World Cup Preview: Loaded Group D Will Hinge on Veteran Leaders, Young Talent

By Jack Williams

This series first appeared in the World Cup Issue of 8by8mag, available now.

Italy: Gianluigi Buffon

gianluigi buffon italy

With more international caps than some people have had hot dinners, Buffon, who has been turning out for Gli Azzurri for 17 years, is now the nation's most capped player. Incorporating both experience and exciting young talent, such as Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy, Italy will be hoping for a good tournament, which, if they were to go all the way, would see captain Buffon become the third keeper to lift the trophy, after Dino Zoff and Iker Casillas.

Costa Rica: Bryan Ruiz

bryan ruiz costa rica

Ruiz's move to Fulham may not have been as productive as some in South West London would have hoped. But since returning to the comforts of the Eredivisie, and joining PSV on loan in January 2014, the strong, floating playmaker has recaptured some of the form that previously made him such a hot property in Europe. The hopes of Costa Rica, pitted in a group that includes England, may lie on Ruiz's tormenting Premiership-based defenders this time around.

Uruguay: Diego Forlán

diego forlan uruguay

Currently making a living with Cerezo Osaka in Japan, Forlán became the first Uruguayan to win 100 caps, in June 2013. The striker's strength, intertwined with Luis Suárez's flamboyance and Edinson Cavani's clinicality, could make the two-time World Cup winners dark horses in a climate where their players are likely to feel most comfortable. Forlán's nation last lifted the Jules Rimet trophy in Brazil in 1950 and are also the Copa America holders.

England: Daniel Sturridge

daniel sturridge england

One of many English-born stars to have shone on Merseyside this season, Sturridge has helped turn Liverpool from Top Four maybes into Premier League title challengers. The striker -- whose pace, directness, and eye for goal have caught Roy Hodgson's attention -- has scored only three senior goals for the national team. However, his club form suggests he could be ready to replace Wayne Rooney as the Three Lions' main man up top.

Group A, Group B, Group C

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