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Gerrard: We were unlucky

Steven Gerrard refused to make any excuses after England’s 2-1 defeat against Italy, but said he thought the Three Lions were unfortunate to come away with nothing after a positive display.

Goals from Mario Balotelli and Claudio Marchisio were enough to secure three points for the Azzurri in the opening game of Group D. 

Daniel Sturridge pulled England level two minutes after Marchisio’s opener. However, Balotelli’s 50th-minute header proved decisive as Roy Hodgson’s men – despite having a number of chances to add to Sturridge's strike – were unable to find a second goal.

England 1-2 Italy

2014 FIFA World Cup 

Group D 

Arena Amazonia 

Saturday 14 June 2014

Gerrard said: “Italy are a good team. We knew how they were going to play and they never surprised us really – but it’s disappointing because we’ve put so much into it and we’ve come away with nothing.

“No matter what the conditions were tonight it was always going to be tough playing against Italy. Yes it was very warm, it was sticky and the pitch was a tough pitch because it was dry and it was moving under foot.

“But they’re just excuses and at the end of the day Italy were a very good team tonight and we fell a bit short. But we’re still not out of this group.”

Raheem Sterling surges forward with the ball

Gerrard praised England's positive approach to the game

Roy Hodgson’s side enjoyed significant spells of attacking dominance throughout the encounter, but failed to turn the dominance in goals - and Gerrard said England need to be more clinical if they are to progress.

“We got criticised three years ago for sitting back and being a bit toothless really – but I think anybody who watched that game could that we were trying to create,” he said. “We pushed and pushed and gave it everything we’ve got and we were unlucky not to get anything out of it.

“The chances were there and we created them. Maybe we’ve got to look at trying to finish a few more chances off. But we can’t point any fingers because everybody has given absolutely everything they’ve got tonight. 

“The effort, the desire, commitment was there – it’s just maybe a little bit of quality in the final third.

Mario Balotelli leaves England floored

Mario Balotelli leaves England floored

“I think if we look at the game over the whole 90 we can be pleased with a lot of it, but it just goes to show at this level how cruel it is. You give so much effort, you try so hard, and you can still come away with nothing. So that’s the lesson from tonight.”

Following Uruguay's 3-1 defeat against Costa Rica earlier in the day – the pair’s meeting on Thursday becomes pivotal. But despite the defeat Gerrard remained upbeat about England’s chances of progressing.

“No matter what the result was tonight we were still going to have to go and beat Uruguay,” he added. 

“The challenge has got a little bit more difficult but it’s certainly doable.”

England take on Uruguay in Sao Paulo at 8pm BST on Thursday 19 June.

Bronze: First of many

Lucy Bronze hopes her maiden England goal, in the 3-0 win over Belarus, will be “the first of many”.

Centre back Bronze, who was named the PFA Player of the Year in May, crashed home an angled drive in added time to complete the Three Lions’ seventh straight victory in World Cup qualifying.

And after the game in Minsk, the 22-year-old was interviewed for FATV by her defensive colleague Alex Scott, who is currently studying for a degree in sports journalism.

Bronze said: “It was a good result for us, another clean sheet and another few goals – one from me [which] was especially brilliant.

“I’ve been working on my strikes across the goal in training and it just came off.

“The floodgates have opened now so that’s the first of many.”

Watch Scott’s full interview with Bronze above

Jagielka predicts comeback

Phil Jagielka believes that if England show the same attacking intent they did against Italy in their next two group games they will progress to the knock-out stages of the World Cup.

Despite suffering an unfortunate 2-1 defeat against Italy in their opening Group D game, Jagielka said England will bounce back quickly against Uruguay on Thursday.

“Obviously we’re frustrated,” said Jagielka. “There were a number of missed opportunities but it’s up to us now to take this in to the Uruguay game and hopefully put in a similar performance but come away with a few more points.”

England 1-2 Italy

2014 FIFA World Cup
Group D
Arena Amazonia
Saturday 14 June 2014

The Three Lions narrowly lost out to the Azzurri after Mario Balotelli’s second-half strike proved decisive.

