Uruguay and Costa Rica take the field on Saturday at two o’clock in Brazil to kick off Group D play for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Two hours later, England and Italy will square off in a rematch of the Euro 2012 quarterfinal, where Italy came out victorious on penalties. On Monday, three-time champion Pele put his support behind Wayne Rooney and England to top Group D, while Italian rookie Ciro Immobile could be the first Golden Boot winner for Italy since Salvatore Schillaci topped the World Cup scoring tables back in 1990. On the other side of the bracket, Costa Rica’s Giancarlo Gonzalez escapes suspension and Uruguay keeps its hopes for Luis Suarez alive.
Costa Rica dodged a bullet on Saturday after FIFA cleared Gonzalez to play in the World Cup matches despite receiving a red card in Los Ticos’ final friendly against the Republic of Ireland. Gonzalez was sent off in the 41st minute after throwing an elbow at striker Kevin Doyle’s face. The match ended in a 1-1 draw.
FIFA rules state that suspensions earned during friendly matches are carried out in the team’s next friendly match, meaning that the red card does not apply to World Cup play. Gonzalez will take the field in Brazil and will miss up to three of the next Costa Rica friendly matches instead.
England was given a confidence boost on Monday when international football superstar Pele told reporters he believed England could advance to the knockout stages. Pele cited the English players’ experience, particularly Wayne Rooney, who has been under the microscope due to his lack of goals on the World Cup stage. Dismissing this fact, Pele claimed that Rooney has “fought more for the team” than any other player, and that he believes Rooney will get a goal this time around.
Coach Roy Hodgson expressed optimism about the young talent on his side, but stressed that fans should not put too high of expectations on the newcomers. Midfielder Ross Barkley supported his team, saying that England can advance if they “stay positive” and “set the tone” for the tournament in the first game against Italy.
Speaking of Italy, 1990 Golden Boot Winner Salvatore Schillaci recently praised rookie Ciro Immobile, saying Immobile reminds him of himself. Schillaci earned his first international cap in March 1990, just a few months before topping the goal scoring tables at that year’s World Cup. Immobile, who debuted for the Italian side three months ago, scored a hat trick Sunday night in a friendly match against Fluminense FC. The 24 year old scored 28 goals for Serie B division, putting him as the number one scorer for the second division, and then scored 22 goals in Serie A in 2013 and 2014.
While Pele is backing England and Italy is trying to win the Golden Boot for the first time in 24 years, Uruguay is keeping their fingers crossed that Luis Suarez will be able to take the field for World Cup Group D play. Suarez, who had keyhole surgery on his left knee in late May, has been training separate from the team and his status for the tournament is unclear. During practice on Tuesday he nursed his left leg under the supervision of the training staff. The current consensus is that Suarez will be held out of the first match against Costa Rica, so that he will be rested and hopefully healthy for the matches against England and Italy.
Italy has had the most recent success of the group, while England has been a soccer powerhouse for decades. Still, no European team has ever won the World Cup in South America, giving Uruguay and Costa Rica a slight edge statistically. Pele is backing England for Group D, and most of the analysts are backing Uruguay, but Costa Rica will not go down easy, and Italy has a strong candidate to win the Golden Boot and a strong enough team to advance to the round of 16 in this World Cup.
Commentary by Christina Jones