England handed tough draw as Italy, Uruguay, Costa Rica stand in their way

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Asked before the draw what teams he wanted to avoid, England manager Roy Hodgson said he had no preference.

But he did earmark one thing: “no games in Manaus” was the cry from the Three Lions boss… and is if by magic England’s opening group game against Italy will be take place in… Manaus.

Tucked away deep into the Amazon rainforest, temperatures will be increibly hot in June and the 99 percent humidity is unlike anything the English players will have ever faced. That said, at least they will be facing another Northern European team there, instead of a South American outfit.

England will also face Luis Suarez and his talented Uruguayan side as Hodgson’s men will have a tough task to make it out of their Group. The one saving grace is that they’ll face CONCACAF’s Costa Rica, however that will be no easy task as U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann let Hodgson know straight after the draw.

So, overall it was one of the worst draws England could get in terms of strength, however despite their one mammoth trip up to Manaus for the first game, the other two matches take place down on the coast near their base in Rio de Janiero, as they take on Uruguay in Sao Paolo and Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte. Logistically, it wasn’t that bad.

For as long as I can remember, England fans have gone into every major tournament believing they can win it, and are then knocked back down to earth with a thud after yet another penalty shootout defeat in the knockout stages. That’s usually how it goes. But ahead of this World Cup, there’s no overriding sense of expectancy for England’s players to achieve greatness and be strolling around the Copacabana with World Cup winners medals round their neck after the tournament is over.

That’s a good thing. The pressure is off.

But Group D provides a stern test for Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and England’s other stars. First up they’ll have a shot at revenge by facing an aging Italian side who they already beat in Bern in a friendly, since they lost on penalties in the Euro 2012 quarterfinals. Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon and others will be having one last crack at the World Cup, and it may be a tournament too far for many of them. England could beat Italy quite handsomely if they set themselves up right in Manaus and alter their high-pressure style.

Then there’s Uruguay and Suarez to contend with as the nation that finished fourth at the 2010 World Cup is sure to be a strong test, especially on their home continent and with a talented group headlined by Suarez and Edinson Cavani. England will have to be on their guard against La Celeste but the Uruguayans aren’t as solid at the back as they were at the last World Cup, so that’s something England’s strikers can exploit.

Finally, Costa Rica. This game could be pointless if England fail in their tough match ups with Italy and Uruguay first, but more than likely they’ll need a result against the Ticos to go through and this could be pivotal. Like Uruguay they are very good going froward with the likes of Alvaro Saborio and Bryan Ruiz lethal in and round the box but they are suspect at the back and I expect England to handle them with ease.

But then again, it’s the World Cup and anything can happen. That’s why we love it so much. England won’t love the group they’ve been placed in but they have to deal with it now.

Then again, how does that old saying go: “if you want to win it, you have to beat everyone…” Something like that. England are by no means the favorites, but low optimism and expectancy could actually work in their favro for once.

Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy

Fixture schedule

14 June 15:00 Fortaleza Uruguay v     Costa Rica
14 June 21:00 Manaus England v              Italy
19 June 15:00 Sao Paulo Uruguay v         England
20 June 12:00 Recife Italy v     Costa Rica
24 June 12:00 Natal Italy v        Uruguay
24 June 12:00 Belo Horizonte Costa Rica v         England