But according to the Everton defender there were plenty of positives to take into  the game against Uruguay – with attention turning to Thursday’s clash.

“The feeling in the dressing room is one of disappointment right now,” he added.

“We’ll fly back to Rio – have a cool down day tomorrow. We’ll look at some video footage of the game and try and take some of the positives out of it.

“I’m sure there’s a lot to take out of it, quite a few good performances but at the end of the day we’ve come away with no points.”

Former Premier League star Balotelli headed home the winning goal on 50 minutes after Antonio Candreva whipped in a dangerous cross and the AC Milan striker headed home past former Manchester City team-mate Joe Hart.

England continued to rally, however, and a string of missed opportunities and a series of good saves from Salvatore Sirigu has Jagielka ruing what might have been.

“We thought we would have had long enough to get back into the game,” he added.

“But their keeper has pulled off some really good saves and on another night possibly we get a draw, if not something more.”

Next up for England are Uruguay, who they face at the Arena de Sao Paulo on Thursday 19 June. The game kicks off at 8pm BST.

England fall to Italy

It took a resolute second-half performance from Italy to edge out England in their opening Group D game at the World Cup in Manaus. 

Roy Hodgson’s men will think themselves unlucky not to have earned a draw, enjoying the lion’s share of goal attempts after Claudio Marchisio gave Italy the lead. 

England 1-2 Italy

2014 FIFA World Cup
Group D
Arena Amazonia
Saturday 14 June 2014

Daniel Sturridge levelled almost instantly, but former Manchester City man Mario Balotelli headed a winner early in the second half to get Cesare Prandelli’s side off to a winning start.

After almost eight months of talk and anticipation since the win over Poland, the waiting finally was over as Hodgson’s side took to the Arena Amazonia pitch.

Livewire winger Raheem Sterling was given the nod to start in place of Adam Lallana who played against both Peru and Ecuador.

And it was the Liverpool man who almost gave England an early lead with a rasping drive that had Italy’s second-choice keeper Salvatore Sirigu well-beaten only to ripple the side-netting.

Jordan Henderson vys for the ball with Mario Balotelli

Jordan Henderson battles for the ball with Mario Balotelli

His Reds team-mate Jordan Henderson tried another fierce drive moments later, but this time the Paris Saint-Germain stopper – an 11th-hour change for the injured Gianluigi Buffon – beat it away.

Danny Welbeck tried to make the most of a misplaced clearance, but dragged another strike wide from 20 yards.

Italy, though, were enjoying much of the early possession, progressing forward in numbers through the middle with support coming from wide, particularly Matteo Darmian on the right flank.

Italy were slow and patient, as the Three Lions closed the gaps to deny the space.

When England won the ball back, their breaks were quick and with purpose.

Claudio Marchisio scores for Italy

Claudio Marchisio fires home for Italy

Joe Hart was called into action midway through the first half when Antonio Candreva belted a shot goalwards, which bounced up in front of the Manchester City man making it difficult to deal with. Phil Jagielka was on hand to mop up.

Hart’s former team-mate Balotelli then sprung to life, firing goalwards when in space, but that was off target.

England, though, were having joy getting in behind the Azzurri rearguard and it took a last-ditch slide from Gabriel Paletta to deflect a dangerous Welbeck cross, destined for Sterling six yards out, away for a corner.  

Then Marchisio opened the scoring and put Italy in charge. Andrea Pirlo let a corner run to his Juventus team-mate in a central position 25 yards out and he took one touch before drilling expertly into the corner of Hart’s net.

England players congratulate Daniel Sturridge

England players congratulate Daniel Sturridge after his equaliser

Within two minutes, though, England responded as Sturridge tucked away from close-range. Wayne Rooney’s cross from the left had turned the Italian defence, the Liverpool striker applied the finish and he peeled away to perform his now-famous dance celebration.

The game swung back into Azzurri’s favour five minutes after the break. England had come out positive, but an attack on the right from Candreva, who cut inside to cross, found Balotelli unmarked at the far post to nod home.

Hodgson’s men were creating openings and Wayne Rooney came close, dragging wide after a neat more. Then the lively substitute Ross Barkley gave Sirigu something to deal with down low to his left.

