England’s Group D rivals will pose different tests!

The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil gets underway in two days when the tournament favourites and hosts take on Croatia at Arena de Sao Paulo.
Big threat: Andrea Pirlo in training with the Italy squadBig threat: Andrea Pirlo in training with the Italy squad
Big threat: Andrea Pirlo in training with the Italy squad

Various scenarios in group qualification could see England partnered with “Canarinho” in either the quarter-final stages of the competition or the final, but the Three Lions must navigate Italy, Uruguay, Costa Rica and a knockout fixture against Colombia or Greece before plausible outcomes can be taken in to consideration.

So what do we know about the trio of inhabitants that will be battling alongside Roy Hodgson’s men for Group D supremacy?

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Italy - England’s opponents on Saturday in the Amazonian city of Manaus - eased in to the final 32 without having to break a sweat in their UEFA Group B qualifying campaign.

The Azzurri, who hadn’t won in seven outings before beating Brazilian side Fluminense 5-3 at the weekend, are versatile but still relatively aesthetically unsatisfying on the eye. Coach Cesare Prandelli has infused a style that is a hybrid of the old and new – Catenaccio and possession football.

The Italians are equally adept playing in a 3-5-2, utilised in the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine two years ago, a 4-4-2 with the adoption of a ‘diamond’ midfield, or variations of a 4-3-3, including one player anchoring two strikers.

While Prandelli seems settled on a back four, other structural and positional decisions don’t appear quite as transparent.

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Had Riccardo Montolivo survived without such a terrible injury against the Republic of Ireland, then the AC Milan midfielder would’ve played between the lines, heading the diamond, harbouring the licence to interchange with deep-lying midfielder, or regista, Andrea Pirlo.

Daniele De Rossi, Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio would presumably be vying for the remaining midfield slots.

While Lazio’s Antonio Candreva could potentially deputise for Montolivo, the 2006 World Cup winners could shift more attacking and add width with Alessio Cerci and Candreva flanking Mario Balotelli. Meanwhile, Pirlo, De Rossi and Marchisio would provide the balance.

And Prandelli won’t be short of options on the bench with former Pescara Calcio team-mates Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile pushing for the starting XI, in addition to Parma’s Antonio Cassano.

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The former scored twice for SSC Napoli against Fiorentina to help land the Coppa Italia for Partenopei, while 24-year-old Immobile culminated the 2013/14 term as top-scorer in Serie A when netting 22 goals for Torino.

Five days later, the Three Lions face a lesser known quantity in 2010 World Cup semi-finalists Uruguay.

However, coach Oscar Tabarez’s tactics for La Celeste are slightly more predictable.

The former defender, who coached Uruguay for two years from 1988, fluctuates between 4-3-3 and 4-4-2, though is more dependent on the latter.

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Judging by selections in South American qualifications for the tournament – which Uruguay reached via a play-off with Jordan after finishing behind Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Ecuador – Tabarez is likely to go with Fernando Muslera; Maximiliano Pereira, captain Diego Lugano, Diego Godin, Martin Caceres; Cristhian Stuani, Arevalo Rios, Walter Gargano, Cristian Rodriguez; Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez. Obviously Diego Forlan will step in for Suarez should the Liverpool striker fail in his attempts to be fit in time.

Uruguay are resilient in defence, energetic in midfield and dangerous on the counter, which gives them the option of sitting deeper, absorbing the pressure and springing attacks by introducing Alvaro Gonzalez at the expense of Stuani against the likes of England and Italy.

Finally, Group D underdogs Costa Rica will be the unknown quantity among the quartet of nations.

Jorge Luis Pinto generally opts for a 5-4-1 set-up, which can often translate in to a more positive shape with full-backs Cristian Gamboa and Waylon Francis, an expected replacement for Bryan Oviedo, allowed to break when the opportunity arises, allowing Christian Bolanos and Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz to push up alongside young Arsenal striker Joel Campbell.

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Manchester United fans may remember Campbell for his glorious strike in a 2-0 win for Olympiakos in the Champions League at the Karaiskakis Stadium during the 21-year-old’s loan spell in Greece.

Yeltsin Tejeda will form the protective barrier for the back three in such a situation while Celso Borges will be slightly more advanced.

Los Ticos are heavily reliant on tactical discipline and maintaining a robust, pragmatic and systematic shape.

In their CONCACAF qualifying group, it was that mentality that saw them defeated just twice – both by solitary goals against the USA and Honduras – while conceding just seven goals in 10 games.