The first round of games is over for Group D of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and it is time to look back at what the losing teams did wrong, and what the winning teams did right. England, Costa Rica, Italy, and Uruguay will each need to reevaluate their performances to determine what changes to make and what strategies to retain as they prepare for the second round of World Cup group matches later this week.
Uruguay’s match turned out to be the upset of the weekend, with the heavily favored South Americans falling to Los Ticos 3-1 after taking the initial lead on a penalty kick. Costa Rica came back in the second half and equalized, but when they took a 2-1 lead, Uruguay completely fell apart.
The biggest mistake Uruguay made was not setting the tempo of the game early on. They came into the match so certain of their eventual victory that they completely underestimated their opponent. The offense held back around midfield, playing lazy passes and making only half-hearted attacks. Once Edinson Cavani converted the penalty in the 23rd minute, Uruguay settled back on defense, only getting one more real shot on goal before the whistle sounded.
In the second half, Uruguay just barely picked up the pace. Their play was sloppy and unfocused, their shots weak and off target. Even when Joel Campbell found the equalizer, Uruguay did not react much. It was not until Oscar Duarte hit the net for the second Costa Rican goal that Los Charrúas finally decided to join the game, but it was too late. Uruguay will face England next, and will need to take a leaf from Italy’s book and set a steady pace early on in order to defeat the Three Lions and get back into the running.
Costa Rica did nearly everything right. They attacked fiercely from the opening kickoff, though their attempts on goal were largely unsuccessful in the first half. Even when the penalty on Júnior Díaz left them trailing by a goal, they did not give up. Perseverance was the name of their game, and it paid off in droves. Each of their three goals showed how much determination and resilience they had brought to the game, with players like Duarte, Cristian Gamboa, and Marco Ureña reaching with everything they had to put the ball where it needed to be.
Los Ticos have a mountain to face with their next match against group favorites Italy, but can climb to the top if they employ the same style of quick, persistent attacks and refuse to lie down. Italy is unlikely to underestimate them as Uruguay did, so Costa Rica will need to strike early to gain confidence. They will need to disrupt Andrea Pirlo in the middle and find an answer on defense for “Mad Mario” Balotelli.
Italy also made all the right moves, controlling the pace of the game and using their experience to out-maneuver England’s squad of greenhorns. Pirlo gave his usual masterful performance at midfield, and Balotelli buried the winning goal with precision and style. The Azzurri’s calm, collected playing style worked perfectly and kept the ball at the Italians’ feet and away from the English.
Costa Rica would have initially been seen as a pushover for the Italian powerhouse, but after their shocking defeat of Uruguay, no one is counting them out anymore. Italy will need to continue the same style of play and not allow Costa Rica’s speed to throw them off their game. If they continue to make the right moves and not let the Central Americans fluster them into making the wrong ones, they will be able to take over the top of Group D for the 2014 World Cup.
England had the right idea coming into their game, using their superior speed and aggressive style to formulate controlled attacks on the Italians. Even after Italy took a 1-0 lead, England stayed on the ball and were able to equalize quickly, bringing them back into the game. They went into halftime with their heads high on a 1-1 draw.
Unfortunately, that high-energy play in a jungle environment proved too much for the English to keep up for the full 90 minutes, and they began to lose their touch in the second half. Passes became sloppier and England struggled to maintain possession of the ball. With Italy striking so quickly after the break, the Three Lions become panicked, particularly Wayne Rooney, who just wanted it too badly.
England will take on a battered Uruguay with both teams sporting a bruised ego and something to prove. The English side will need to find a more balanced pace of play that they can manage for the full game. They will also need to improve on their accuracy in high-pressure situations, as so many of their shots went far and wide of the net in their desperate attempts to avoid the loss to Italy. England may also have to contend with Luis Suarez, who, if healthy and able to play, will be itching for a goal and a win.
All four teams in Group D will have to evaluate their play from this weekend and pinpoint where they went wrong, or where they went right, in order to find success in the remaining rounds and advance to the knockout stages of the 2014 World Cup. Italy and Costa Rica will decide who really reigns supreme on Friday, while Uruguay and England will each look to redeem themselves on Thursday.
Commentary by Christina Jones