This is the group that the majority of my attention will be focused on in the early stages of the group because this is the group which my home nation, England, will take part in. The World Cup Group D contains three quality teams all of whom will consider it a failure not to make it to the quarter finals and of course one of them at least will fail.
Uruguay have something going for them heading into this world cup that no one else does: they won the last world cup to be hosted in Brazil. Okay, so that was 64 years ago but what’s changed in that time? Anyway back to the present, they tend to play a 4-4-2 formation with the fearsome duo of Cavani and Suarez upfront meaning that there should be no shortage of goals especially with the ability to introduce Diego Forlan from the bench as well. Their defence is more of an issue for them having conceded 25 goals during their qualifying campaign meaning they may need every goal Suarez and Cavani can provide in order for them to get out of their group. One issue that has arisen in the build up to the competition is a knee injury for Suarez but Uruguay remain confident he will be fit for the tournament but if he is less than 100% that could hamper his ability to lead them out of the group.
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- Suarez: The fact that when Suarez’s injury was announced Uruguay went into meltdown and starting sending death threats to a Newcastle defender probably explains just how important Suarez is. He was on fire for most of the premier league season and even though he slowed down towards the end of the season he was the one man many England fans felt would stand between them and the knockouts. If he can be even 75% he could be a monster.
- Rodriguez: Pacey winger who can score goals and provide assists. Will need to step and help the strikers if Suarez is struggling.
- Godin: Coming off the back of scoring in the champions league final his task for the world cup is make Uruguay as solid at the back as Athletico Madrid were in 2014. If he can do that then Italy and England could find themselves in big trouble as they will have planned for defence being Uruguay’s big weakness
Goalkeepers: Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray), Martin Silva (Vasco da Gama), Rodrigo Munoz (Libertad).
Defenders: Maximiliano Pereira (Benfica), Diego Lugano (West Bromwich Albion), Diego Godin, Jose Maria Gimenez (both Atletico Madrid), Sebastian Coates (Liverpool), Martin Caceres (Juventus), Jorge Fucile (Porto).
Midfielders: Alvaro Gonzalez (Lazio), Alvaro Pereira (Sao Paulo), Walter Gargano (Parma), Egidio Arevalo Rios (Morelia), Diego Perez (Bologna), Cristian Rodriguez (Atletico Madrid), Gaston Ramirez (Southampton), Nicolas Lodeiro (Botafogo).
Forwards: Luis Suarez (Liverpool), Edinson Cavani (Paris St-Germain), Abel Hernandez (Palermo), Diego Forlan (Cerezo Osaka), Christian Stuani (Espanyol).
- Suarez would be a top 5-10 pick at striker if his healthy could be guaranteed but right now it can’t
- If Suarez is struggling it provides a boost to Cavani and Higuain’s value as they are the two who were expected to play alongside him and could have split time
- Midfield wise Christian Rodriguez is their best goalscoring midfielder with Nicolas Loderio a close second
- Arevalo should join Lodeiro in the centre of midifled but he doesn’t score often which will limit his value
- Defensively they are weak and while I expect Godin and Lugano will start in central defence their value is hampered by the fact they probably won’t keep many clean sheets
- Same goes for Muslera the keeper.
The only team in Group D that no one is talking about are sure to want to make sure that they are at least mentioned in deciding the outcome of the group. Costa Rica are by far the worst team in the group and have next to no chance of qualifying from Group D, but that doesn’t tell the full story because they have a really talented squad that in many other groups may have had a chance to make sneak into the knockouts. They qualified comfortably for the world cup ahead of other CONACAF teams Mexico and Honduras only losing out to the USA. They would love to emulate their 1990 success and make it to the knockouts but I fear a group stage exit, same as in 2002 & 2006, will end up being their fate.
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- Keylor Navas: The young keeper has become the first choice for Levante and is rumoured to be on the move to a bigger club this summer and in a group full of top class stars he will be looking to put down a really big mark.
- Bryan Ruiz: With #1 striker Alvaro Saborio out the PSV striker will be required to step up and score the goals they will miss. If they are to stand a chance he will need to score against some tough defences.
