Someone’s going to see red in this group, right?
When Luis Suarez, Mario Balotelli and Wayne Rooney are in the same group, a temper tantrum seems completely possible.
Rooney already has a World Cup red card on his resume, having been sent off for stomping on a Portugal player eight years ago in Germany. Suarez’s entry on Wikipedia includes a subhead titled “Bite incidents.” Yes, plural.
And Balotelli was pulled by his coach in a 2011 friendly for Manchester City when instead of shooting into an open net, he tried a backheel move and missed the net. He had so many problems at City that he made a shirt that said, “Why Always Me?” That also infuriated people.
So the trio may not be the most charming individuals to play soccer, but they are all extremely talented and fun to watch.
No squad in Brazil offers the possibility of have split personalities as much as Italy. Will we see the Azzurri that went through qualifying relatively unchallenged, or the one that finished last in its group in 2010? Will it be the Italy that made it to the Euro 2012 final, or the one that is 0-5-1 in its last six matches? They are a bit long in the tooth (36-year-old old goalie Gianluigi Buffon and 35-year-old midfielder Andrea Pirlo), but Balotelli can take over any game, and they have a history of World Cup success, 2010 notwithstanding.
How They Got Here: Won UEFA Group B
Best World Cup Finish: Four-time champions, last in 2006
As great a track record as Italy has, it’s almost the opposite with England, which hasn’t made the semifinals since 1990. The Brits have been knocked out on penalties in two of the last four World Cups. And in the last two, they are averaging less than a goal a game (nine goals in 10 matches). Even when England succeeds, it’s not easy. It was unbeaten in qualifying at 6-0-4 but still made fans sweat it out until the end when it got two victories. The usual talk of winning it all hasn’t surfaced this time around, and with good reason. England traditionally struggles in the heat, and that could be a factor.
How They Got Here: Won UEFA Group H
Best World Cup Finish: Champions in 1966
Any team would love to have at forward Liverpool star Luis Suarez and Paris St. Germain’s Edinson Cavani. Plus, Diego Forlan is available off the bench. Not too shabby, eh? The big worry is Suarez’s knee. He had surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee just two weeks ago, but he says he’ll be ready. A patient squad, Uruguay doesn’t mind ceding possession, because it will make the most of its scoring chances. A weak showing in qualifying is a concern, but playing on its home continent gives Uruguay a slight edge to advance over England.
How They Got Here: Finished fifth in South American qualifying, beat Jordan in a playoff
Best World Cup finish: Two time winner, last in 1950.
The Ticos allowed the fewest goals in The Hex with seven, and goalkeeper Keylor Navas is a rock. Costa Rica had four straight shutouts at one point in the final round of qualifying but scored just five goals in that span. Forward Joel Campbell will be the main threat. He scored eight goals for Olympiakos and previously signed with Arsenal but was unable to play there initially because of a work-permit issue. Costa Rica will likely be playing a spoiler’s role, but there is danger there for the other three teams in this group.
How They Got Here: Finished second in The Hex
Best World Cup finish: Round of 16 in 1990
Who Will Advance: Italy, Uruguay
Dark Horse: England
Glad to be here: Costa Rica
Three Players to Watch
Luis Suarez (Uruguay): His 31 goals for Liverpool were the most in the English Premier League this past season, and he’ll be a handful for defenders.
Mario Balotelli (Italy): He single-handedly beat Germany in the semifinals of Euro 2012, so that’s a pretty good achievement.
Wayne Rooney (England): Hard to believe he’s just 28 years old. Seems like Rooney has been around forever, but here’s the millstone around his neck: He’s England’s all-time scorer in World Cup qualifiers, but he has yet to score in the tournament.
Must Watch Game
Uruguay vs. England, June 19
This could determine if either team moves to the knockout stages.