Italy v England, 14 June 2014
A formidable opening game, the more so for the energy-sapping Amazon location. Italy have won all three tournament ties with England, at Euro ’80, Italia ’90 (in the third-place play-off) and in Kiev last year when Andrea Pirlo’s “Panenka” helped end England’s Euro 2012 campaign at the quarter-finals. From Gigi Buffon through Giorgio Chiellini, Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi to Mario Balotelli Italy have class and steel. But Roy Hodgson knows calcio well and would settle for a repeat of Kiev’s pre-shoot-out stalemate.
Uruguay v England, 19 June
Uruguay won the World Cup the last time it was in Brazil and, having reached the semi-finals in 2010, will fancy their chances again. With a forward line of Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan, La Celeste have the firepower. Yet Uruguay only qualified through a play-off after a poor campaign and captain Diego Lugano cannot get a game at West Bromwich. They beat England in the 1954 finals and held the hosts at Wembley in 1966. The teams have met once in 18 years, England winning 2-1 at Liverpool in 2006.
Costa Rica v England, 24 June
England have never met Costa Rica but the Central Americans did defeat Scotland in the 1990 finals, the first of three previous finals Los Ticos have attended. Ranked 31 in the world and captained by Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica also feature Everton defender Bryan Oviedo and Joel Campbell (ostensibly an Arsenal player, he has spent his career on loan). Outsiders, but there is talent. Even the tiniest village in Costa Rica has a church, a school and a football pitch. And England lost to the US in Belo Horizonte in 1950.