The first matchday of group D of World Cup 2014 will be played tonight as four time winners Italy take on England and Uruguay face underdogs Costa Rica.
Also Group C kicks off tonight as Euro 2004 champions Greece take on Jose Pekerman’s Colombia. The usually solid defensive organization of Greece will have their work cut out against a side boasting multiple talented attacking options capable of deciding the match with a single swing of their boots. Also, Japan begin their campaign against Ivory Coast as well. We analyse the five major talking points of these games:
Uruguay will have to work hard to breach Keylor Navas led Costa Rica
Uruguay were undoubtedly the best side in South America three years ago – they were the only South American side to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup and they won the Copa America a year later. Their form since then has been extremely poor. Their qualification campaign was a disaster and they had to face a play-off against Jordan. They have clearly regressed in the last four years with the results and performances steadily declining since 2010. Luis Suarez, who is expected to lead their charge this summer, is facing a battle to be fit for this tournament. Question marks have emerged about Suarez’s goalscoring record against top sides, for both his club and country, but assuming he recovers from his injury, he should be the danger-man for Uruguay in Brazil.
Tabarez has repeatedly attempted to evolve Uruguay’s style of play and bring a bit of creativity in midfield but unfortunately he had to fall back on central midfield scrappers and hard-working wide options. Uruguay’s major problem is that they lack pace and mobility at the back. Tabarez never broke up the partnership of Diego Perez and Egidio Arevalo, the two central midfielders at the last World Cup, who are feisty destroyers but offer little going forward. The midfield definitely lacks guile. Gaston Ramirez, a brilliantly talented number ten, does not have the work rate to be accommodated in this midfield quartet and his form with English side Southampton has not been great either. The two Diegos, Lugano and Godin, will marshal the defence once again, the latter had a superb season at Atletico Madrid. They both are a threat from attacking set-pieces but Lugano might struggle against the pacy Joel Campbell tonight. Uruguay will most likely focus on defensive organisation to cover for individual weaknesses and rely on individual brilliance to get the result tonight.
Costa Rica aren’t the worst team at this World Cup. Their Colombian coach Jorge Luis Pinto is a good tactician who has won the league in four different countries. He generally favours a cautious system that is more like a 5-4-1. They are happy to let the opposition have the ball, concede space in midfield, and instead pack their penalty box. Costa Rica boast individual quality in the final third. Joel Campbell is extremely quick, and he’ll relentlessly sprint in behind the Uruguyan defence. He will always offer an outlet, and most of the time Costa Rica will launch long diagonals towards the corner, and hope Campbell’s pace creates inroads for them. Considering the fact that he is coming up against Lugano tonight, it is not a bad plan.His support will come from Bryan Ruiz, who would play as a second striker.
Ruiz is a fine footballer who will act as a link between Campbell and the rest of the side, and is capable of holding up play and brings the wing-backs into play to offer an option. The three centre-backs are rugged, old-fashioned defenders, who can be guilty of very cynical challenges when forced to face pacy, agile forwards high up the pitch. Then, there is Keylor Nava; the Levante man is probably the most underrated goalkeeper in the competition, capable of making stunning point-blank reaction saves. He was the best keeper this season in Spain.
Rooney under to pressure to deliver for England
Wayne Rooney has been an enigma for the English fans. The England superstar has been an embodiment of consistency for his club Manchester United, but he has been largely disappointing for England especially in major tournaments. Rooney announced his arrival in the international scene in Euro 2004 where his energetic displays and hunger created a massive impression amongst fans in Europe and it also gave a new hope to the nation as well. Sadly he could not repeat those displays on the international stage again. Unlike typical English strikers, Rooney has added versatility to his game. He can play on either of the wings, in a playmaker role, as a lone frontman, as a second striker, as a central midfielder – he has performed admirably in all these roles and is prepared to sacrifice himself for the good of his team. However, at 28, he should be at the peak of his abilities. This is the time for him to finally make his mark and inspire his country to a successful World Cup campaign. To score goals for his club is one thing while to inspire England at football’s highest stage is another. If he fires on all cylinders, England can hope to have a good run in this tournament. He has been making all the right noises ahead of the game against Italy (barring the ugly spat with former teammate Paul Scholes) and has suggested that he is 100 percent fit this time. Rooney is under pressure to deliver for his country and it will be a huge test of his character as he leads a young English side against Italy
Tactically flexible Italy will keep England guessing
Tactical flexibility is a major advantage for Italy this term. The midfield is the strongest part of this Italian side. Pirlo will continue to play as the regista. The absence of Riccardo Montolivo robs Italy of an excellent midfielder, but they possess other quality options to cover his absence. Daniele De Rossi will provide energy, technical quality and leadership from the central role. He is also capable of doing a job in defence as he did at Euro 2012.A little like De Rossi, Thiago Motta is an all-round midfielder with great physical presence and power, but also has fine passing ability. When Italy play a diamond, Motta was used to disrupt the opposition’s possession play, but he is comfortable in a more withdrawn role as well. Prandelli also has Marco Veratti as another fine passer in midfield.If he wants to play a 4-3-2-1; he could push Claudio Marchisio forward. Prandelli could choose to play Lorenzo Insigne in the inside-left role. Insigne seems to be the perfect option for Prandelli if he opts for a 4-3-2-1, although he might find it difficult to make the squad in a 4-3-1-2, or the 3-5-2.
