When England’s name was drawn out and placed in Group D in the world cup draw on Friday you could hear a nation collectively gasp in horror at the prospect of playing world giants such as Uruguay and Italy and even worse we had to play Italy at the dreaded venue deep in the Amazon Rainforest. On the face of it this would appear to be possibly the worst thing that could happen to us but I think differently as I will explain.
We all know what to expect from the Italians, ultimately a steady machine but they don’t particularly start world cups that well, winning only 3 out of their last 8 opening games. They have historically made hard work of the group stage on a number of occasions before kicking into life in the knockout stages. They still base their team around Andrea Pirlo who will be 35 when the world cup kicks off. He is undoubtedly still a top top player but after another long Serie A season as well as a Champions League campaign will his legs be able to last. Italy are professional and solid but against us in Euro 2012 they could not break us down, yes they had all the possession but were guilty of being wasteful in front of goal with the little amount of chances they had. England have slightly improved since 2012 don’t let a couple of insipid friendly performance cover that over and I think we are more than capable of giving the Italians a game. The fact that we play Italy in Manaus rather than Uruguay or Costa Rica is a positive as neither team will be used to the climatic conditions in the area. It’s difficult to predict at this stage but it’s probably one of those games that neither team will want to lose and with the expected humidity and heat concerns I think a draw will probably be the outcome.
England will then move onto Sao Paulo to face Uruguay with the might of Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani. Uruguay finished 5th in the World Cup qualifying group of 9 were held to home draws against Paraguay, Venezuela and Ecuador and were beaten 1-0 by Ecuador in Quito. They maybe over reliant on the likes of Suarez and Cavani but take out of the equation and Uruguay are an ageing team that are nothing more than average. Suarez and Cavani are world class players and capable of winning games on their own but in World Cups you need a bit more than this. The climate in Sao Paulo is warm but the time of the fixture is near to sunset so it will be expected to be more suited to the English players that said it won’t be a negative for the Uruguayans. In summary on their day Uruguay probably have enough to trouble any team in the world but England are good at frustrating teams and its possible that we may have be able to take something from a game that is integral to England remaining in Brazil past the group stage.
Costa Rica will be an unknown quantity to most England fans most will be aware of Bryan Oviedo and Bryan Ruiz who play for Everton and Fulham respectively. Other than these 2 they don’t have many other players that play in Europe’s top leagues. They will be no pushovers, there are no easy games at international level apparently but England should beat Costa Rica, they finished second in a very average qualifying zone behind the USA but they did beat the USA at home 3-1. England fans will be aware of the history regarding Belo Horizonte with it providing one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history when the USA defeated us 1-0 in 1950. It’s not far from Rio so travelling won’t be an issue and also the climate is similar to the previous game. If England don’t win this game then we honestly don’t deserve to be at the World Cup (unless we already have 6 points and have rested a few player, then it becomes acceptable).
I like most people have the lowest expectation of any World Cup I can remember, we have stumbled through a fairly difficult group and have hardly set the world alight. But there are reasons for optimism, there are number of good young players who have emerged as contenders for the squad, Andros Townsend was nowhere near the squad at the beginning of the season but has now become one of the first names on the team sheet and will scare teams with his pace similar to the way Arjen Robben can. It is also hoped that Wayne Rooney will continue his excellent early season form and that the squad can remain clear of injuries. We go to Brazil with little to no hope of winning the World Cup but whilst were there lets enjoy it and let’s see how far we can progress. We will more than likely be 3rd favs to qualify from the group but if we can get through then the possible opponents from Group C would hold no fear. Anything past the last 16 would be a success in my eyes, elimination at the group stage would be deemed as a failure but it’s not the end of the world, we are in the early stages of rebuilding our reputation and this World Cup should be one to just relax and enjoy the experience without the usual build up of unfounded expectation from the media and the once every 2 year football fan.