Glen Johnson also tried a shot on goal, while Baines forced another save with a dipping free-kick as England strived for an equaliser.

Raheem Sterling surges forward with the ball

Raheem Sterling surges forward for England

Italy retreated into their half, as their attentions turned to stopping Sterling and Sturridge by any means necessary.

Late efforts from Gerrard – another free-kick – and Rooney were in vain, while Pirlo’s injury time free-kick crashed off the crossbar. 

The defeat will be a setback to England, although their attacking pace and flair will certainly give Hodgson something to be feel positive about as he plans for Uruguay on Thursday. 

England (4-2-3-1): 1 Joe Hart; 2 Glen Johnson, 5 Gary Cahill, 6 Phil Jagielka, 3 Leighton Baines; 4 Steven Gerrard (C), 14 Jordan Henderson; 19 Raheem Sterling, 10 Wayne Rooney, 11 Danny Welbeck; 9 Daniel Sturridge.

Substitutes: 21 Ross Barkley (for Welbeck) 62, 7 Jack Wilshere (on for Henderson) 73, 20 Adam Lallana (for Sturridge) 79.

Substitutes not used: 13 Ben Foster (GK), 22 Fraser Forster (GK), 8 Frank Lampard, 12 Chris Smalling, 16 Phil Jones, 17 James Milner, 18 Rickie Lambert, 23 Luke Shaw.

Goals: Sturridge 37

Bookings: Sterling

Unavailable: 15 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Manager: Roy Hodgson

Italy (4-1-3-1-1): 12 Salvatore Sirigu; 4 Matteo Darmian, 15 Andrea Barzagli, 20 Gabriel Paletta, 3 Giorgio Chiellini; 16 Daniele De Rossi; 8 Claudio Marchisio, 21 Andrea Pirlo, 23 Marco Verratti; 6 Antonio Candreva; 9 Mario Balotelli.

Substitutes: 5 Thiago Motta (for Veratti) 57, 17 Ciro Immobile (for Balotelli) 73, 18 Marco Parolo (for Candreva) 79. 

Substitutes not used: 13 Mattia Perin (GK), 7 Ignazio Abate, 10 Antonio Cassano, 11 Alessio Cerci, 14 Alberto Aquilani, 19 Leonardo Bonucci, 22 Lorenzo Insignie.

Goals: Marchisio 35, Balotelli 50

Bookings: None

Unavailable: 1 Gianluigi Buffon (GK), 2 Mattia De Sciglio.

Head coach: Cesare Prandelli

Referee: Bjorn Kuipers (Holland)

Assistants: Sander van Roekel and Erwin Zeinstra (Holland)

Fourth official: Walter Lopez (Guatemala)

Aluko hitting targets

Eniola Aluko maintained her impressive scoring streak after her goal set England on their way to a 3-0 World Cup qualifying win in Belarus on Saturday.

The Chelsea striker latched onto Fara Williams’ 30th-minute through ball and dinked a shot over Ina Batsianouskaya to break the deadlock in Minsk with her eighth strike of the campaign.

Steph Houghton and Lucy Bronze completed the scoring to seal the Three Lions’ seventh straight victory on the road to Canada 2015.

Belarus 0-3 England

FIFA Women's World Cup 2015
Group 6 qualifier
Saturday 14 June 2014
Traktor Stadium, Minsk

Aluko said: “It was a really big objective of mine to start getting on the scoresheet for England.

“To look on the scoresheet and see your name on there is obviously really rewarding, something that motivates me to keep doing better.

“Hopefully I can keep getting in the starting line-ups, getting on the scoresheet and doing my best for the team.”

The 27-year-old was paired with Liverpool striker Natasha Dowie up front for the second game in succession.

Last time out they each scored a brace as Mark Sampson’s side saw off Ukraine in Shrewsbury.

Highlighs: Belarus 0-3 England

And Aluko is relishing the partnership with her former Charlton Athletic club mate.

She added: “It’s nice to play with Natasha again, we played together at Charlton many years back and scored a lot of goals.

