2014 World Cup Brazil: Group D Preview

June 7, 2014

It is often said that cooler heads will prevail in high pressure situations. But that probably won’t be the case in Group D, where three of the most spirited players in the game will fight for two knockout round slots. England’s Wayne Rooney, Italy’s Mario Balotelli and Uruguay’s Luis Suarez will likely score many goals between them and probably some yellow cards, too. But it’ll be one of the most exciting groups of the tournament to watch for that reason.

Oh yea, and did I mention that there are seven World Cup titles held by those three nations?

Let’s take a look at Group D.

Hi, My Name Is… (Players to Watch)

Mario Balotelli, Italy striker

With Balotelli, the Azzurri have one of the most lethal strikers in the world and a chance to make it to the next round of the tournament atop his shoulders. But in Balotelli the Italians also have one of the most controversial and unpredictable strikers in the world and you can’t take the good without the bad. When he is on the field, Super Mario is very good at getting into the penalty area, and when he gets the ball there it finds the back of the net quite a bit. Keeping him on the field has proven to be a difficult task, however.

Since the 2012 Euro Cup, Balotelli has picked up five yellow cards and a red card in just 15 games. His exuberance on the sideline makes for a pretty effective cheerleader, but surely the Azzurri faithful would prefer he help out on the pitch. When he plays, Italy has one of the more dangerous attacks in the world.

Luis Suarez, Uruguay striker

Think Balotelli is the most likely player from Group D to be suspended for a match? Try again. Uruguay’s Luis Suarez may be the best goal scorer in the world not named Messi, but he’s also the most likely to go Mike Tyson on opponents when he gets upset. Suarez has served not one but two suspensions in his club career for biting an opposing player on the pitch. Unfortunately, you can’t make this stuff up.

Despite Suarez’s antics, he is still the No. 1 threat on a Uruguay side that features another potent striker in Edinson Cavini and will be expected to play as cleanly as possible to avoid missing time. Uruguay’s Diego Forlán was the Golden Ball recipient during the last World Cup and it wouldn’t be surprising if Suarez made it two in a row for the South American country. With Suarez, Uruguay has the potential to improve upon its fourth place finish in South Africa.

They’ll Move On If…

Costa Rica – The referees are quick to pull out the reds on the group’s most talented players. Costa Rica is a heavy underdog in this group and doesn’t employ the type of strategy that produces a lot of goals. Unless goalie Keylor Navas puts together a Golden Glove worthy performance, Ticos will likely make an early exit.

England – The Three Lions finally get a strong World Cup performance out of Wayne Rooney and captain Steven Gerrard gets the best out of an otherwise young lineup. England will not give up no matter the score, which is good because it’s unlikely that it will be out of any game. But this team doesn’t push like Uruguay and Italy are willing to, which essentially makes them a more talented version of Costa Rica.

Italy – The defense returns to the form that the world expects of the Azzurri. With Super Mario and Andrea Pirlo at midfield, Italy is good enough to keep scoring pace with every team in the group. But what they may not be able to keep pace with is the pace of the match itself, because this squad is old. Assuming fitness isn’t an undoing, Italy is a strong choice to advance.

Uruguay – They attack, attack and attack some more. The back end has always been a strong point for Uruguay and isn’t something that is of concern heading into this tournament. It’s a relatively new thing for this squad that it has the offensive weapons to be a force in the opponent’s zone. If manager Óscar Tabárez isn’t afraid to use his advantages, La Celeste could overwhelm at least a couple of its opponents.

Most Crucial Matches

England vs. Italy (June 14, 6 PM ET)

Uruguay could start off slowly, but chances are that these are the two teams that will be fighting for 2D. That being said, this match is doubly important considering that it is the first chance for each side to get its feet wet in this tournament. England is notoriously cautious and it makes sense if the Three Lions play that way in this one based on its placement on the schedule. But the team that takes chances and is a bit more aggressive could end up sitting pretty come the last week of June.

There is no better place for Wayne Rooney, whose World Cup performance in the past has been less than stellar to say the least, to step up. A tie puts both teams in a precarious position because it makes a favorable result against Uruguay almost necessary in order to advance. It’s dangerous to call the first match a must-win, but it’s looking like this might be the rare case where it’s appropriate.

Costa Rica vs. England (June 24, 12 PM ET)

Everything will be laid out before the England side at this point, so it will know exactly what it needs to do in order to move on to the knockout stage if that is still a possibility. Prediction: this is a must-win. Sure, one can make the argument that Costa Rica is a must-win for every squad in Group D. But it may be most true for England, especially if the Azzurri get the best of the Three Lions in the first match. Uruguay and Italy might be able to get away with a slip up against Costa Rica, but England simply cannot.

How They’ll Finish (picks in bold move on to Knockout Stage)

1. Uruguay – 7 points

2. Italy – 6 points

3. England – 4 points

4. Costa Rica – 0 points

– K. Becks

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