Upfront the main striker will be Mario Balotelli who is capable of acting as an outlet for the long balls as well as drop back a little to initiate attacking plays. This combination makes him such an unpredictable opponent to play against. Antonio Cassano was rewarded for his wonderful season with Parma and his combination with Mario Balotelli seems very natural and he has the ability to unlock tight games all by himself. Ciro Immobile unlike his name suggests – is a tireless runner who looks to sprint behind the defence and finish expertly and his performance in the 5-3 friendly win over Fluminese might just have guaranteed his position in Italy’s opening game. If Prandelli goes for a 4-3-2-1, he has two further options to choose from. Alessio Cerci is a natural wide player brought into more of a goalscoring role in recent seasons. He collects the ball from deep and has the ability to run with the ball and directly take on his opponents. The alternative is Antonio Candreva of Lazio who is admired by Prandelli for his excellent work-rate. He does plenty of running and is more than a useful option in the final third too. Prandelli has several options to play with and it will be interesting to see which system brings out the best from his players and provide them the desired result this Sunday.
Last chance for the Golden generation of Ivory Coast to shine but Japan pose a serious challenge
With their depth of talent it remains a mystery that the Ivory Coast have been unceremoniously dumped out at the group stage on the two occasions they have qualified for the World Cup finals. A look at the Ivory Coast squad confirms that they should be the most likely side to progress from this group. Didier Drogba will be central to their chances in Brazil. He is the country’s all-time record goal scorer, with 62 goals, and his team-mates will rely on him to lead them in the ultimate football showcase. Along with Drogba, Roma star Gervinho will look to continue his good form and the Ivorians should not be short of goals with these two working in tandem. Another pivotal player of this team is midfield general Yaya Toure who recently led Manchester City to another Premier League crown. Coach Sabri Lamouchi has an host of options to choose from; it is just a case of how he can get them to gel when it matters most. The Elephants and their supporters may point to the fact that their side were in the proverbial ‘groups of death’ in the past. After four near misses including the Afcon heartbreaks, what seemed unthinkable seven years ago suddenly seems very likely indeed: this Ivorian generation may end up winning nothing. Cote d’Ivoire has hoped before. It had the best squad in those occasions as well. But this generation has always failed. There is a feeling that their biggest opponent in Brazil may not be the other teams so much as themselves. The biggest obstacles to Ivorian success are probably their own memories and expectations.
Japan boast great technical quality in the midfield zone. The two household names are Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda, but arguably more important to Japan are the double pivot midfield – the combination of Yashuito Endo and Makoto Hasebe – has proved highly effective over the last few years and this allows Japan to control matches against top-class oppositions. The problem is at either end of the field, where Japan are guilty of needless defensive errors and wasteful misses upfront, and there is also the lack of physicality that has caused them problems at previous World Cups. They have a wily tactician in Alberto Zaccheroni who generally favours a standard 4-2-3-1 formation with Japan. His side plays with high intensity although there is some doubt whether that will be possible in Brazil as they have a difficult schedule in hot and humid conditions. This Japan side is a pleasure to watch. They boast talented playmakers, solid central midfielders and two brilliant full-backs who scamper up and down the touchlines. But Japan are not clinical enough, and neither are they resilient enough. Japan will be well organised, but they probably won’t collect the results their dominance would suggest.
Clash of two different identities as Colombia take on Greece
The inscription on the Greek national team’s jersey is nothing if not accurate, Greece are a team that thrives on attacking and defending as a single cohesive unit. When Fernando Santos took over from Otto Rehhagel, the coach that led Greece to an astonishing victory in 2004, he just had to make sure that this philosophy was carried forward by the incoming players as the old guard was slowly replaced by the young blood. And that is precisely what he did.
Santos’ team tactics are based on discipline and tactical focus regardless of whoever gets selected to play on the field. The 4-3-3 formation led Greece to glory in 2004 and it does not look likely to change here as well. Usually the team has three midfielders (defensive, holding and attacking) supported by two strong central defenders at the back. His aim is to minimize the gap between the two lines, deny space for short, quick passes outside their box and quickly break on the counter when the opposition lose possession of the ball.The defensive four rarely support the attack and that gives them the luxury of focusing mostly on holding their position rather than exposing themselves while trying to overlap their opponent from the wings. On paper it looks a very pragmatic approach but it can get the job done as Russia discovered at Euro 2012.
Giorgos Karagounis, the midfield talisman is usually the linchpin of this side, but when he is not on the field, it is Georgios Samaras who acts as the point of reference in attack. Kostas Mitroglou leads the line in offense and he, along with Dimitris Salpingidis cutting in from the flanks, are the outlets of deep passes and crosses. Although the attacking flair is there, it is the defence that Greece mostly relies on. That is how they reached the World Cup having only conceded four goals in 10 matches while their mediocre attacking efforts brought only 10 goals whereas Bosnia, who finished first, scored 30.
Jose Pekerman took a little time to work out what his best formation was, and his experiments with the 3-5-2 and 4-2-3-1 systems explains some questionable early form during the qualification period. He finally settled on the 4-2-2-2, which represented the best way to get the maximum out of his resources and it yielded satisfactory results. Colombia will arrive at the World Cup as one of the most technically skilled and tactically flexible sides in the competition, and their ability to switch speeds of their play is a dangerous attribute to deal with.
The 4-2-2-2 employs two traditional-looking defensive midfielders on paper, but Pekerman does not limit their duties to guarding holes left by the marauding full-backs and blocking zones in the midfield. The vertical passes out of the defensive third are vital to the quick springing of attacks. They also have the opportunity to carry the ball forward themselves from midfield, with the likes of Fredy Guarin in the side. Ahead of them, James Rodriguez will be the playmaker in a 4-2-3-1 or in a 4-2-2-2.
The full-backs add to the variety of Los Cafeteros’ play and make them extremely efficient. Both Pablo Armero and Juan Zuniga will play key roles in the final third. Their ability to either hit the byline or cross from deep is important as it gives this side an extra edge. Pekerman always favors a striker with a strong aerial presence, so Jackson Martinez is expected to start the opening game of the World Cup.