“It’s nice to play in a [front] two [again]. That’s something I haven’t done for England in ten years. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to play as a forward in a two and hopefully we can keep improving.”

Aluko continued: “It was good to get the win and another clean sheet. It wasn’t the best performance, Belarus made it difficult for us at times, but we did what we needed to do and got the three points.

“Belarus played out from the back and made us press them and try and win the ball back higher up.

“They are a tidy team and they made it difficult for us so it’s certainly nice to walk away from here with three points.”

England require four points from their final three qualifiers to book their spot at next summer’s World Cup finals.

They take on Ukraine in Lviv on Thursday, followed by a trip to Wales in August and a final qualifier in Montenegro in September.

Uruguay 1-3 Costa Rica

After going ahead through a Edinson Cavani penalty Uruguay were swept aside by a vibrant attacking display from Costa Rica.

costa-rica-celebrate-3rd-go

Date: June 14, 2014

Result: Uruguay 1-3 Costa Rica

Goalscorers:

Uruguay:

  • Cavani pen 23

Costa Rica:

  • Campbell 54
  • Duarte 57
  • Urena 85

Venue: Castelao, Fortaleza

Attendance: 58,679

Match overview: Costa Rica have lost all three of their previous World Cup meetings with South American nations. They were beaten 3-0 by Ecuador in 2006, 5-2 to Brazil in 2002 and 1-0 to Brazil in 1990. Uruguay head coach Óscar Tabárez is the longest-serving coach at the 2014 World Cup, taking charge of his nation back in 2006.

Key moment: Joel Campbell’s equaliser brought parity in terms of the scoreline, but also injected much needed belief into the Costa Rica team. Thereafter, there was only going to be one winner.

Man of the match: Joel Campbell. Even before he levelled the scores Campbell was the most inventive player on the pitch. Took his goal well and played a beautifully weighted pass for Costa Rica’s third.

Stats: Goal attempts

  • Uruguay 9
  • Costa Rica 12

On target

  • Uruguay 5
  • Costa Rica 4

Corners

  • Uruguay 5
  • Costa Rica 6

Matter of fact: This was the first time Costa Rica had scored more than two goals in a match at the World Cup. Pereira becomes the first player to be sent off at the 2014 World Cup and the 9th Uruguayan in the history of the tournament.

Talking point: Costa Rica the so-called whipping boys of Group D, sprung a huge shock with this performance. Uruguay, without Luis Suarez look a very ordinary side and the fact that Oscar Tabarez was not prepared to risk his star striker in the closing stages of this game raises questions about his overall fitness.

Line-ups:

Uruguay:

  • 01 Muslera
  • 16 Maxi Pereira
  • 22 Cáceres
  • 05 Gargano (González – 60′ )
  • 02 Lugano
  • 03 Godín
  • 11 Stuani
  • 17 Arévalo Rios
  • 10 Forlán (Lodeiro – 60′ )
  • 21 Cavani
  • 07 Rodríguez (Hernández – 76′ )

Costa Rica:

  • 01 Navas
  • 16 Gamboa
  • 15 Díaz Campbell
  • 04 Umaña
  • 03 Gonzalez
  • 06 Duarte
  • 10 Ruiz (Ureña – 83′ )
  • 17 Tejeda Valverde (Cubero – 75′ )
  • 09 Campbell
  • 05 Borges
  • 07 Bolaños (Barrantes – 89′ )

Goals:

Uruguay:

  • Cavani pen 23

Costa Rica:

  • Campbell 54
  • Duarte 57
  • Urena 85

Red card:

  • Maximiliano Pereira (Uru.) 95

Yellow cards:

Uruguay:

  • Lugano 50, Gargano 65 Cacares 81

Referee: Dr. Felix Brych (Germany)

Spain demolished by Holland’s tactical flexibility

Van Gaal's change of formation set up Holland for their remarkable demolition of Spain.

Luis Van Gaal congratulates Robin Van Persie

Louis Van Gaal will not be slow to take the credit for Holland's incredible win over Spain.

Holland’s extraordinary demolition of Spain in Salvador yesterday is still sinking in. No defending champion has suffered such a disastrous reversal of fortune in an opening game. Spain lost their opening game of the 2010 finals, but it is hard to see them recovering to make the second round this time.

