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Jun 9, 2014

Group D: Europe's big test

Costa Rica | England | Italy | Uruguay

The FIFA World Cup is mere moments away, and the boys from How Will They Line Up are here to educate you on the intricacies of Groups C & D. Anthony Richardson and Ian Fiveankles remember Rene Higuita, chat awkwardly with Kolo Toure, and get to the bottom

Conventional Wisdom

Many luminaries of the game have suggested that it will be tough for a European team to win the World Cup in South America, and this group should give us an early indication of whether that theory has some credence.

The traditional wave of expectations that tends to engulf England ahead of a major tournament has been suitably diluted this time around, with their vast travelling media entourage and equally healthy number of Brazil-bound supporters accepting Roy Hodgson's side are a long way from being strong contenders to win the World Cup.

- Men in Blazers: Can England advance from Group D?
- 32 Team in 32 Days: Uruguay | Costa Rica | England | Italy

That attitude will change if they beat Italy in their opening fixture in Manaus, yet the Azzurri will fancy their chances of outsmarting an England side that they disposed of en route to a Euro 2012 final against Spain in their last major tournament outing.

Uruguay are many an expert's tip to shine in this group, but that was before the injury to star striker Luis Suarez in a pre-tournament training camp, while Costa Rica will need to be the giant-killers if they are to make their mark at Brazil 2014.

Must Watch

The opening two fixtures in Group D may hold the keys to its outcome.

A draw in the first match between England and Italy is possible/probable as two European heavyweights do battle in the less-than-welcoming heat of Manaus, with such a scenario opening the door to their South American or Central American competitors to take a stranglehold on the group.

Uruguay need to beat Costa Rica in their opening fixture to establish their authority as live contenders to make a long run in the competition, and if they were to hold a two-point advantage over their rivals after the first raft of fixtures, all the pressure would be on England and Italy in their meeting with Luis Suarez and his compatriots.

Could it be that by the time England and Costa Rica play out the final game in Group D that their rivals already have six points on the board? That is a scenario both nations will be desperate to avoid.

Main men

Can Luis Suarez duplicate his dominate scoring form he displayed at Liverpool this season?
Can Luis Suarez duplicate his dominate scoring form he displayed at Liverpool this season?

Luis Suarez (Uruguay): When news emerged that this dynamic Liverpool striker had injured his knee in training ahead of the World Cup, the Uruguayan nation took a mournful sigh. It remains to be seen if he can recover in time to make his mark at Brazil 2014.

Joel Campbell (Costa Rica): Campbell has been on the books at Arsenal since 2011, but he has yet to play a game for the Premier League side. After some promising Champions League displays, he will hope a strong World Cup will enhance his reputation.

Wayne Rooney (England): Rooney has tried and failed to carry the English challenge at the past two World Cup finals, but the Manchester United striker seems fit and raring to go after a disappointing season at club level.

Mario Balotelli (Italy): This maverick striker has attracted news and sports stories in equal measure during his turbulent time at Manchester City, with Balotelli bringing much of the trouble that has followed him through his career on himself. His performances at Euro 2012 confirmed he has talent to complement his eccentricities.

What Matters Most

Question marks aplenty envelop the four teams in Group D and it will be only when the action begins that we get the answers we demand.

How will England and Italy cope with the climate in Manaus in an opening game that could be so vital to their hopes of making it through to the last 16? Can Uruguay talisman Luis Suarez really get himself fit so soon after he underwent knee surgery? Could Costa Rica benefit from the flaws in the make-up of their rivals to emerge as dark horses?

They are questions that are impossible to guess an answer to right now, with the pressure that will be piled on three of the four teams doing battle likely to play a crucial factor in the outcome.

In England, Italy and Uruguay, a first-round exit would be considered a national embarrassment. Such expectations can weigh heavily on a player's shoulders.

Key Stat

Group D is the first group in World Cup history to feature three countries that had previously won a World Cup. Italy (four titles), Uruguay (two) and England (one) have combined to win seven of 19 World Cups, though Italy is the only one of the three to lift the trophy in the past 40 years.

- Five Aside's Group D preview

Prediction:

1. Uruguay
2. Italy
3. England
4. Costa Rica

Group A | Group B | Group C
Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H

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