World Cup preview: Group D

Sports Mole takes a closer look at the teams that will make up Group D at this summer's World Cup, which includes both England and Italy.

URUGUAY

How they qualified: For all their firepower up front, Uruguay failed to qualify for Brazil automatically. The top four of the nine CONMEBOL nations progressed through to the main tournament, but despite the fact that they finished on the same points as Ecuador, they ended up in fifth spot. The campaign started brightly, as seven points were collected from a possible nine, with Luis Suarez scoring five goals during that time. Ultimately, though, inconsistent results thereafter meant that the playoffs beckoned, with Jordan the opponents. It would prove to be a routine 5-0 win in the first leg, with the return meeting ending in a 0-0 draw.

Manager: Oscar Tabarez: Nicknamed 'El Maestro', Tabarez is highly regarded for the work that he has done since taking charge of Uruguay for a second time in 2006. He initially guided the nation to Italia '90, where Uruguay reached the second round before losing to the hosts. Since his return, the country's football team has been on an upward trajectory. They finished fourth in South Africa four years ago, before lifting the Copa America in 2011 for the first time since 1995.

Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez sits in the dugout on June 20, 2013.© Getty Images

Previous World Cup best: Winners: 1930, 1950

Squad (provisional):

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 (Nacional), Martin Caceres (Juventus), Jorge Fucile (Porto)

Midfielders: Alejandro Silva (Lanus), Alvaro Gonzalez (Lazio), Alvaro Pereira (Sao Paulo), Walter Gargano (Parma), Egidio Arevalo Rios (Morelia), Diego Perez (Bologna), Sebastian Eguren (Palmeiras), Cristian Rodriguez (Atletico Madrid), Gaston Ramirez (Southampton), Nicolas Lodeiro (Botafogo)

Strikers: Luis Suarez (Liverpool), Edinson Cavani (Paris St Germain), Abel Hernandez (Palermo), Diego Forlan (Cerezo Osaka), Christian Stuani (Espanyol)

Three Key Players:

Diego Godin: Diego Costa rightly received a large amount of praise as Atletico Madrid sprung a surprise by winning La Liga and reaching the final of the Champions League, but the team was built upon solid foundations. That was thanks largely to Godin, who formed a stubborn centre-back partnership with Miranda. The 28-year-old also weighed in with important goals, including the one against Barcelona at the Camp Nou that secured the title. Only five players in the squad have more international caps than Godin, who starred four years ago in South Africa.

Uruguay defender Diego Godin battles for possession on November 13, 2013.© Getty Images

Edinson Cavani: He may have been shunted out wide to make room for Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Paris Saint-Germain last season, but his return of 25 goals in all competitions is highly respectable. He's also been in positive form for his country, scoring six goals during the qualifying phase. Alongside the man below, it's expected that Tabarez will use Cavani in his preferred central striking role.

Luis Suarez: No player in Europe's biggest leagues scored more goals in their respective divisions than the Liverpool talisman. His return of 31 goals in 33 Premier League outings was matched only by Real Madrid's star turn Cristiano Ronaldo. He scored two goals in the last World Cup, but is best remembered for deliberately handling the ball on the line during the quarter-final tie with Ghana, which stopped the Africans winning the match. He was red-carded, but the subsequent penalty was missed and Uruguay progressed. Knee injury permitting, the 27-year-old, who is thought to be a transfer target of Ronaldo's Madrid, will be looking to write some positive headlines this time around.


COSTA RICA

How they qualified: With the USA, Mexico and Honduras expected to qualify with relative ease from the CONCACAF group, it was anticipated that Costa Rica would have to settle for a place in the uncertainty of the playoffs. Yet, just two defeats in 10 matches saw the Ticos finish second behind the USA, who they famously defeated 3-1 back in September last year. The last game against Mexico was a winner takes all, with the loser ending up in the playoffs. As it was, Costa Rica came out on top 2-1.

Manager: Jorge Luis Pinto: The Colombian had a largely unsuccessful stint in charge of the Ticos during the mid-2000s, but that did not stop the Football Federation from turning to the 61-year-old for a second time in 2011. After Costa Rica failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2010, his remit was to ensure that they would be in Brazil, something that he achieved with flying colours.

Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto shouts out instructions on September 06, 2013.© Getty Images

Previous World Cup best: Last 16: 1990

Squad (provisional):

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 (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)

Strikers: Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake), Bryan Ruiz (PSV Eindhoven), Joel Campbell (Olympiacos), Randall Brenes (Cartagines), Marco Urena (FC Kuban Krasnodar), Jairo Arrieta (Columbus Crew)

Three Key Players:

Keylor Navas: Many regard Thibaut Courtois to have been La Liga's best goalkeeper last season, but there was a growing clamour for Navas to scoop the award. As a youngster in his homeland, Navas won a host of honours with Saprissa, before moving to Spain with Albacete and now finally Levante. The 27-year-old proved himself to be a great exponent of his trade, so much so that some of Europe's biggest clubs are believed to have stood up and taken notice. If he carries that form into the World Cup, it will do his chances of securing a move no harm.

Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas makes a clearance on February 29, 2012.© Getty Images

Bryan Ruiz: Having plied his trade in Belgium and Holland, Ruiz earned a move to the Premier League with Fulham in 2011. The transfer may not have worked out as all parties had hoped, but he still put in some impressive displays in England before linking up with PSV Eindhoven on a loan basis. Despite the inconsistencies at club level, Ruiz has been a key member of the Costa Rica squad ever since he made his debut back in 2005. The attacking midfielder will captain the Ticos in Brazil.

Joel Campbell: Arsenal have owned the 21-year-old since 2011, but have chosen to loan him out every season. He spent the most recent campaign with Greek side Olympaicos, for whom he scored a memorable Champions League goal against Manchester United. His main asset is his speed, which he looks to utilise when afforded space by opposition defenders. Having shone in Greece, more of the same over the next few weeks may convince Arsene Wenger that he has a future at the Emirates Stadium.


ENGLAND

How they qualified: There were a few nerves heading into the final two fixtures, but in truth, England qualified for Brazil with relative ease. They lost none of their 10 matches, conceding just four goals in the process. A 0-0 draw in Ukraine three games from the end meant that both Montenegro and Poland needed to be defeated to secure qualification and the Three Lions duly obliged with 4-1 and 2-0 victories respectively at Wembley.

Manager: Roy Hodgson: A quick glance at the 66-year-old's CV and it's clear that there will not be many more experienced managers at the tournament. He took his first job way back in 1976 with Swedish outfit Halmstads BK, before going on to manage a further 15 clubs in a number of countries, including Inter Milan and Liverpool. Hodgson also has previous where the World Cup is concerned, having helped Switzerland to qualify for the their first major tournament since 1966 when they reached USA 94 from a group that included Italy and Portugal. In the States, the Swiss reached the first knockout round, where they lost to Spain.

England manager Roy Hodgson looks on at the start of the international friendly football match between England and Scotland on August 14, 2013© Getty Images

Previous World Cup best: Winners: 1966

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Manchester City), Fraser Forster (Celtic), Ben Foster (West Bromwich Albion)

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 (Liverpool), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Southampton), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), James Milner (Manchester City), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)

Strikers: Rickie Lambert (Southampton), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Daniel Welbeck (Manchester United)

Three Key Players:

Joe Hart: The 27-year-old's form earlier in the season resulted in him being dropped by his Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini, but he returned to play a key role between the posts as the Citizens won their second Premier League title in three seasons. During the all-important run-in, Hart kept clean sheets in three of City's final four encounters. He also has experience of major tournaments, having travelled to South Africa as cover to David James and Rob Green, before keeping goal at Euro 2012, where he kept two clean sheets.

Joe Hart makes a clearance while on international duty with England on November 19, 2013.© Getty Images

Steven Gerrard: There is every chance that captain Gerrard will call time on his international career following the conclusion of England's campaign - he admitted as much himself recently. No longer a midfielder that marauds from penalty area to penalty area, the Liverpool legend is likely to sit in front of the back four in a bid to set the tempo of England's passing. If this is to be his last tournament, the 33-year-old will want to go out on a high following a number of disappointments with the national side.