The Spanish implosion may have been triggered by a catalogue of errors from Iker Casillas, but credit is also due to Holland coach Louis Van Gaal. His pre-match switch of tactics to a more defensive 5-3-2 gave them a shape and structure to take Spain apart in the second half.

Van Gaal, a man not noted for his modesty, will be happy to take credit for the tactical innovations. His teams, from mid-1990s Ajax through to Bayern Munich in 2010, have always played in a 4-3-3. So it was a bold move to change from the conventional Dutch model to a formation which saw Holland play many more long balls than is usual for a Dutch side.

It could be argued that 5-3-2 was actually more akin to a Total Football-style 3-4-3. The full-backs were able to push into midfield, as Daley Blind did with great effect on the left against Spain, while Wesley Sneijder, the most advanced of the midfield three, was quick to link with Van Persie and Robben to form a counter-attacking attacking trio.

Exciting innovations from Van Gaal, but they were largely forced upon him by the pre-tournament injuries to Kevin Strootman and Rafael Van der Vaart.

Had all his players been fit, Van Gaal would probably have stuck with his tried and trusted 4-3-3. However, the reduced midfield options prompted him to play two central midfield protectors in Nigel De Jong and Jonathan De Guzman, with Sneijder in front of them.

The full-backs Daryl Janmaat and Blind provided the extra bodies to snuff out the Spanish passing patterns. Robben’s pace and directness, along with some superb individualism from Van Persie, did the rest.

The 5-3-2 worked against Spain, with remarkable results, but don’t be surprised if Holland revert to a more attack-minded 4-3-3 in their next match against Australia.

Colombia 3-0 Greece

Colombia strolled to a comfortable 3-0 win over Greece in Belo Horizonte.

Colombia take an early lead against Greece.

Date: June 14, 2014

Result: Colombia 3-0 Greece

Goalscorers:

Colombia:

  • Pablo Armero 5
  • Teofilo Gutierrez 58
  • James Rodriguez 93

Venue: Castelao, Fortaleza

Attendance: 57,174

Match overview:

Colombia, with 7, kept the most clean sheets amongst South American nations in qualifying. Greece, with 8, kept the most clean sheets amongst European nations in qualifying. Georgios Karagounis is the only survivor from Greece’s Euro 2004 triumph. Colombia reserve goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón is the oldest player at this World Cup. The 42-year old was also in the squad for USA ’94!

Key moment: Greece striker Theofanis Gekas endured a miserable, unrewarding afternoon in Belo Horizonte. The low point of a poor all-round display was a shocking miss from just five yards out midway through he second half. Moments later Gekas was put out of his misery and substituted.

Man of the match: Juan Guillermo Cuadrado. Set up two goals and was a constant menace down the right flank. The match was bookended by two mazy runs from the winger, both of which led to goals.

Stats: Goal attempts

  • Colombia 13
  • Greece 12

On target

  • Colombia 7
  • Greece 6

Corners

  • Colombia 4
  • Greece 4

Matter of fact: Greece continued their sorry record of never having kept a clean sheet at a World Cup match.

Talking point: It’s early days but Greece look like they will struggle to get out of what is a competitive, but hardly intimidating group. Colombia, meanwhile, appear to have answered the question on everyone’s lips: how will they score goals without the injured Radamel Facao.

Line-ups:

Colombia:

  • 01 Ospina
  • 18 Zuñiga
  • 07 Armero (Arias – 74′ )
  • 06 Sánchez
  • 02 Zapata
  • 03 Yepes
  • 11 Cuadrado
  • 08 Aguilar (Mejía – 69′ )
  • 09 Gutiérrez (Martinez – 76′ )
  • 10 Rodríguez
  • 14 Ibarbo

Greece:

  • 01 Karnezis
  • 15 Torosidis
  • 20 Holebas
  • 08 Kone (Karagounis – 78′ )
  • 04 Manolas
  • 19 Papastathopoulos
  • 14 Salpingidis (Fetfatzidis – 57′ )
  • 21 Katsouranis
  • 17 Gekas (Mitroglou – 64′ )
  • 02 Maniatis
  • 07 Samaras

Goals:

  • Colombia:
    • Pablo Armero 5
    • Teofilo Gutierrez 58
    • James Rodriguez 93

Yellow cards:

Colombia:

  • Sanchez 26

Greece:

  • Papastat 52, Salpin 55

Referee: Mark Geiger (United States).

