By: Travis Thayer
2. Costa Rica
3:00 ET Saturday, June 14: Uruguay v. Costa Rica ABC
6:00 ET Saturday, June 14: England v. Italy ESPN
3:00 ET Thursday, June 19: Uruguay v. England ESPN
12:00 ET Friday, June 20: Italy v. Costa Rica ESPN
12:00 ET Tuesday, June 24: Italy v. Uruguay ESPN
12:00 ET Tuesday, June 24: Costa Rica v. England ESPN 2
There have been a number of key players who have had to have some kind of surgery leading into the World Cup, and Uruguay has one of those key guys. Striker Luis Suarez had a minor procedure done on his knee just weeks ago, but he says he will be ready for the World Cup, and more specifically – he will be ready for the second game against England. Suarez has warned some of his English teammates from Liverpool that they better be ready for him, and his partner in crime Edinson Cavani, as the two look to power Uruguay on to the knockout rounds.
Coast Rica is making their fourth appearance in the World Cup, and they couldn’t have been drawn into a worse group. The consensus is that any two, of the three other teams will move on from Group D. Costa Rica has had success in the World Cup before, making it to the Round of 16 in 1990, but that bit of history won’t help them this time around. Costa Rica has about a zero percent chance to move on, and if they do indeed shock the world, I’ll eat my foot.
England’s last three World Cup appearances have been underwhelming, and that may be an understatement. Nobody loves their football more than they do in England, and everyone wants to know when the disappointment will end. England’s disappointing performances isn’t because of lack of talent. England’s entire roster is made up of Premier League players, with a good mix of experienced veterans and talented young stars. Once again, that talent might not be enough to get out of the group stage as England received a nightmare draw. Their first two games are against Italy (2006 WC Champs), and Uruguay (4th in 2010). Uruguay and Italy are the favorites to get out of Group D, which means England must get some points in at least one of their first two games to have a chance of advancing.
Italy won the World Cup in the not too distant past (2006), but they aren’t being considered a real contender in 2014. That is especially hard to fathom after an impressive showing in the Euro. They were the runner-up in that competition to Spain, and they will be looking to rebound from a poor performance in the 2010 World Cup where they finished fourth in their group. It won’t be easy though, as Group D is a very difficult group.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Luis Suarez, Uruguay – All eyes should be on Luis Suarez when Uruguay takes the pitch. It is uncertain if Suarez will play the opener against Costa Rica, but he has vowed to be back for the match against England. Suarez is a polarizing player who has an unpredictable personality, but one thing is for sure – he has a knack for scoring, and he can almost single-handily take over a game.
Joel Campbell, Costa Rica – Campbell is a talented young forward, who is still developing his skill set. The Arsenal striker is currently on loan at Olympiakos, and he says he is ready for a run in the Premier League after a good showing in the Champions League. Campbell is just 21-years of age, and the World Cup will be a good chance for him to make a name for himself.
Steven Gerrard, England – There are many footballers who might be gracing the World Cup stage for the final time, and Gerrard may be another name added to the list. The English captain will be making his third World Cup appearance, and first as team captain. He will have the unenviable task of leading a squad that should perform much better than it does on a regular basis. It will be interesting to see how Gerrard and the rest of the English side perform in a very tough group.
Mario Balotelli, Italy – Balotelli is a lot like Luis Suarez, in that you never know what kind of antics he will perform. Balotelli is a very talented player, but he sometimes loses focus on the task at hand. He has been the victim of many cases of racial abuse, and I hope that nonsense stops in Brazil, so we can all see Balotelli at the top of his game.
HOW THE GROUP WILL PLAY OUT
Group D is definitely a three team race. Sorry Costa Rica, but you have no chance. Italy, Uruguay, and England will battle to survive in Group D, and the winner of the group will be anyone’s guess. Is this the year England puts it all together, and makes a deep run? That obviously remains to be seen because of England’s inconsistencies. There are as talented as any team in the world, but for some reason they never live up to certain expectations. Italy and Uruguay are being picked by most media outlets to advance, and that is the smart bet. Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani should be a force to be reckoned with, and the Italians are looking to avenge a disappointing performance in 2010. Italy has momentum coming of their Euro performance, and Uruguay has the best player in the group, so even though I want to pick England to advance – I simply can’t pick them until they prove their worth.
Runner Up: Italy