Darke: England in tricky position
England manager Roy Hodgson said his team had been handed a tough task after the World Cup draw pitted them against Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica in Group D -- but stressed that he was staying positive.
• Delaney: Group D predictions
Hodgson and his players face Italy -- who knocked them out of last summer’s European Championship -- in their opening game in the humid northern city of Manaus on June 15.
And the manager, speaking to BBC Sport, said: “It’s a tough group, no doubt about that. With Uruguay and Italy, we’ve almost got two No. 1 seeds, because Italy were very unlucky not to be seeded amongst the first eight. We know how good they are, because we lost to them in the Euros.
“One thing that has worked in our favour to some extent is that the game we’ve got in the north, where it will be tough in terms of the climate, is against another European team -- so we’re both going to be in the same boat.
"If we’d had two games up in the north I think it would have been difficult, so in some ways we have to look at that a positive. There weren’t many scenarios where you’d have been jumping for joy -- there were a lot more scenarios where you thought: ‘This will be tough for us.’
"There’s a lot of travelling in many of the groups, but we only have the one long trip and the other two are relatively short trips.”
Hodgson said there was no doubting the quality of the teams England would be up against, adding: "Even Costa Rica, maybe the least known, are a very, very strong team. Jurgen Klinsmann [the USA coach] was warning me how tough they are after playing them in qualifying.
"I am still very positive about the whole affair, because you never know -- you do not win football matches on paper. You go out on each occasion 11 v 11. If you are well prepared, you have a chance to win all three games.
"I’m not disappointed and in some ways, as I say, having at least two of the three games in an area where the climate will be maybe a bit kinder was one of the things I was hoping for.
"The most important thing is that we’re here. We’ve got an interesting group, with three top-quality opponents. It will be a very interesting experience."
Former England coach, Italian Fabio Capello -- whose Russia side were drawn in Group H -- said: "It will be a very interesting group for England -- they’ve got Italy and Costa Rica. Italy are a good team."
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said he would have been more concerned if his side had been given a straightforward draw.
The Squadra Azzurra face England before meeting Costa Rica. Their final game in Group D comes against Uruguay on June 24 in Belo Horizonte.
"We're not worried," Prandelli said. "I would have been worried had it been an easy group. It's a difficult group, but we'll be ready."
Having already played in the Confederations Cup in Brazil last summer, Prandelli believes his team could have a "slight advantage", but stressed that the heat and humidity would be the 2006 World Cup winners' greatest challenge.
"It's going to be very important to have 23 players in top condition and all available," he said. "It's a joy to play at a World Cup. Our aim is to get through the group stage."
Prandelli said Costa Rica would be Italy's "toughest opponents" because they know little about them. "We're going to be made to sweat," he told RAI television.
But Cesare Maldini, who led Italy to the quarter-finals of the 1998 World Cup in France, believes Costa Rica should be regarded as the weak link.
"I don't know them, but I doubt they can harm us," he told calctionews24.com. "Uruguay have plenty of top players, just think of [Edinson] Cavani and [Luis] Suarez, while England are steeped in history and, in tournaments like this, that can be decisive.
"But I think Costa Rica will finish bottom. We've just got to concentrate on ourselves and not concern ourselves with the others.
"Let's take things one thing at a time and, like I say, not underestimate Uruguay. I hope Italy will show their true quality. If they do that, then we can hope they will go a long way."