Wayne Rooney: When Rooney burst on to the international scene as a teenager at Euro 2004, the impact was huge. His bullish style, pace, eye for goal and skill frightened defenders and it's no exaggeration to say that England could have gone on to win the tournament had he not broken his foot in the quarter-finals against hosts Portugal. Since then, his form and fitness at tournaments have been largely disappointing. At the age of 28, it could well be the Manchester United frontman's last chance to shine at a World Cup. He scored seven goals for England during qualifying and added a further 19 for United last term.


ITALY

How they qualified: Although the likes of Denmark, Czech Republic and Bulgaria are considered potentially tricky opponents, especially away from home, Italy were still expected to qualify as group winners. They did just that with ease, finishing six points clear of the second-placed Danes. From their 10 matches, the Azzurri won six and drew four, scoring 19 times in the process.

Manager: Cesare Prandelli: After stints at the helm of Parma, Roma and Fiorentina, Prandelli was called upon by the Italian Football Federation in 2010 to replace Marcello Lippi, who had overseen the nation's disastrous campaign in South Africa. In a group that contained Slovakia, Paraguay and New Zealand, Italy finished bottom. Prandelli was charged with the task of restoring the faith back into Italian football and he did just that by leading them to the final of Euro 2012, where they were defeated by defending champions Spain.

Italy's coach Cesare Prandelli on the touchline during the Confederations Cup match against Uruguay on June 30, 2013© Getty Images

Previous World Cup best: Winners: 1934, 1938, 1982, 2006

Squad (provisional):

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint-Germain), Mattia Perin (Genoa)

Defenders: Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorigo Chiellini (Juventus), Gabriel Paletta (Parma), Andrea Ranocchia (Internazionale), Ignazio Abate (Milan), Mattia De Sciglio (Milan), Christian Maggio (Napoli), Matteo Darmian (Torino), Manuel Pasqual (Fiorentina)

Midfielders: Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Thiago Motta (Paris Saint-Germain), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain), Riccardo Montolivo (Milan), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Marco Parolo (Parma), Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Romulo (Verona)

Strikers: Mario Balotelli (Milan), Antonio Cassano (Parma), Alessio Cerci (Torino), Ciro Immobile (Torino), Giuseppe Rossi (Fiorentina), Mattia Destro (Roma), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli)

Three Key Players:

Gianluigi Buffon: A veteran of four World Cup tournaments, Buffon has been there, done that and got the T-shirt. While his and Italy's experiences in 2002 and 2010 were largely forgettable, his stubborn showings in 2006 helped the European nation to win the World Cup for a fourth time. Even at the age of 36 he remains a key player for both club (Juventus) and country. Italy traditionally pride themselves on keeping clean sheets so the world's most expensive goalkeeper will need to be at his best once again in Brazil.

Juventus's Gianluigi Buffon keeps goal for Italy on September 06, 2011.© Getty Images

Andrea Pirlo: With a wand for a right foot, what Pirlo can't do while in possession of the ball isn't worth doing. The 35-year-old will play in the holding role for Italy, just as he has done for AC Milan and more recently Italian champions Juventus. With Italy likely to dominate the ball in the majority of their contests, the midfielder's quality could well prove crucial. What's more, there is every chance that his ability and impact from set-piece situations will prove to be match-winning ones.

Mario Balotelli: Even during what was considered an inconsistent season, Balotelli still scored 18 goals for AC Milan last term. It would be fair to say that the 23-year-old is a controversial figure that has a habit of upsetting his managers and teammates. However, Prandelli has tended to get the best out of the striker, just as he did at Euro 2012. It was Balotelli's two goals in the semi-finals that saw off the Germans, while he also found the net against the Republic of Ireland. Providing that his head is in the right place, the former Manchester City frontman possesses the quality to cause problems for opposition defenders.


Group D fixtures (KO UK time)

Saturday, June 14
Uruguay vs. Costa Rica, 8pm
England vs. Italy, 11pm

Thursday, June 19
Uruguay vs. England, 8pm

Friday, June 20
Italy vs. Costa Rica, 5pm

Tuesday, June 24
Costa Rica vs. England, 5pm
Italy vs. Uruguay, 5pm

Sports Mole says: 1. Uruguay 2. Italy 3. England 4. Costa Rica

A dejected Luis Suarez of Liverpool reacts following his team's 3-3 draw during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Liverpool at Selhurst Park on May 5, 2014
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