RotoWire Partners

The Clean Sheets: Discussing the Real Group of Death

Andrew M. Laird

Andrew M. Laird

Andrew M. Laird is the Senior Soccer Editor for RotoWire, as well as a fantasy football and college basketball contributor.

Nick Pitner

Nick Pitner

Nick Pitner writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire. He supports Arsenal FC, the Green Bay Packers, and the New York Knicks, while specializing in those respective sports in his coverage for the site.

-----Original Message-----
From: Andrew M. Laird
Sent: Monday, June 3, 2014 3:48pm
To: Nicholas Pitner
Subject: Cleaning the Sheets - Group D for Death


When the World Cup groups were first announced and everyone was calling Group G the Group of Death, my initial response was "wait, isn't Group D much stronger?" If you gave people the option to play Germany/Portugal/Ghana or Uruguay/Italy/England, you would 100 percent take the former, wouldn't you?

Uruguay is fantastic up front, led by Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, although Suarez is currently working his way back from a knee injury. The midfield is decent and the back line is questionable, but that attack should be a handful for any team in the world to defend against.

England's squad is filled with plenty of talent, but talent has never really been the Three Lions' issue. Daniel Sturridge is coming off a fantastic season at Liverpool and he'll lead the attack up front with Wayne Rooney. Steven Gerrard will anchor the midfield again, while they try to plug in a few World Cup first-timers like Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (although Ox may miss out now after suffering a knee injury in Wednesday's friendly against Ecuador). The defense is decent but I wouldn't call it great. I like this team on paper, but in 95 degree heat and 80 percent humidity, I struggle to see them dominating a team like Uruguay or Italy.

Speaking of Italy, I think they win this group. They have experience in the form of Gigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo, they have excellent scoring up front with Mario Balotelli and Ciro Immobile (who led Serie A in goals this year before recently signing with Borussia Dortmund) and their defense is rock solid, which should certainly help against a team like Uruguay. Am I crazy to think they are the favorites to win the group?

I'm not sure where I see Costa Rica earning a point here; maybe in a draw with England.

-----Original Message-----
From: Nicholas Pitner
Sent: Monday, June 4, 2014 3:01pm
To: Andrew M. Laird
Subject: re: Cleaning the Sheets - Group D for Death


Yes, this is without a doubt the dreaded Group of Death.

Italy has won four World Cups, took third place in 2010 (beating Uruguay), and was runner-up at the 2012 Euros. Uruguay sports two World Cup victories, including the last time the tournament was held in Brazil (1950), and won the Copa America in 2011. England is home to the world's best domestic league, although that's mostly due to the influx of top foreign players, and went undefeated in qualifying. As for Costa Rica, well, at least they qualified.

I too would slightly favorite Italy in this group. They are notorious for slow starts, so England will be keen to take advantage of that in their opener, but manager Cesare Prandelli has sort of revolutionized their style of play. While "Gli Azzurri" is still water-tight defensively, Prandelli's open, attack-minded philosophy contrasts with Italy's traditionally methodical approach.

One player that epitomizes this shift is 21-year-old Marco Varetti. Standing just 5-5, Varetti mixes fight with flair, evidenced by his top-three rank in tackles, completed passes, assists, and successful dribbles for Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain this past season. On the world stage, Varetti could join his midfield partner Pirlo, as well as Balotelli - a man who needs no introduction - and Buffon, as another household name in the Italian squad.

That being said, both Uruguay and England are also fully capable of claiming the group. Like you said, Uruguay's front-line of Suarez and Cavani is as good as it gets. Suarez won the Premier League's Player of the Year award this year and should be allowed to ease back from last month's knee operation considering Uruguay plays Costa Rica first.

However, England's entire squad is deeply familiar with Suarez, so could that tilt the scales in England's favor, especially since the Three Lions will know Suarez is a ticking time bomb? Similarly, will Suarez's yellow card count exceed Costa Rica's point return from group play?

The forgotten man for Uruguay seems to be Diego Forlan, the man who won the Golden Ball at South Africa 2010 as the World Cup's best player. So if Suarez is slowed, Forlan could have a few deadly strikes left in the tank.

-----Original Message-----
From: Andrew M. Laird
Sent: Monday, June 4, 2014 3:31pm
To: Nicholas Pitner
Subject: re: Cleaning the Sheets - Group D for Death


It's funny that you look at England's chances against Suarez as an advantage since they know him well, while I look at the matchup and think "he dominated these guys for 31 goals last year (tying the Premier League record), he should be more than capable of breaking through against a bunch of guys who don't always play with each other."

Liverpool have plenty of players on the England squad, but not many of them are going to be responsible for slowing Suarez down. You could think maybe he won't be as effective without Sturridge next to him, but then you remember that Cavani is a class above Sturridge. The talent in this England squad is up front, and outside of Leighton Baines and Luke Shaw in the back, they don't have a lot in defense. You could certainly try to argue that Gary Cahill is a solid chip, but if we're talking about someone who is going to slow down Suarez, Cavani and Balotelli, you're going to have to take your argument elsewhere.

I really struggle to see England winning this group; I suppose there's a chance that they could sneak into the second spot.

-----Original Message-----
From: Nicholas Pitner
Sent: Monday, June 4, 2014 4:34pm
To: Andrew M. Laird
Subject: re: Cleaning the Sheets - Group D for Death


So we're split on the outlook of Suarez v. England.

Judging by recent history, the striker seemingly can only be stopped by himself. Although I admit England's competition in qualifying was toothless offensively (pun intended), they never conceded more than one goal and posted six clean sheets in 10 matches. While Chelsea's tactics surely factored in, Cahill has vastly improved and in four combined appearances versus Suarez and Cavani this season, he held them without a single goal or assist. Liverpool legend Gerrard could also shade back in his holding role to provide extra support against his club teammate.

It's an endlessly interesting topic of debate and should be just as entertaining to see unfold on the pitch.

At this point, I think I've talked myself into England finishing second in Group D. It seems unorthodox given Uruguay's huge home turf advantage, but wilder things have happened and England has a more complete team than the South Americans.

Who knows, we could see both sides qualify and Italy be sent home early.

-----Original Message-----
From: Andrew M. Laird
Sent: Monday, June 4, 2014 7:13pm
To: Nicholas Pitner
Subject: re: Cleaning the Sheets - Group D for Death


As long as we both agree that Costa Rica has no chance.