England v Italy – tactical guide

When these sides met at Euro 2012 two years ago, England were passed out of the game by the peerless Andrea Pirlo. Can Roy Hodgson come up with a tactical plan to subdue the midfielder?

Wayne Rooney Andrea Pirlo

England

Since Roy Hodgson took over as England coach, he hasn’t been scared to try out a variety of different formations, often reacting to which players he has at his disposal. His most favoured option has been 4-3-3, a fluid system that also helped disprove the theory that Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard can’t play together in the same team.

However, in Brazil, and particularly for the crunch games against Italy and Uruguay, there will be a need to keep things tight, which could see Hodgson playing two holding midfielders as part of a 4-2-3-1 formation. Gerrard would be one, possibly partnered by Jack Wilshire if he is back to full fitness.

Ahead of them would be a deeper-lying Wayne Rooney and a tucked-in wide-man.Adam Lallana is well-suited to the role, although Hodgson is a big fan of James Milner and started him in every game at Euro 2012. Past selections point to an out-and-out winger on the other flank, and with Theo Walcott out injured, this seemingly clears the way for Raheem Sterling. This would leave Daniel Sturridge operating as the lone front man.

An even more cautious approach for the team would be a 4-4-2 set-up – Hodgson’s favoured option at club level – but one that drew plenty of criticism when he introduced  it for a friendly against the Republic of  Ireland last year.

Plan B?

The more expansive 4-3-3 formation is likely to be introduced when England are chasing goals, potentially in their final group outing against Costa Rica. This would enable the full-backs, Glen Johnson and Leighton Baines, to push down the flanks, safe in the knowledge that there is always someone to cover in behind them. This would see Rooney adopting a more central role, with Sturridge running the channels down the right.

And then, of course, there is England’s more traditional “Plan B” – hitting it long to a big target man. Hodgson isn’t afraid to use it, and it worked for him against Sweden in Euro 2012, but the chances of seeing it in Brazil were reduced when Andy Carroll was left out of the coach’s final 23.

By now, foreign observers will have understood that Prandelli’s Italy is not quite the usual defence-oriented, speculative Italy. In agreement with his players, the coach has always wanted to impose a more positive style, with Spain as the ideal role model.

However, on the eve of the finals, a realist might suggest that he would be better off resorting to old-style, tried and tested Italian methods. In other words, while he has a more than useful backbone to his team, in the shape of Gianluigi Buffon (injured for the England game) in goal, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci in defence, Daniele De RossiAndrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio in midfield. However, his attacking line-up right now represents a major question mark.

Mario Balotelli is obviously the main man up front but will he reproduce his Euro 2012 level of performance? Even if he does, it is unclear who will play alongside him.

Prandelli likes to play with a positive 4-3-2-1 line-up where the game plan is to knock it around in midfield and wait for Pirlo to either hit a through ball for Balotelli and others, or to score from a free-kick.

As always, much will depend on Pirlo, meaning that De Rossi and Marchisio will cover for him, affording him time and space to spray the ball around and keep the team ticking over nicely. If Pirlo is man-to-man marked, then the supply line can break down.

Much also depends on the ability of full-backs to provide the attacking options.

Plan B?

It is not impossible that Italy may also resort to a classic five-man defence. If Romulo is picked, many will see his last-minute inclusion as a clear indication that Prandelli feels the need to cover himself.

A return to defensive methods and a 5-4-1 could see Gabriel Paletta play central defence alongside Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli, freeing up Chiellini for left back.

The use of a player like Romulo in midfield could be useful if things do not work out for the unpredictable Balotelli up front, prompting Prandelli to field an inexperienced or lightweight attack (Ciro ImmobileLorenzo Insigne or SebastianGiovinco) or even recall the mercurial Antonio Cassano. In such a case, Romulo could offer a deal of protection to  the overworked midfield trio of Pirlo, Marchisio and Montolivo.

