11:21 03 June 2014
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If you want to be morbid, then this is probably the Group of Death.
The English media have followed FA chief Greg Dyke’s lead and pretty much played down our hopes a while back. The reason is simple: Italy are much, much better, and no one is confident England can win a three-way battle for second with Uruguay and Costa Rica.
Italy beat England in the quarter-finals of the 2012 European Championship, and have the excellent Pirlo pulling the strings at the heart of their team. Uruguay boast Diego Forlan, Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, although there have been scares over the Liverpool man’s fitness. Sadly for England, it looks like he will be fit to face them after knee surgery.
Incidentally, Uruguay won the last World Cup on Brazilian soil, in 1950.
Costa Rica will have their work cut out to avoid the wooden spoon against three previous World Cup winners.
Manager: Oscar Washington Tabarez
Star player: Luis Suarez
Previous record: Winners 1930, 50
Summary: Had a huge scare when Luis Suarez, who has dominated the English game’s awards season, had to undergo knee surgery. The bad news for everyone else is he will be fit to play – but how fit?
Manager: Roy Hodgson
Star player: Wayne Rooney
Previous record: Winners, 1966
Summary: Carry the very heavy hopes of a nation, but the truth is, since winning on home soil in 1966, England have rarely looked good enough to win a major tournament. Pressure is off somewhat.
• Costa Rica
Manager: Jorge Luis Pinto
Star player: Bryan Ruiz
Previous record: Rd of 16
Summary: Ruiz is their stand-out player but it will take a lot more than one man to help them out of the group. However, they are very strong at the back and might just be able to spring a surprise.
Manager: Cesare Prandelli
Star player: Mario Balotelli
Previous record: W 1934, 38, 82, 06
Summary: Quite a mixture in their squad: the highly experienced Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo contrast with the maverick that is Mario Balotelli. On his day Balotelli can be brilliant – or just a spoilt kid.