Whilst there is usually one World Cup group which looks clearly deadlier than the rest, this year there are a couple that could lay claim to being the deadliest.
Australians would certainly have winced as they were drawn alongside Spain, Netherlands and Chile in Group B. There is not much change to be had out of Germany, Portugal, Ghana and USA, the teams that comprise Group G.
However, the task of reaching the last 16 is the toughest in Group D where Uruguay, England, Italy and Costa Rica all reside. Whilst there are stronger teams elsewhere in the competition, as a foursome it is the most imposing and the trickiest to predict of any of the eight groups in the tournament.
FIFA world rankings ahead of World Cup. Uruguay 6th, Italy 8th, England 12th, C Rica 34th. One tough group. Spain, Germany, Argentina top 3— Stuart Rowson (@StuartRowson) March 13, 2014
England could not have asked for a more difficult start to a World Cup than Italy followed by Uruguay, but that is what they have been handed. Whether they can still escape the group when they face Costa Rica on 24 June is yet to be seen, but they will be desperate for that opportunity.
There are three huge matches between the three big nations in this group; so much could happen before a ball is kicked in Brazil, but here is how we see them going.
Prediction: England 1-1 Italy
Just as last time these two sides met in major competition, this one could well end level. Italy dominated that game at Euro 2012, but they could not break through the English ranks, and the contest went to penalties to decide the outcome.
The Italians may have come through that test, but they have since fared poorly against the major nations. Since Euro 2012 Italy have lost to England, France, Brazil, Argentina and Spain, whilst the biggest team they have defeated is Mexico in the Confederations Cup. This paints a picture of a team on a similar plane to England; not world beaters, but certainly competitive.
Cesare Prandelli’s side are also out of winning ways of late, having failed to win any of their last five contests, dating back to September. This includes a competitive clash with Armenia and a friendly against Nigeria.
PUNCH: Italy manager Cesare Prandelli, 56, claims he would not pick any England players in his squad if they were Italian. ~ Mail— Oluwashina Okeleji (@oluwashina) May 10, 2014
England, of course, have hardly been blowing opponents away either. Their tepid friendly defeats to Chile and Germany in November failed to instil any confidence in the side. However, it must not be forgotten that they were the first defeats in a year, showing that Roy Hodgson has made the team at least difficult to beat, if not a potent attacking threat.
England should not be overawed by the four-time winners of the competition. This will be a close encounter, and one that neither team will be disappointed to come out of with a draw.
Prediction: England 1-1 Uruguay
Plenty will depend on what goes on in England’s clash with Italy and Uruguay’s initial encounter with Costa Rica, but judging this one on its current merits, it will be tight.
Uruguay impressed at the last World Cup and at the subsequent Copa America, but things have not been so peachy since then. Luis Suarez’s performances aside, they put in an unimpressive display in qualifying for this tournament and had to go through a play-off with Jordan to make it to Brazil.
Italy and Uruguay will both give England chances - this group of players could win the group #EnglandWorldCupSquad— Jason Mohammad (@jasonmbbc) May 12, 2014
They were not embarrassed by any team at the Confederations Cup last year, but they only managed to beat Nigeria and Tahiti. Meanwhile, they were beaten by the more established powers of Spain and Brazil.
Similarly to Italy, they are clearly a good side, but they are not in the very top bracket in the international arena.
Who Will Qualify From World Cup Group D?
Uruguay rely heavily on Suarez, who scored 11 goals in World Cup qualifying for them. In 16 games, the entirety of the rest of the squad managed just 14, per Soccerway, so if the Liverpool man does not fire, they could well be struggling to find the back of the net.
Suarez has done little wrong, in terms of footballing ability, since arriving in the Premier League, but one criticism is his record against the big clubs in England. He tends to fill his boots against the lesser lights, but he struggles to do so against the teams at the top of the table. This could mean that he fails in a similar way against the better teams in Brazil.
This is likely to be a more open game than the first against Italy, but it could well end in the same result.
Prediction: Italy 1-2 Uruguay
If England draw their opening two games, and assuming both Uruguay and Italy defeat Costa Rica, it leaves an intriguing situation for this clash on the final day of Group D. Both teams will be on four points with England on two, depending on goal difference; a draw could suit them both to ensure qualification.
However, with England playing at the same time, it is highly unlikely that they could employ this strategy, without knowing what the Three Lions are up to in Belo Horizonte.
These two met in the Confederations Cup last year and it ended 2-2 (with Italy prospering on penalties). Yet more evidence that there is little between the sides battling it out to escape from Group D.
In other circumstances a draw would be the prediction again. But both teams should have to be going for the win, so in that situation, a stalemate becomes extremely unlikely. In a tense and combustible situation, it could come down to variables as minor as crowd support.
Frustratingly for Uruguay fans this match takes place in Natal, almost as far away from their home country as you can get in Brazil. However, there will still be plenty more Uruguayans in the stands than Italians. This could just make the difference and see Oscar Tabarez’s side into the next round.