After all the pomp and circumstance and ceremony of the World Cup draw, the 32 nations that qualified finally know what's in store for them come next June's group stage. Italy will be hoping to redeem themselves for their miserable 2010 performance that saw them finish at the bottom of what had looked to be an easy group, and should have a good chance of doing just that.
Italy wound up as the "special" draw from the European pot to balance out the pot oddities, and found themselves drawn in to Pot D alongside Uruguay, England, and Costa Rica. While the group looks tough at first glance, this is a very winnable draw for Italy, and they should easily be on their way through to the elimination rounds once everything is said and done.
The first seed of the group, Uruguay is still living off the glory of a stunning 2010 World Cup campaign and impressive win in the 2011 Copa América, but things haven't been so rosy for the South Americans since then. The team coached by Óscar Tabárez was largely dire through qualification, and really the entire last two years have been a mixed bag for them at best. They have tremendous attacking talent in Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, which gives them probably the best striking pair in the tournament, but just getting them the ball has proved to be a challenge for Uruguay at times in qualifying play.
Still, Uruguay has a good team when they get themselves on the same page, and if they can get even a little bit more creativity from their midfield, they could be a force once June comes around. They have shown some sign in the last few months that they're coming out of their tailspin, and you can never count out a team with that attacking talent.
When the draw's not even an hour done and your country's manager is already making excuses as to why his team might not advance, it's generally a bad sign of things to come. But that's exactly what Roy Hodgson was doing, and it was clear from the moment their name was called that this was going to be a rough draw for England. While England topped their qualification group with an impressive 31 goals in 10 matches, their toughest opponent was the Ukraine, and there won't be any San Marino or Moldova-quality teams for them to beat up on this time around.
In his 19 months in charge of the Three Lions, Hodgson still hasn't figured out how to put together a functioning midfield, and many of his more important players are aging, prone to injury, and suffer from long fits of poor form. When faced with the prospect of Uruguay and Italy, this English team just isn't good enough to advance, barring a minor miracle or a complete breakdown.
The minnows of the group, Costa Rica had an impressive CONCACAF qualification campaign, but they probably aren't really ready for the big stage of the World Cup just yet. Their best players are still young, and while they're an exciting team on the rise, they just don't have the chops yet to hang with three of the bigger sides in the international game. Still, this should be a good learning experience for them, and should give them a good platform to build on for the 2018 edition of the World Cup.
From Italy's perspective, there's a lot of reason for optimism. Their first two matches of the tournament, against England and Uruguay, won't be easy, but they should be able to win at least one of those and likely draw the other, and closing the group stage against Costa Rica gives them a good landing. Finishing the group stage with six or seven points would put them in a strong position and possibly even allow them to finish atop the group.
The Italy squad is shaping up to be one of the strongest in some time, and to not see them advance deep in to this World Cup would be a grave disappointment, especially after the failure of the 2010 squad. Fortunately, the draw should allow them to at least get in to the round of 16, if not further. This will be a fun one to watch for fans of Italy everywhere.