Italy, England, Uruguay and Costa Rica square off in Group D with Italy and Uruguay favourites to advance. That means everyone will be robbed of seeing another England penalty catastrophe. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
This year’s World Cup has blessed viewers with two “Groups of Death”. While this particular group could also be entitled the “Group of Being Bored to Death”, there should be a few entertaining matches for the passive fan. Uruguay, of course, are expected to be something out of this world, while Italy have a lot to prove for a group who crashed out of the group stages in the last World Cup without winning a single game.
England, for once, actually border on being likable and could spring a few surprises on an expectant opposition. But much of the focus of this group will be on one man– the Tooth Monster, He Who Eliminated Ghana, more affectionately known as Luis Suarez.
Who is playing and what are their odds to advance?
Three former Champions will contest the group, namely Italy, Uruguay and England. Costa Rica is the fourth team to make up the numbers and, although they aren’t exactly pushovers, you probably shouldn’t put money on them to go through. Sports betting site Pinnacle has put the percentage chance of teams to advance as follows:
There might be big names and the games might be tough, but don’t expect too much fancy footwork. The English football team at World Cups is on par with the South African cricket team at such events – frustratingly disappointing. Italy are an aging side and were dealt massive blow this weekend with Riccardo Montolivo ruled out following a broken leg during the warm-up game against Ireland.
Back in 2010, England and Italy battled it out for the award of “who can stuff up less”. Clichés will beckon you to not underestimate Costa Rica, but don’t kid yourself too much.
At least there is Uruguay
It’s massively patronising, but for a small country, Uruguay have done superbly well in the footballing world. They’ve punched above their weight time and time again and have even won the thing before. If a country with around 3 million people can do it, it makes you wonder what makes South Africa with over 40 million people struggle so much to even qualify.
The thing with the current Uruguay team is that many have pinned them to be a “two man team”. Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani are behemoths and if both are in full swing, the rest of the team can almost sit back and watch. The one small problem is that Suarez is injured and his fitness is still in doubt. He Who Eliminated Ghana underwent keyhole surgery last week and although everyone is bullish about him being ready to go, injuries in sport don’t work like that.
Luckily Uruguay’s opener is against Costa Rica, so even without him, they should be able to edge ahead. But, once he’s recovered from surgery, there is the small matter of getting him match-fit before they face England.
Uruguay will need all the fire power they can get, though. During the qualifiers, their defence was woeful, conceding 25 goals in total.
Players to watch
Daniel Sturridge (England): Known for his smooth dance moves when celebrating a goal, not only is Daniel Sturridge talented, he has also proven his footballing Britishness. How? By missing a crunch time penalty kick against South Korea in the 2012 Olympics.
Mario Balotelli (Italy): Mario Balotelli might be mostly known for doing stupid things off the pitch, but on it, he is an enigma. From finishing to passing to superb dribbling, Balotelli can do it all, sometimes. He has been very inconsistent in national colours and had a dubious season in Serie A. However, the thing with Balotelli is that anything can happen at any given time. Who knows, he might have just been saving up some amazing moments for when everyone is watching.
Keylor Navas (Costa Rica): Costa Rica’s keeper is going to be a busy man whenever his team steps out to play. He spends his time playing for Levante and had a very good season this year. He’s considered to be one of the most underrated players in the Spanish League and is as good as stopping long-range shots as he is at saving penalties. His only weakness is his discipline – with three yellow cards and one red card in the 2013-14 La Liga season.
Edison Cavani (Uruguay): The other half of the deadly Uruguayan strike force, Edison Cavani is a household name when it comes to goal scoring, at club level anyway. He has 16 goals in 30 appearances for Paris Saint Germaine and scored 78 times in 104 matches for Napoli. At national level, he’s only managed 20 goals in 60 games. That’s not exactly the worst record, but his teammates will be hoping he can carry some of that club-level sparkle to the world stage.
Love him or hate him, Balotelli is always honest in his assessments of footballing situations. He does not hide behind any of that media trained quotes. He wasn’t arrogant about Italy’s chances at the tournament (they did, after all, finish bottom of their group in 2010), but he wasn’t very kind to England.
Balotelli said: “I am not saying we are favourites, but we have the mentality and experienced players to surprise people. We have players who have won the World Cup. I don’t think England have a player who knows what it’s like to play past the quarter-finals?” DM
Photo: Uruguayan national soccer team players (front row, L-R) Maxi Pereira, Cristian Rodriguez, Egidio Arevalo Rios, Diego Perez and Luis Suarez; (back row, L-R) Diego Forlan, goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, Jorge Fucile, Cristhian Stuani, Diego Lugano and Diego Godin pose for photographers before the international friendly soccer match between Austria and Uruguay at Woerthersee-Arena in Klagenfurt, Austria, 05 March 2014. EPA/HERBERT NEUBAUER
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