Roy Hodgson’s England could hardly have drawn a worse opening phase for this summer’s World Cup in Brazil. Every tournament throws up a so-called ‘Group of Death’ and section D of the early qualifying rounds is certainly the hardest of all. But who are England’s opponents and is their campaign really over before a ball is kicked?
Group D Match Odds
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Cesare Prandelli’s Italy are favourites to win Group D at 7/4 with Stan James. The last time these two sides met in a competitive match was at Euro 2012 and while the Italians squeezed through, the fact that England took their opponents to penalties will surely give them some hope.
Italy’s qualifying campaign wasn’t always convincing and while Prandelli’s men topped UEFA’s Group B with a six point gap over nearest challengers Denmark, four draws in ten matches indicate that the Italians aren’t necessarily the unbeatable force that the group odds suggest.
Prandelli’s main issues are in attack where he seems unable to decide on a first choice striker pairing. Italy may struggle in front of Joe Hart in the England goal but Hodgson’s team will find it hard to break down one of the meanest defences in World Football.
Uruguay’s Luis Suarez shared the record as the most prolific goal scorer in all of the qualifying rounds and it’s obvious that England’s defence will need to be wary of the Liverpool striker. However, if the back four pay too much attention to Suarez, they could be vulnerable to other key players such as Edinson Cavani or Diego Forlan.
Uruguay are second favourites to win the England group at 15/8 with BetFred and the side will undoubtedly benefit from playing in South American conditions. England know that they can sometimes be a volatile unit who can lack discipline and the key to winning the game in Sao Paolo on June 19th could be an early goal that sees frustration leak into the Uruguay camp.
Hodgson’s men finish their group campaign with a match against Costa Rica and will be hoping that their World Cup is still alive. Defeats to Italy and Uruguay would leave England to play for mere pride but if they are still in contention for a knockout place, they simply cannot underestimate Jorge Luis Pinto’s squad.
Costa Rica came through in second place in the CONCACAF qualifying section and although there was a considerable gap of four points between them and group winners USA, Pinto’s men achieved some notable results along the way. The squad progressed with a 100% home record including wins over Honduras, Mexico and the US while some mixed performances saw them claim second spot and a place on the plane to Brazil. On neutral territory, this tie should see a comfortable win for Hodgson and his team.
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The initial draw was bad news for England but the schedule of fixtures has made qualifying even harder. Had Costa Rica been lined up as the first fixture, the English could be looking forward to a morale boosting win but they simply must get at least two points from their opening matches against Italy and Uruguay to progress.
Those two teams will approach things in very different ways: Italy’s success is built on solid defence and the ability to hit their opponents on the counter while Uruguay have flair players and a strong attack that includes one of the most lethal players in World Football.
It’s the worst possible group for Hodgson and his team but ironically, if England do progress from this section they will be in great form and poised to go quite far in this competition. In this case odds for England to win World Cup 2014 will significantly drop and you might want to place your bet on this before the value vanishes.