- Celso Borges: Their top scorer in 2013 with 5 goals and he will need to provide some more of those and add some creativity if they are to stand a chance of pulling off a really huge shock in Group D.
Goalkeepers: Keylor Navas (Levante), Patrick Pemberton (Alajuelense) Daniel Cambronero (Herediano), Esteban Alvarado (AZ Alkmaar).
Defenders: Johnny Acosta (Alajuelense), Giancarlo Gonzalez (Columbus Crew), Michael Umana (Saprissa), Oscar Duarte (Bruges), Waylon Francis (Columbus Crew), Heiner Mora (Saprissa), Junior Diaz (Mainz 05), Christian Gamboa (Rosenborg), Roy Miller (New York Red Bulls), Kendall Waston (Saprissa).
Midfielders: Celso Borges (AIK), Christian Bolanos (Copenhagen), Esteban Granados (Herediano), Michael Barrantes (Aalesund), Yeltsin Tejeda (Saprissa), Diego Calvo (Valerenga), Jose Miguel Cubero (Herediano) Carlos Hernandez (Wellington Phoenix), Ariel Rodriguez (Alajuelense), Hansell Arauz (Saprissa).
Forwards: Bryan Ruiz (PSV Eindhoven, on loan from Fulham), Joel Campbell (Olympiakos, on loan from Arsenal), Randall Brenes (Cartagines), Marco Urena (FC Kuban Krasnodar), Jairo Arrieta (Columbus Crew).
- Ruiz and Campbell are likely to lead the line but with Italy and England having tough defences I’m not sure how much joy they will have
- Borges, Tejeda and Rodriguez played the most games in the midfield in 2013 but Borges is the only real goal threat.
- Defensively Umana and Gonzalez are perhaps the safest bets to start but there are a lot of good strikers in this group so I wouldn’t want any part of them or Navas considering they will likely only play three games
- The whole squad’s outlook is hampered by the near certainty that they will go out in the group stage
So while Uruguay have the distinction of being the only team to win a world cup England have a slightly worse history, with the 1950 world cup in Brazil being one of only two times they have failed to make it out of the group! They will more than likely play the 4-2-3-1 formation that has been adopted by many teams in the premier league and with an array of young talent breaking into the squad they are a team with little expectation which will be a welcome relief to them. A team solid in defence and potentially exciting in attack there is optimism they could outperform the generally pessimistic expectation that they might not make it out of the group.
- Daniel Sturridge: Many people feel Rooney will be the key but as an England fan I am tired of piling all the expectation on Rooney only to watch him fail. Sturridge is the man who will lead the line this year with Rooney in behind and if he can show the goal scoring form he showed for Liverpool this year then a run into the knockout rounds could well be possible.
- Steven Gerrard: Liverpool’s talisman will have the hopes of every Englishman on his shoulders as he leads the team in Brazil. He marshalled the Liverpool midfield masterfully throughout the 13/14 season and in his new found role as holding midfield playmaker he will be looked upon to help out a potentially strong but sometimes shaky defence while also launching a young quick attacking group.
- Gary Cahill: Cahill has been the apprentice to one of English footballs best defenders of the last twenty years in John Terry and this year he has developed into the man in that partnership. That is exactly what England need as Cahill has looked out of his depth as the figurehead of England’s defence at times. He will need to be at his best to repel the attacking forces of Uruguay in a game which could decide England’s future at the world cup. If they do progress to the knockouts then potential ties with Brazil or Spain in the quarter finals mean that England may need a rearguard special that have been a feature of Chelsea’s in the past few years. Cahill and his defensive group will need to be at their best for England to provide a nice surprise for their fans.
Goalkeepers: Fraser Forster (Celtic), Ben Foster (West Bromwich Albion), Joe Hart (Manchester City).
Defenders: Leighton Baines (Everton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Phil Jones (Manchester United), Luke Shaw (Southampton), Chris Smalling (Manchester United).
Midfielders: Ross Barkley (Everton), Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson (both Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Southampton), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), James Milner (Manchester City), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal).
Forwards: Rickie Lambert (Southampton), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Danny Welbeck (Manchester United).
