From Ground Zero: The ‘Group of Death’ turns deadlier

Zee Media Bureau/Shobhan Saxena from Rio de Janeiro

When the draw for the World Cup decided that England would play their first game at Manaus, the capital of the Amazon state, the English coach Roy Hodgson and the British press only spoke negatively about the stadium and the city.

So when the referee whistled the start of the game against Italy on Saturday, the home crowd welcomed the English with strong boos. Though for the Brazilians, the game was neutral, but in the end they got the result they wanted: Italy 2, England 1. The Italians triumphed with goals from Balotelli and Marchisio. And the English, despite displaying attacking football, were left to worry about their two remaining matches against Uruguay and Costa Rica.

A the end of the first round of games for Group D, Costa Rica has emerged as the leader because of their 3-1 victory over Uruguay. In this "Group of Death", now there is a real possibility that two world champions may not make it to the next round. But, if the way England played is an indication, they may still surprise Uruguay who are known for playing open, attacking game.

When the Saturday evening classic between Italy and England began, the English attacked the Italian area several times and even had shots aimed at the goal. Raheem Sterling almost put England ahead in the 6th minute when his shot hit the outside of the net. Until Italy opened the scoring in the 34th minute, the English dominated the game with several good chances. But they equalised within two minutes when Sturridge sent a Rooney cross into the Italian goal with just a touch of his right feet. And that was it.

In the second half, Italy showed the football which they didn’t display in the pre-World Cup friendlies. With Pirlo and Balotelli as leading attackers, the Italians raided the English area several times but failed to find their target. But in the end Balotelli found the target with a down header for which English keeper Joe Hart had no defence.

Though the Italian strikers showed their class in the second half, it was the brilliance of Andrea Pirlo that helped them maintain their tempo. But the star player was not happy with the weather conditions. The humidity and the heat of Manaus have been discussed since the day it was announced that England and Italy would face in the Amazonia Arena. As could be expected, the issue resurfaced after the Italian victory.

Really happy with the result, Pirlo criticized the climatic conditions of the city, which ranged between 27 and 31 degrees. "The weather is hellish. Heat remaining to play football but we won. When you win is always alright" he said in an interview.

Without showing any signs of euphoria, the midfielder was modest commenting on the trap that set the first Italian goal, made by Marchisio. "I saw I was marked and let the ball go to my companion, who was able to score," he said.

With this victory, Italy are comfortably placed at the moment but few teams can afford to relax in this Group of Death. With their 3-1 victory over Uruguay, Costa Rica has changed all the equations. The Costa Rican were expected to be the easy meat and whipping boys which would give three points each to their three opponents. But the Central American country of just 4.5 million people staged the biggest shock of this World Cup so far with a 3-1 win over Uruguay.

Costa Rica have never beaten their illustrious opponents in eight previous meetings but what a time to get that first win. And in South America, too. Now, Costa Rica are not in Group D as a vending machine that hands out three points. England and Italy will not want to underestimate this bunch of hardworking fighters.

As for Uruguay, they took it east against the Costa Ricans and paid the ultimate price. They will now need to rush Luis Suarez back for Friday`s meeting with England in Sao Paulo.

Maxi Pereira`s late red card, for a wild hack at Campbell, also means that Uruguay`s first-choice right-back will miss the next two games against England and Italy.

As this group turns deadlier, a sword is hanging over Uruguay.