2014 World Cup: Breaking down Group D

 

The Sports Network

(SportsNetwork.com) - With three of the top 15 teams in the world drawn together, Group D is one of the most intriguing groups in the tournament.

England, Uruguay and Italy will battle it out for the top two spots in one of the most wide-open groups, while Costa Rica's chances of advancing are minimal at best.

After stumbling out of the 2010 World Cup in the knockout round following a 4-1 loss to Germany, England manager Roy Hodgson has turned to a youth movement to lead his Three Lions.

Of the 23 players named to the England squad, eight are under the age of 24, while veteran defender Ashley Cole, who had been a mainstay on the England back line was left off the team.

Ross Barkley, Luke Shaw, Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Phil Jones, Jack Wilshere, Jordan Henderson, and Danny Welbeck will all head to Brazil under the age of 24.

Hodgson will be counting on captain Steven Gerrard and midfield partner Frank Lampard to keep the young side under control in the high-pressure atmosphere of the World Cup, while the Three Lions boast a strong stable of forwards in Daniel Sturridge, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Rickie Lambert, who recently completed a transfer from Southampton to Liverpool.

Rooney has the most experience of the four forwards with 89 caps and 38 goals in his international career, and he will need to lead by example for England to make it out of the group.

Uruguay probably has the best scoring trio of the group with Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan leading the attack.

Suarez had an outstanding season for Liverpool, scoring 31 goals during the league campaign and adding 11 for his country during the qualification cycle.

But Suarez suffered meniscus damage in his knee in training on May 21 and he faces a race against time to be fully fit when Uruguay's quest for a World Cup title begins on June 14.

Italy has successfully flown under the radar for most of the lead-up to the World Cup, but the veteran Italians are certainly capable of winning this group.

Italy's two most influential players have a combined age of 70, but that won't stop the 2006 winners from making a significant impact.

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is one of the few holdovers from the 2006 side, and at the age of 35, will play in his fourth World Cup, while 35-year-old midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo still makes the attack go.

Pirlo, who like Buffon was in the 2006 World Cup-winning team, has helped Juventus dominate Serie A over the last three seasons and remains one of the world's great free-kick specialists.

Costa Rica already faces a significant challenge to emerge from the group, but Los Ticos task became even more difficult after top forward Alvaro Saborio suffered a fracture in his foot in training.

Saborio scored eight goals for his country during qualifying, but will miss the tournament, which means the offensive onus will fall on Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell.

Game of the Group: England vs. Italy (June 14)

England and Italy have met 24 times throughout various competitions, with the most recent result being a 2-1 England victory in an international friendly on Aug. 15, 2012.

The famous rivals will face each other deep in the heart of the Amazon in Manaus in the first match of the group for both sides.

Every team wants to get off to a positive start in their first match of a World Cup, but this tilt will be especially crucial as it could determine which side will win the group.

Hodgson's youngsters will get the opportunity to test themselves against high- quality opposition right from the outset, while Cesare Prandelli's veterans will be equally motivated to claim the points.

Player to Watch: Luis Suarez (Uruguay)

Suarez is the most dynamic attacking player in the group and there is an added level of intrigue as he may not be fully fit when the tournament gets underway.

The once-polarizing forward's success at Liverpool this past season has made him one of the best and most-coveted strikers in the world, and he'll hope to continue his stellar form when Uruguay opens its campaign against Costa Rica on June 14.

Suarez has an unbelievable football IQ, he makes smart runs off the ball, is powerful on the ball and offers a significant threat on free kicks. But it could all go for naught if he arrives in Brazil with a hitch in his step due to injury.

Breakout Player: Adam Lallana (England)

The Southampton attacking midfielder had an outstanding season for the Saints, bagging nine goals to help the club finish with a record points total for eighth place in the Premier League.

Hodgson handed Lallana his international debut on Nov. 15, 2013 in a friendly against Chile. Lallana can control the play well from the middle of the park and will create scoring chances for elite finishers Sturridge and Rooney.

Lallana also possess the ability to drift outside, collect the ball and create his own scoring, an attribute England will need when facing Italy and Uruguay.

Lallana's form for club and country has caught the eye of several big Premier League clubs and he looks set to have a big performance on the world's grandest football stage.

Predictions:

Group Winner: Italy

With high-profile teams like Uruguay and England in the group, Italy seems content to ride the under-the-rader tag as far as it can take them. Prandelli's group is filled with experienced, savvy veterans that will not be flustered by the big stage. Italy could very easily slip past England in its opening match, setting the team up to top the group.

Second Place: England

England's match against Italy could go either way, but the young players will have their first taste of World Cup football out of the way and the club will push on from there. England should have no trouble with a depleted Costa Rica, and can handle Uruguay, especially if Suarez is still struggling with his knee injury.

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