- Sturridge is likely to be the striker leading the line and with a young quick attacking group he could have plenty of chances to score
- Rooney is likely to be the man right behind the Sturridge and could potentially be get his fair share of chances and assists as well
- The wing players are hard to predict now with Sterling, Lallana, Welbeck and Oxelade Chamberlain all in with a chance of playing there so gambling on any one could be risky.
- Gerrard will be a fixture in the defensive midfield and will take free kicks so there are goal opportunities there
- His partner could be anyone of Wilshere, Henderson or Barkley and the one that does get the nod could potentially be a goal scoring threat with late runs
- Lampard is the one midfielder I haven’t mentioned but he could potentially come on late in most games if they need goals and he will step in if anything happens to Gerrard.
- Defensively it will be Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka and Baines and they are a solid group capable of keeping clean sheets
- Hart will be a cheaper option than some of the big guys who could score really well
- England have a real risk of being knocked out in the groups so temper your expectations when you draft them. BEST CASE SCENARIO is probably the quarter finals when they will potentially meet Brazil or Spain.
Italy were the team that surprised me most not to be seeded having gone deep into Euro 2012 and the 2013 confederations cup, and then qualified with two games to spare for the world cup. They weren’t seeded because once they had qualified they used those last two games to experiment only to lose and drop ranking points. They are built around a solid defence, mainly the Juventus team, with the genius Andrea Pirlo conducting the rest of the team just in front of them. However, they aren’t afraid to throw on young attackers if they need to change their shape and chase a game.
- Balotelli: The extravagant Balotelli was at his sublime best at Euro 2012 and has shown the form for Italy that made Manchester City put up with is antics as long as they did. The trouble is he is prone to self-destructing and when he does he could easily take the teams hopes of goals with him. One thing to watch is he is a virtual sure thing from the penalty spot which could be crucial in the knockouts (Good news England fans: He cannot face us until the Final!)
- Pirlo: The maestro himself will be in his usual position in front of the back three conducting the orchestra that is Italian football. Nothing happens for this team unless he’s behind it.
- Chiellini: Really I could have picked any of the defenders here because they all play a crucial role but Chiellini could provide goals which is something the team may well need if Balotelli cannot fire.
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris St-Germain), Mattia Perin (Genoa).
Defenders : Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorigo Chiellini (all Juventus), Gabriel Paletta (Parma), Andrea Ranocchia (Inter Milan), Ignazio Abate, Mattia De Sciglio (both AC Milan), Christian Maggio (Napoli), Matteo Darmian (Torino), Manuel Pasqual (Fiorentina).
Midfielders: Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio (both Juventus), Thiago Motta, Marco Verratti (both Paris St-Germain), Riccardo Montolivo (AC Milan), Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma), Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Marco Parolo (Parma), Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Romulo (Verona).
Forwards: Mario Balotelli (AC Milan), Antonio Cassano (Parma), Alessio Cerci (Torino), Ciro Immobile (Torino), Giuseppe Rossi (Fiorentina), Mattia Destro (AS Roma), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli).
- Balotelli will lead the line and if he emulates Euro 2012 then he could be a beast
- Pirlo will be a sure thing in the midfield but goals will not be a common thing
- With Montolivo out it means the midfield is likely to be De Rossi, Marchisio and Candreva who could all contribute goals. There is potential for De Rossi to get sent off as he is a hot head so beware of that
- Defensively they will line up with Chiellini and Bonucci for sure in the middle and then Barzagli, Maggio or Abate making up the four. The four that play could well keep a number of clean sheets
- Buffon is a safe bet to have a decent tournament
- There is a small risk they could be the casualties in Group D so do not put all your eggs in that basket just in case.
This is a really tough group to call apart from last place where you would expect Costa Rica to finish. The other three really could finish anywhere and Suarez’s fitness may be the determining factor, but you would expect Italy to win the group and then the England vs Uruguay group could decide the team who qualifies for the knockouts. However, do not be surprised if England spring a surprise because this young group of players could be the real deal.
PREDICTION: 1st Italy, 2nd England, 3rd Uruguay, 4th Costa Rica
World Cup posters courtesy of Christiano Siqueria and ESPN