who stands in england’s way next summer

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Uruguay: The first winners of the World Cup and also the nation to upset the hosts the last time the competition was held in Brazil, back in 1950.

After years in the doldrums, they enjoyed a renaissance at the last World Cup, going all the way to the semi-finals thanks to the goals of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, pictured. Buoyed by their success in South Africa, Uruguay won the Copa America the following year.

Forlan has to fight for his place now after the emergence of Edinson Cavani, who joined Paris St Germain from Napoli in a deal worth more than £50m in the summer.

They were the last of the South American teams to qualify for Brazil, needing a play-off against Jordan to book their place.


Italy: One of the powerhouses of world football, the Azzurri are the most successful European team in World Cup history. They have won the competition four times, twice before the Second World War, and then twice in modern times when their domestic game was shrouded in controversy. Their victory in Spain in 1982 was accomplished in the wake of a bribery scandal while their triumph in Germany seven years ago came amid a backdrop of a match-fixing investigation in Serie A.

They have undergone a recent period of transition, but that did not stop them reaching major finals with Cesare Prandelli’s young side fighting all the way to the final of Euro 2012 where they eventually lost to Spain.

Andrea Pirlo, pictured, was the star of Euro 2012, helping dominate England in the quarter-finals before they prevailed on penalties, and then orchestrating the semi-final victory over Germany. Revitalised at club level with Juventus, he is one of the most cultured midfielders of his generation.

Mario Balotelli is the poster boy of a new wave of Italian talent alongside the likes of Riccardo Montolivo and Claudio Marchisio.

Costa Rica: Their last World Cup appearance was in Germany in 2006. They lost all three group games including a memorable opening-match defeat to Germany, which ended 4-2 to the hosts.

Costa Rica didn’t qualify for a World Cup until Italia 1990, but produced fireworks when beating Scotland and Sweden in the group stage before surrendering to Czechoslovakia in the second round.

Bryan Ruiz, a midfielder with Fulham, is one of Costa Rica’s star players.

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