Group at a Glance: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, and Italy. The World Cup in theory is the 32 best countries in the world battling in a single tournament, so tough groups are to be accepted, and this is another one. Behind the likes of my single least favorite footballer in the world, Luis Suarez, Uruguay is a tough out, although the back of their starting eleven is much weaker than the front of it. Italy and England are European power houses that could very easily been one of the eight ranked teams ahead of such teams as Belgium, but instead they find themselves in the same group. Costa Rica is no slouch, and they will certainly be happy the World Cup is being played in Brazil and not Denver, where they lost an epic match to the USA in a blizzard.
Favorites to Advance: Uruguay is the ranked team, so naturally they get the initial nod as a favorite to advance, but it won’t be easy. England and Italy will battle it out for what will likely be the second spot, but just one of them pulling off a win against Uruguay could lead to both teams getting out of the group. That said, if I were a betting man, which I tend to be, my money would probably be on Uruguay and Italy, but I wouldn’t feel confident in it.
Player(s) to Watch: There was a fantastic piece early this year in ESPN the Magazine regarding the Italian football fans view on minorities on the pitch, but they will have to put aside the large amount of racism, because their hopes and dreams rely on the right foot of Mario Balotelli. Since I can’t bring myself to say Luis Suarez is a player to watch, unless it is to get you angry at the TV after he takes another dive and rips into the refs for not calling the invented foul, Wayne Rooney facing up Gigi Buffon is a matchup to watch. Buffon will be between the pipes in what will likely be his final World Cup, and his performance against the English strikers just may determine which squad moves on.