Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica: what England have to fear at the World Cup

Italy's 1-0 defeat in Spain, Uruguay's 1-1 draw in Austria and Costa Rica's 2-1 win against Paraguay threw up various pointers


Overall performance Overrun. Although Spain created few chances in the first half, once David Silva came on the dominance of possession brought chances. Italy had no way of stopping the movement of Pedro, Andrés Iniesta and Silva. Especially vulnerable down the left with space created in the centre when defenders pulled out to cover.

Tactics With Andrea Pirlo left on the bench and Daniele De Rossi left out of the squad, Italy played 4-3-3 but with quite a straight, defensive midfield three and the wide forwards rarely that close to Dani Osvaldo. "If we only play on the break they will beat us for sure," the manager Cesare Prandelli said, but the few chances they had were, indeed, on the break.

Best player Gabriel Paletta had a reasonably promising debut at centre-back even though he was occasionally left exposed and often pulled across. It's tempting to point at Pirlo, if only for one pass to Osvaldo. Could not control the midfield but at least sought to produce something.

Room for improvement Control, creativity, support for the striker, the ability to prevent skilful opposition cutting right to the heart of their defence … Italy have much to improve. But then, they often do, and they still have a habit of going a long way.

England need to be wary of … Why always him? Perhaps because there's no one else, unless Giuseppe Rossi makes it. Who to be wary of? The men who weren't there on Wednesday. It is hard to imagine that Italy will go into the World Cup without De Rossi and Mario Balotelli playing key roles. Besides, Prandelli says Balotelli has been an angel with the Azzurri. Sid Lowe


Overall performance To borrow a phrase from the manager, Oscar Tabárez, Uruguay were "rubbish" in the first half. They were sloppy in possession while they afforded Austria too much space. They conceded a bad goal to Marc Janko, after an error from the right-back Maxi Pereira and, were it not for the goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, the damage could have been worse. Uruguay did flicker in front of goal – the substitute José Giménez should have scored from close range in the 31st minute – but they were a team transformed after the interval. They came to dominate the game, with Luis Suárez, inevitably, to the fore. They had far greater offensive cohesion and deserved the equaliser, which followed wonderful work from the right-sided attacker Christian Stuani and was tapped home on the line by the substitute, Álvaro Pereira. Stuani might have had a late penalty for a trip by Markus Suttner. "The second half was the team that I wanted to see," Tabárez said.

Tactics Tabárez did not risk Edinson Cavani in Klagenfurt as the Paris Saint-Germain striker had only just recovered from a thigh problem and so he started, instead, with Diego Forlán up alongside Suárez in a 4‑4‑2 formation. Diego Pérez and Egidio Arévalo Ríos sat in front of the defence, with the former looking to man-mark David Alaba, Austria's best player. Ríos was rarely more than 10 or 15 yards in front of his centre-halves. Tabárez switched to a 4‑1‑4‑1 formation in the second-half, swapping Pérez for Walter Gargano and Forlán for Southampton's Gastón Ramírez. Gargano and Ramírez worked in front of Ríos, with Ramírez the more forward-thinking of the pair. Tabárez's other changes were broadly like-for-like. He lost the captain and centre-back Diego Lugano to a knee injury on 30 minutes and replaced him with Giménez.

Best player This will hardly come as an earth-shattering revelation but the bloke in the No9 shirt looked useful. Suárez, on the occasion of his 77th cap, did everything but add to his national-team record goals tally of 39. He rattled the crossbar with a vicious 30-yard free-kick on 22 minutes that had Robert Almer beaten while he was denied one-on-one by the goalkeeper in the second half and narrowly failed to bend another free-kick back inside the near post. Frustrated by repeated fouls in the first half, he worried Austria with his direct running after the break.

Room for improvement When the tide was against them in the first half and Austria threw men forward, Uruguay's central defenders looked vulnerable to pace. Lugano and Diego Godín rely on their reading of the game and their defensive midfielders compressing the space between the lines but Uruguay's World Cup opponents will surely attempt to expose the veteran pair, who have 168 caps between them. Uruguay were not immune to wobbles at the back in the second half, even when they were on top.

England need to be wary of … Uruguay's spirit is indefatigable. They never know when they are beaten and they will fight until the very last. This squad has been together for years and the camaraderie was clear as they bear-hugged and said their goodbyes at Vienna airport, having connected from Klagenfurt on Thursday morning, before going their separate ways. Uruguay have lost only once this season, to Ecuador, and they rallied after the substandard first half and a dressing-room inquest led by Tabárez. On the balance of the play, a winning goal would not have flattered them. David Hytner in Klagenfurt

Costa Rica

Overall performance Costa Rica did the necessary – but not much more – to beat Paraguay 2-1 in San José, with the players who had missed January's friendly back in the squad. The usual suspects Joel Campbell and Álvaro Saborío scored the goals

Tactics Jorge Luis Pinto once again used his favourite formation – 5‑4‑1 – but when the team goes on the attack the basic formation shifts to a 3‑4‑3, because the defensive wingers join the midfield and the central striker gets support of two additional midfielders.

Best player Arsenal's Joel Campbell – on loan at Olympiakos – had a very good game in San José and not just for the great goal he scored. The striker was dominating proceedings and shielded the ball impressively as his good technique made it almost impossible for the defender to take the ball off his feet.

Room for improvement Costa Rica qualified for the World Cup mainly because of their parsimonious defence. On Wednesday it again looked solid but there was a problem with set pieces and the goal they conceded came from a corner. The central midfield can also lack a bit of imagination.

England need to be wary of … Costa Rica's attack will cause problems, whoever is playing in defence for Roy Hodgson. In Bryan Ruiz, Campbell, and Saborío they have players who can provide a spark to trouble the best teams in the world. Leonardo Pandolfo in San José

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