World Cup: Costa Rica Represents Italy's Most Challenging Opponent

By Riccardo Di Julio
Daniele De Rossi
Witters Sport-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier today, the 32 teams that will participate in the next World Cup finally found out in which group they will be competing in Brazil. The outcome of the draws is an authentic mix of several hard groups with others that simply do not reflect the level of such a prestigious tournament.

While Group D will be presenting three teams that have won the title in the past, such as Italy, Uruguay and England,Group H consists of four teams that have extremely poor history in the competition, like Belgium, South Korea, Algeria and Russia. Moreover, the fact that the two South Africa 2010 finalists, Spain and Holland, will be facing each other in the group stage also shows that FIFA determined the groups with the wrong system.

Regarding the Italian national team, the opponents are the two aforementioned Uruguay and England, in addition to the small Costa Rica. Due to the fact that the Azzurri was moved to the Pot 4 for the draws, it is the first time since the 1978 World Cup that Italy is required to face such a difficult group like this one. Of course, that World Cup in Argentina was the last time until today that Italy was not top-seeded in the competitions draws.

The results of that World Cup of 35 years ago were absolutely positive, as the Azzurri reached semifinals and placed fourth in the competition. Four years later, that same group of young players, who performed so well in Argentina, ended up winning the trophy in Spain. For Italy, then, the hope is to see history repeating itself for the next adventures in Brazil and Russia in 2018.

As of the group, it would be fair to think that both Uruguay and England represent the most challenging opponents for Italy, considering both their history and the high level of their players. As a matter of fact, there is no doubt that, in the technical aspect, these two teams represent a much bigger threat than Costa Rica.

However, by knowing the unique history and spirit of Italian soccer, the irony of the destiny potentially places the Latin American country as the most challenging opponent for the Azzurri in the group stage. Just like what was said by boss Cesare Prandelli moments after the draws, the Costa Rica clash will be the most intriguing match, especially considering that it’s a nation that is hardly known to the Italian players.

Moreover, it has been demonstrated multiple times that Italy has always struggled more than expected with the teams that are not considered very competitive by the media. On the contrary, when facing the so-called giants, the Azzurri have almost always given their best. The best examples are all included in the 1982 World Cup journey: three ties with Cameroon, Poland and Peru in the group stage, to then heroically beat Argentina and Brazil in the playoffs.

Especially if Italy will be able to get a good result against England in the first game, the biggest fear will be lacking attention for the second match against Costa Rica and losing valuable points to qualify. As a result, Italy will be forced to win against the strong Uruguay. In short, only unexpected surprises can prevent the soccer world from seeing Italy playing the same movie as always.

Riccardo Di Julio is a Soccer Writer for Follow him on Twitter @Italcatenaccio and add him to your network on Google.

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