Uruguay v Costa Rica – tactical guide

Uruguay and Costa Rica meet in Fortaleza. Here's our tactical guide to the opening Group D match.

Uruguay World Cup

Tabarez to stick with what he knows best 

In the last World Cup, in every game that Uruguay played, they had less possession than the opposition but more shots. “As  a team we want to be as we were in South Africa – difficult to play against,” says coach Tabarez. “I don’t aspire to anything else.”

This reveals much about Uruguay’s approach. There  are few pretensions of midfield elaboration in the team. Instead, they will be happy to grind out results with 4-4-2, waiting patiently for space to open up into which they can then spring their dangerous strikers.

The Tabarez team has been noted for its tactical flexibility, for the capacity to adopt  to different formations, sometimes with no changes in personnel. There has, however, been less of that over the last two years, although they did play a third centre-back away to Ecuador in October when the coach clearly felt that the altitude of Quito called for extra defensive cover. And, intriguingly, they used a back three in two friendlies against France – away in August 2012 and then at home the following June – keeping a clean sheet both times.

But while that variation is still in their locker, ever since a disastrous 4-0 defeat to Colombia in September 2012, Uruguay have stuck to a back four. With Christian Stuani and Cristian Rodriguez as specialist wide midfielders, it enables them to keep the defensive line close together and limit the space that the veteran defender Diego Lugano has to cover. Keeping things so compact has allowed Tabarez to drop one  of his pair of central midfield markers, with Diego Perez giving way of late so that the more creative Nicolas Lodeiro can come in alongside Egidio Arevalo Rios, who is the leading midfield hit-man.

If fit, Luis Suarez will spend most of his time on the shoulder of the last defender, while Edinson Cavani, with his extraordinary capacity for hard work, will play the role of box-to-box striker, dropping deep when necessary to link the side together.

Diego Forlan, the hero of the last campaign, remains a dangerous and respected option on the bench.

Plan B?

Experiments with a back three are likely  to remain on the backburner. One possible variation on the regular 4-4-2 framework  is to bring on Forlan as a third striker in a 4-3-1-2, playing him in place of Lodeiro behind the main strike pair.

Costa Rica

 Old style 4-4-2 for Jorge Luis Pinto

Costa Rica seem to have a very defined plan for Brazil 2014. Coach Jorge Luis Pinto looks set to play with a European-style 4-4-2, with Joel Campbelloperating as a pure number nine and Bryan Ruiz as the support striker. The “Ticos” have an interesting blend of vision and speed and will look to play to their strengths.

Pinto is a great admirer of Jose Mourinho’s tactical astuteness, so it’s little surprise that the Costa Rican game is based around defensive solidity, combined with swift counter-attacking. The approach has it’s critics but paid dividends in the final stage of CONCACAF qualifying – and will be essential in Brazil given the quality of their opposition.

There will be a lot of responsibity on the central midfielders Yeltsin Tejeda and Celso Borges to protect the back-four and to also stifle the creative skills of the likes of Pirlo, Rooney and Suarez.

A few doubts remain in the composition of the starting XI, the most important of which regards the recovery of Everton’s Bryan Oviedo, who was initially ruled out of the World Cup but now seems to be on schedule to make the pre-tournament training camp in San Jose, although his fitness still remains in some doubt.

Other than, that the starting XI seems to be set, and few surprises are expected in the 23-man squad. The core will be the same as the one that booked its ticket to Brazil eight months ago.

Plan B?

If Oviedo recovers his full fitness in time, a switch to a 5-4-1 is possible. This was used in the qualifiers on a number of occasions and would see an extra centre-back coming in, allowing the full-backs, particularly Oviedo, to push.

It would also involve Christian Bolanos switching to the left, where he would be dangerous cutting inside, and Bryan Ruiz or Joel Campbell dropping to the left side of midfield.

Alvaro Saborio could come in as the lone central striker, although Campbell’s form this season for Olympiakos should see him kept on in this role.