Breaking Down England's World Cup 2014 Group Stage Opponents

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2013

COSTA DO SAUIPE, BRAZIL - DECEMBER 06:  Group D containing Uruguay, Costa Rica, England and Italy is displayed on a screen on stage during the Final Draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil at Costa do Sauipe Resort on December 6, 2013 in Costa do Sauipe, Bahia, Brazil.  (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Italy, Uruguay, Costa Rica.

Those are the three nations who now stand between England and a place in the last 16 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup—if anybody is left looking that far ahead.

England were drawn in Group D alongside the South American seeds, the pot-changed Europeans and CONCACAF qualifiers Costa Rica, and will play their matches in Manaus, Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte.

Roy Hodgson's men will have to contend not only with extremely good quality opposition, but also tough conditions—in their opening game especially.

Here's a complete rundown of England's World Cup opponents.

 

Italy: Manaus, 14 June, 9 p.m. ET KO

Cesare Prandelli's men are England's opening challenge, in the humid and difficult location of Manaus.

COSTA DO SAUIPE, BRAZIL - DECEMBER 06:  Italy coach Cesare Prandelli speaks to members of the media after the Final Draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil at Costa do Sauipe Resort on December 6, 2013 in Costa do Sauipe, Bahia, Brazil.  (Photo by Clive M
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Italy cruised through their qualifying campaign and have plenty of talented players who can win a game in a heartbeat—and few England fans will forget the lesson in possession handed to them by the Italians in Euro 2012.

In Mario Balotelli, Giuseppe Rossi and Stephan El Shaarawy they have three exceptional talents in attack who can put finishing touches to the buildup work that goes on behind them.

Italy can function in a 3-5-2 or a 4-2-3-1 system without issue, and with Andrea Pirlo in place in midfield, no defence is too tight to penetrate. A balance of solidity and invention, technique and tactical discipline combine to make Italy a formidable force again, if not the great sides they have produced in the past.

They are not without weakness though and England will have to identify how to match up their own strengths against a relatively slow defence, questionable performances in the wide areas and perhaps more experience than youthful impetuousness.

 

Uruguay: Sao Paulo, 19 June, 3 p.m. ET KO

This, England might feel, could be the make-or-break fixture of the group, assuming Italy turn up and produce the performances they're capable of.

MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY - OCTOBER 15:Head coach Oscar Tabarez  of Uruguay in action during a match between Uruguay and Argentina as part of the 18th round of the South American Qualifiers for the FIFA's World Cup Brazil 2014 at Centenario Stadium Stadium on O
Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Uruguay, however, are on home soil—in a purely continental sense, of course—and will be extremely confident of making an impact after a stunning finish to their qualifying campaign. They also have largely the same squad that won the Copa America not all that long ago.

In attack, of course, they possess two of the top talents in the game right now with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, and either have the capacity to win a game on their own, from a set piece or through their own final-third ingenuity.

Oscar Tabarez is a living legend for what he's done for Uruguay already, and they will believe that he can guide them through this group. England will have little option but to avoid defeat in this game if they want to progress themselves—and depending on their opening game, only three points could be enough.

 

Costa Rica: Belo Horizonte, 24 June, noon ET KO

England's final match they will see as winnable, though Costa Rica are certainly not to be taken lightly.

SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA - SEPTEMBER 06:  The Costa Rica national team starters pose prior to facing the United States national team during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier at Estadio Nacional on September 6, 2013 in San Jose, Costa Rica.  (Photo by Kevin C.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

They finished second in the CONCACAF hexagonal stage, losing just two of their 10 games and conceding only seven goals. On the flip side, they only won five and scored just 13, so they are hardly prolific.

It'll be more of a team collective effort than individual stars who stand out for them, with perhaps Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell their top talents, but their solid 5-4-1 system can be difficult to break down. England will need patience, quality and decisiveness in the final third to beat Costa Rica, not always attributes associated with Hodgson's side.

They can beat Costa Rica. But they need to make sure they're not already out of the running by the time that match rolls around first.