By RYAN TOLMICH
Few things in soccer get fans talking like a viscously constructed group of death. While Group H is sure to be no cakewalk, few teams would be clamoring for a place in the Group D minefield that features three of the world’s top top 10 teams.
The initial favorite to escape the mess that is Group D is Uruguay, who boast one of the tournament’s more fearsome duos in the form of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. Suarez asserted himself as perhaps the world’s best striker this past season by running away with the Premier League’s Golden Boot with a 31 goal campaign. Meanwhile, his compatriot and strike-partner Cavani netted 25 goals of his own in a title-winning campaign with Paris Saint-Germain.
Joining Uruguay are perennial powerhouses England and Italy, each of whom have a legitimate chance of making a run if they survive the Group D gauntlet. Italy boast a squad of typical Italian quality behind ageless playmaker Andrea Pirlo and the always-entertaining Mario Balotelli, while England’s next generation will be given the chance to shine alongside captain Steven Gerrard and superstar Wayne Rooney.
Finally, there are Costa Rica, the group’s forgotten member, who head to Brazil with a chance to provide a surprise. Matchups against Costa Rica will be looked upon as a guaranteed three points, but should Los Ticos pick up a result, the entire group can be turned on its head.
Here’s a closer look at Group D:
WORLD CUP GROUP D
6/14 – Uruguay vs. Costa Rica, England vs. Italy; 6/19 – Uruguay vs. England; 6/20 – Italy vs. Costa Rica; 6/24 – Italy vs. Uruguay; 6/24 – Costa Rica vs. England.
TOP PLAYERS TO WATCH
Uruguay: Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Diego Godin, Diego Forlan
England: Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling
Italy: Mario Balotelli, Andrea Pirlo, Giorgio Chiellini, Gianluigi Buffon
Costa Rica: Bryan Ruiz, Joel Campbell, Celso Borges, Giancarlo Gonzalez
YOUNG PLAYERS TO WATCH
Uruguay: Gaston Ramirez
England: Ross Barkley
Italy: Lorenzo Insigne
Costa Rica: Joel Campbell
SBI’s PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Uruguay. The tandem of Suarez/Cavani will be too much for the opposition.
2. Italy. Plenty of big game experience with Pirlo in midfield and Balotelli always shows up when the lights are brightest.
3. England. This group will prove to be too much to handle for a fairly below-average, yet promising English squad. Maybe in 2018.
4. Costa Rica. No offense to Los Ticos, but good luck.
South American teams will always have a slight advantage playing on their home continent, and group D will prove no different. Uruguay’s strike force of Suarez, Forlan, and Cavani will prove to be a handful for everyone that gets in their path. After Uruguay, it becomes a battle for second place, with the June 14 Italy vs. England match-up as the team’s first and most important contest. Whoever gets a result in that contest will be heavily favored to escape to the knockout rounds with Italy’s experience giving them a slight edge over their European counterparts.
How do you see Group D shaking out? Which of the powerhouses will get the short end of the stick? Can Costa Rica nab a point against all odds?
Share your thoughts below.