This day is a soccer fan’s dream. Four games that will start at 11 a.m. central time and end at around 10 p.m. The 11 hours of fun starts with the Group C match between Colombia and Greece. Then the highly anticipated Group D starts with the second and third matches of the day. The late game is the Group C tilt between Ivory Coast and Greece.
Match: Colombia vs. Greece in Belo Horizonte
Results in “similar” pre-World Cup friendlies: Colombia didn’t play a European team in 2014, and played their most recent friendlies in Buenos Aires. Greece defeated Bolivia 2-1 in New Jersey on June 6.
What to watch for: Colombia was a legitimate World Cup dark horse before star striker Radamel Falcao was ruled out of the tournament with a knee injury. Colombia still have the attacking options to get out of their group but their ceiling to make a deep run in the tournament is lower without Falcao. Greece isn’t the most impressive team on paper but they play a defensive system that has worked in past major tournaments.
Players to watch: James Rodriguez, Falcao’s club teammate at Monaco, will be the playmaker for this Colombia side. The 22-year-old will see early pressure from the Greek defense. We know what we will get from Greece’s defense so their offense will need to step up if they get through. Dimitris Salpingidis changed the Greek side when he played during Euro 2012 and makes their attack somewhat dangerous.
Prediction: Colombia 2 (Rodriguez, Martinez), Greece 0
Colombia will have no issues in this game and have a huge advantage in possession. Rodriguez will score first and Jackson Martinez will score in the second half whether he starts or comes on as a substitute.
Match: Uruguay vs. Costa Rica in Fortaleza
Results in “similar” pre-World Cup friendlies: Uruguay didn’t play a CONCACAF team before the World Cup. Costa Rica played Paraguay on March 5 and won 2-1.. They played their June friendlies in the USA including one in warm Tampa Bay against Japan where they lost 3-1.
What to watch for: Unfortunately the early headlines of this tournament have been the injuries. Uruguay is hoping that Luis Suarez is fit after a knee procedure last month. Reports are saying he is fit and they will rest him for this match so he is ready for the second group game against England. Uruguay should still beat Costa Rica without Suarez because of attacking options like Edison Cavani and Diego Forlan. Costa Rica will play defensively and hope to counterattack with 21-year-old striker Joel Campbell.
Players to watch: Cavani will be the player to watch here if Suarez is indeed out. Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz will need to help the young Campbell in the counter attack if Costa Rica has a chance.
Prediction: Uruguay 1 (Cavani), Costa Rica 0
Costa Rica’s will defend diligently but concede a goal to Cavani. Uruguay will struggle without Suarez.
Match: England vs. Italy in Manaus
Results in “similar” pre-World Cup friendlies: England prepared for the conditions of hot and humid Manaus with two friendlies in Miami. They drew Ecuador 2-2 and had a scoreless stalemate against Honduras. Italy played Ireland to a 0-0 draw in London and drew Luxembourg 1-1 in Italy on June 4. They didn’t play a team similar to England or in conditions like Manaus.
What to watch for: This is one of the most anticipated group matches of the tournament. However, I fear that both teams will play very defensively in the humidity of Manaus. They met in the Euro 2012 quarterfinals and played 120 minutes of scoreless soccer before Italy advanced on penalty kicks. England has a few young players that bring more excitement to this squad. Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley have bright futures for the Three Lions. Italy always starts a tournament slowly so a draw against England might be considered a success.
Players to watch: Italy have two great central midfielders in Andrea Pirlo and Daniel De Rossi. England midfielder Steven Gerrard is an experienced player but has lost a step. Gerrard’s Liverpool teammate Jordan Henderson is England’s player to watch this game. He had a career season at Anfield and will need to play well to keep England organized. The player to watch for Italy is by far Mario Balotelli because you never know what to expect from him. He has the ability to score multiple goals in a match or he can throw a tantrum on the field and get a red card. He used to play for Manchester City so he has faced many of England’s players in the past.
Prediction: England 0, Italy 0
Hope this doesn’t happen but fear it will.
Match: Ivory Coast vs. Japan in Recife
Results in “similar” pre-World Cup friendlies: Ivory Coast didn’t play an Asian team in friendlies but did play a match in Houston. They defeated El Salvador 2-1 in a warm climate, which could be similar to the weather in Recife. Japan played two friendlies in warm Tampa Bay, Florida. They defeated Costa Rica 3-1 and beat African-side Zambia 4-3.
What to watch for: Ivory Coast and Japan have two very different styles. Ivory Coast have a lot of big, physical players that are strong up front. Japan is a physically small team that are great passers in the midfield and their fullbacks are talented players that join the attack. This could be the recipe for a high scoring game. One thing to note is that Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure has an injury and might not be fit for this match.
Players to watch: I’ll give two players to watch for each team. Up front, Didier Drogba and Gervinho have played well together in friendlies. Their success will be vital especially if Toure is hobbled or absent. Japan’s two attacking midfielders are Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa. Honda was a breakout player at the 2010 World Cup. Kagawa struggled to find playing time at Manchester United this season but will be fresh for this tournament.
Prediction: Ivory Coast 2 (Kalou, Gervinho), Japan (Honda, Okazaki)
After three low scoring games, this will be the match where there will be a lot of goals.