team ownership group as a co-owner. Frank will be helping with our international search for a new head coach.”

Rick Schantz, the current Rising assistant coach, will head the team’s managerial duties for the interim while the club completes a full search for a new manager.