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England's World Cup opponents profiled

TEAMtalk takes a look at England's World Cup opponents - and gets the opinion of four expert pundits on a tricky draw for the Three Lions.

Last Updated: 07/12/13 at 07:56 Post Comment

England now know who they will face in the World Cup finals in Brazil after being drawn in Group D along with Uruguay, Italy and Costa Rica.

It could have been a lot worse but it is far from a straightforward scenario for Roy Hodgson's men, particularly an opening game against Italy in the jungle of The Amazon in Manaus in the early hours of the morning of June 15 BST.

So, what do we know about England's opponents? Where are the dangers and how did Uruguay, Italy and Costa Rica all qualify? We get the key details and the opinion of our expert pundits.

Uruguay

How they qualified: Play-off winners

Manager: Oscar Tabarez

FIFA ranking: 6th

World Cup record: 1930 and 1950 champions

Key man: Luis Suarez

British-based players: Diego Lugano (West Bromwich Albion), Gaston Ramirez (Southampton) and Luis Suarez (Liverpool).

After finishing fourth in the 2010 World Cup and winning the 2011 Copa America, you would be forgiven for thinking that qualification for Uruguay would be a foregone conclusion.

However, a disappointing campaign ensued which included home draws against Venezuela, Ecuador and Paraguay. They also lost heavily in games away to Colombia, Argentina and Bolivia.

Their inconsistent campaign is hard to diagnose, as they are blessed with two of the world's most feared strikers in Liverpool's Luis Suarez and PSG's Edinson Cavani. Stopping those two players will be vital while veteran Diego Forlan also still poses a threat.

After a comfortable play-off victory over Jordan, Oscar Tabarez's side will be hoping to forget about their tricky qualifying and focus on their strengths which feature their devastating forward line, a midfield bursting with flair, including Atletico Madrid's Cristian Rodriguez, and a backline marshalled by the commanding presence of captain Diego Lugano, who will be aiming to reach a century of international caps.

Tabarez will be thankful he has the opportunity to lead out his side next year, with people suggesting a few months ago they would need a miracle to get a play-off place. Now, they are genuine contenders for the trophy.

Costa Rica

How they qualified: CONCACAF group fourth round

Manager: Jorge Luis Pinto

FIFA ranking: 31st

World Cup record: 1990's last 16

Key man: Bryan Ruiz

British-based players: Bryan Oviedo (Everton) and Bryan Ruiz (Fulham).

Costa Rica joined USA in progressing from the North, Central America and Caribbean group qualifying zone after a draw with Jamaica in September's qualifiers was enough to send them through.

Colombian manager Jorge Luis Pinto had seen his side win four games, draw three and lose one in the CONCACAF group at the time of qualifying.

Costa Rica had only just scraped into the fourth round after finishing second behind Mexico in the group stages of the third round of qualifying. But they found their form when it mattered.

Fulham's Bryan Ruiz and Arsenal's Joel Campbell, who is on loan at Olympiakos, will now be hoping to impress in Brazil next summer. Bryan Oviedo, who scored Everton's winner at Manchester United in midweek, will also be a danger man for England to be wary of.

Italy

How they qualified: European Group B winners

Manager: Cesare Prandelli

FIFA ranking: 7th

World Cup record: Four-time winners - 1934, 1938, 1982, 2006

Key man: Andrea Pirlo

British-based players: Emmanuele Giaccherini (Sunderland) and Pablo Osvaldo (Southampton).

Italy, who beat England on penalties in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012, will be a very difficult opening game for Hodgson - particularly given it is in the extreme location of Manaus in The Amazon - where humidity can ready 99 per cent. But at least they are a fellow European side and so will be equally unaccustomed to the environment.

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo are veterans but still among Italy's best players while up front Stephan El Shaarawy and Giuseppe Rossi are big threats. Former Manchester City maverick Mario Balotelli can also not be underestimated.

A 2-1 win over Czech Republic on September 10 ensured Italy will be at the World Cup in 2014 after winning Group B in the European qualifying zone with two games to spare.

Cesare Prandelli's side did, however, make hard work of the progress after having to come from a goal down against Czech Republic, with Mario Balotelli scoring the winning penalty.

It will be Italy's 18th appearance at the World Cup and the 2006 champions and Euro 2012 finalists will have high expectations.

The Azzurri were unbeaten in Group B at the time they qualified after only dropping points in earlier games with the Czechs and Bulgaria. They will therefore travel to Brazil with the hope of emulating their previous World Cup wins of seven years ago and in 1934, 1938 and 1982.

Ray Wilkins' view

"I would prefer to play the European sides, because they will have the same problems with the heat and humidity. You do not want to play the South American sides on their own soil - and obviously we have got Uruguay."

Glenn Hoddle's view

"I think we need that sort of edge to the group. If we can get through this group, we are well into the tournament. We can have that belief that we have beaten a couple of really good teams. I think you need that. An easy group would have meant England were under pressure, as the expectations would have risen. The draw has done us a favour."

Danny Mills' view

"England will still fancy their chances of getting out of the group. Italy have some good players. [But] we have beaten them in a friendly. The last time we played them in a competition, obviously we lost on penalties. [But] I do not think Italy are that big a team to fear. I think England could quite conceivably do okay against Italy."

Chris Kamara's view

"I am delighted with that group. It could have been harder and it could have been easier. The game I am worried about is the Costa Rica game. That is the third game and I think we will probably need to win that one. I fancy us to beat Italy in the first game, draw with Uruguay and then draw with Costa Rica."

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