Wayne Rooney

2014 World Cup Preview: Group D

Group D - Costa Rica, England, Italy, Uruguay

Costa Rica
Ranked 34th in the world
Qualified by finishing second in the CONCACAF region with a 5-2-3 record.

Costa Rica reached the Round of 16 in 1990, but hasn't gotten out of the Group Stage in two World Cup appearances since, narrowly missing advancement in 2002 and losing all three matches in 2006. Now back after failing to qualify for the 2010 tournament, Los Ticos have a tough task ahead with a stacked group.

Entering preparations for the World Cup, Costa Rica could buoy itself to some promising attacking options in Alvaro Saborio and Bryan Ruiz. However, with the Real Salt Lake forward Saborio suffering a fractured foot, that leaves only Ruiz, who recently transferred to PSV Eindhoven in Holland after a successful stint with Fulham. Jose Miguel Cubero, Christian Bolanos and Celso Borges give Costa Rica strength in the midfield, but without Saborio, there’splenty to prove in the attack, especially if it eyes any sort of success in a difficult group.

Ranked 11th in the world
Finished first in Group H of UEFA's qualifying with a 6-0-4 record.

Highlighted by a World Cup title in 1966, England is among the more storied World Cup teams. Only three times since 1950 has England failed to qualify and has advanced out of the Group Stage in each of the past four tournaments, a trend it islooking to continue in Brazil.

Led by the veteran trio of Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and captain Steven Gerrard, England has some dependable players to rely on this time around. Stars of Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool, respectively, that triumvirate will go a long way in determining the fate of a group that is otherwise fairly green. Fresh off a Premier League title with Manchester City, Joe Hart will backstop England against some tough opposition in the Group Stage.

Ranked 9th in the world
Finished first in Group B of UEFA qualifying with a 6-0-4 record.

The 2006 World Cup champions struggled mightily in the 2010 tournament and were knocked out in the Group Stage. Italy has won four World Cups (1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006), appeared in two other finals and had two more semifinal appearances. After finishing second in the 2012 European championships and third in the 2013 Confederations Cup, things are looking up for Italy as it looks to win its fifth title.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more opposing pair than the calming veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and volatile striker Mario Balotelli. Buffon, 36, has 139 caps and will be playing in his fourth World Cup tournament. Balotelli, 23, made his debut after the 2010 World Cup and has been an explosive attacker for Italy ever since, though a constant lightning rod for controversy because of a short temper. Italy has a veteran group that is a mixture of champions from the 2006 team and players hungry for their first taste of success.

Ranked 6th in the world
Qualified after posting a 7-5-4 record CONMEBOL to finish fifth, though it needed a 5-0 playoff win over Jordan to advance.

It had been 40 years since Uruguay advanced out of the Round of 16 when it finished fourth in the 2010 World Cup. The inaugural champions had narrow defeats to Netherlands and Germany in the semifinals and third place match to finish fourth last time around, and look to carry the momentum from that finish into the 2014 tournament.

Luis Suarez was the clear-cut leader of the attack for Uruguay, but a late injury may limit his effectiveness, at least in the early stages of the tournament, which could prove costly. Uruguay does have plenty of players in the 27-30 age range—led by PSG forward Edinson Cavani—that are in prime position to help Uruguay to another deep run in the tournament. However, they will need a good showing from Suarez or a Herculean effort by his supporting cast to do so.