England have it all to do to if they are to get out of Group D, after their 2-1 defeat to Italy left them ahead only of Uruguay.
Costa Rica have turned out to be the surprise package of the group so far. They soundly beat Uruguay 3-1, despite falling behind to a strike by Paris Saint Germain’s Edinson Cavani.
If anything can be gauged from the first round of matches, it is that England will face no easy opposition, considering they seemed to seriously underestimate the Costa Ricans before the tournament kicked off.
Roy Hodgson’s men have admittedly been thrown in at the deep end. FA Chairman Greg Dyke’s now infamous ‘cut-throat’ gesture at the group draw looks all the more like an accurate premonition, rather than a pessimistic, if somewhat humorous, reaction.
Italy was widely thought to be the Three Lions’ hardest fixture, in no small part due to the magic of their star man, Andrea Pirlo, who hit the crossbar late on with a mesmerising free kick.
For the other three teams in Group D, there was plenty to learn about England, too. Firstly, their physios should not celebrate equalisers too overzealously, lest they should ungracefully trip on a water bottle and dislocate their ankle, as was the unfortunate fate of Gary Lewin after Daniel Sturidge’s goal.
More crucially, however, Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling now risk being marked out of the next two games, as they proved to be a huge threat going forward. The same cannot be said for Wayne Rooney, who was played far too wide and struggled with finishing, failing to take advantage of Italy’s veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon’s absence.
Question marks remain over Sturridge’s fitness ahead of Thursday’s match against Uruguay, but following the South Americans’ humbling by Costa Rica, Rickie Lambert may earn a call-up as Hodgson looks to change up his tactics to exploit the weaknesses of Los Charrùas.
Uruguay looked vulnerable from set pieces: so as long as Rooney is never allowed to take a corner again, England certainly have a way in. However, their task will be made all the more difficult by the return of Luis Suarez, who insists he will be 100% fit.
While Italy’s coach Cesare Prandelli bemoaned FIFA’s decision not to allow mid-game breaks after a number of England players looked to be suffering, Uruguay will be unfazed by the Brazilian heat. Diego Forlan – formerly of Manchester United – has promised his side will improve against England, having suffered one of the shock results of the tournament so far in their opening match. Òscar Tabàrez’s side will certainly not roll over, especially if their performance in South Africa in 2010 is anything to go by.
Should England qualify from their ‘Group of Death’, they will face either the winner or second-placed team of Group C – places currently held by Colombia and the Ivory Coast.