Match Previews: June 19

Match: Colombia vs. Ivory Coast in Brasilia 

What to watch for: Both teams earned three points their in opening Group C matches. Colombia defeated Greece 3-0, and Ivory Coast cameback with two quick second half goals to beat Japan. Colombia played well but got some good fortune early on. A flukey fifth minute goal shocked the Greeks and they never really seemed to recover. Colombia should have another home field advantage with many fans in Brasilia. Ivory Coast gave up a goal in the first half but controlled most of the play against Japan. The 62nd minute introduction of Didier Drogba led to two goals in as many minutes from Wilfried Bony and Gervinho. It’s a not a guarantee Drogba starts in this match but his inspiration should give the Ivory Coast confidence going forward. Ivory Coast has a much better attack than Greece so Colombia’s defense has to play stronger.

Players to watch: Colombia defender Mario Yepes is the oldest non-goalkeeper at the World Cup. The 38-year-old will be challenged by the Ivory Coast striker whether it’s Bony and Drogba. Cheick Tiote is the Ivory Coast holding midfielder that will need to keep an eye on Colombia playmaker James Rodriguez.

Prediction: Colombia 1 (Gutierrez), Ivory Coast 1 (Bony)

I predicted a draw in this match before the tournament and will stick with that pick. Colombia will draw first blood and Ivory Coast will overcome another deficit.

Match: Uruguay vs. England in Sao Paulo 

What to watch for: The health of Luis Suarez is the big story before this match. His offensive wizardry and presence was missed in Uruguay’s loss to Costa Rica. The Liverpool striker targeted to be fit for the England match and he claims he is ready to go. England played well against Italy but fell short. Italy scored two brilliant goals, and it looked like the humidity of Manaus caught up with the Three Lions towards the end of the match. The question in this match is how much Uruguay will improve with Suarez on the field. Their defense and midfield doesn’t match up well against England, so Suarez needs to connect with fellow striker Edison Cavani. England might make a change or two to their starting lineup. Adam Lallana or Ross Barkley could get the nod over Danny Welbeck.

Players to watch: Diego Lugano is out with an injury so Uruguay likely calls on 23-year-old Sebastian Coates to fill in at center back. Coates is a Liverpool player and it is almost a certainty that club teammate Daniel Sturridge will challenge the inexperienced defender. Every major tournament is another chance for the English press to create massive expectations for Wayne Rooney. He has never scored in a World Cup and this game would seem like a perfect time to break his duck in the tournament.

Prediction: Uruguay 2 (Suarez, Cavani), England 2 (Sterling, Rooney)

Both teams need to win so I expect an open match. I think Suarez will look good despite not being in action for over a month. Rooney will finally score but neither side will be satisfied with this result.

Match: Japan vs. Greece in Natal 

What to watch for: Each team are desperate for three points after disappointing losses Saturday. Japan struggled to create chances and were overmatched by Didier Drogba when he entered the game. Keisuke Honda scored a great goal but his teammate Shinji Kagawa struggled. Greece were unlucky early and chased the game for 85 minutes. Theofanis Gekas had a great chance when they were trailing 2-0 that hit the crossbar. You never know how the game would’ve ended if Gekas scored in the second half. Greece had 54 percent of the possession against Colombia and it will be vital for them to continue to have control of the ball. Japan needs better performances from Honda and Kagawa.

Players to watch: Japan full back Atsuto Uchida provided width and crosses for Japan against Ivory Coast. He has the ability to give Greece problems especially if Giorgos Samaras has any defensive responsibility on the wing. Speaking of Samaras, he had a few bright spots against Colombia. He is very inconsistent player but only needs one or two moments to influence a match.

Prediction: Japan 2 (Osako, Honda), Greece 1 (Salpigidis)

I think Japan starts strong and gets two goals early. Greece draws closer in the second half but will run out of ideas late.

 

Photo by Richard Matthews 

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Match Previews: June 18

My opinion on Group B changed after the first round of matches. I think the Netherlands will win the group now and Spain won’t advance to the knock stage. The other game today is Croatia-Cameroon. The scenarios in Group A are complicated after Mexico’s draw against Brazil on Tuesday.

Match: Australia vs. Netherlands in Porto Alegre

What to watch for: The world is still talking about the Netherlands’ performance against Spain. They thoroughly dominated Spain in the second half of their 5-1 win. Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben each score twice and everything seems merry for the Dutch. However, we have seen this story before. The Netherlands have been successful early in major tournaments in the past and then one bad game knocks them out. Australia had a poor start against Chile in their first game but settled in and played well in the last 75 minutes. The Socceroos have their work cut out for them and can’t afford another slow start.

Players to watch: All the talk about Netherlands before the tournament was their three-prong attack of Van Persie, Robben and Wesley Sneijder. I think this is the match where Sneijder scores after watching Van Persie and Robben each record a brace. Australia will need a player other than Tim Cahill to step up if they earn a point. Veteran midfielder Mark Bresciano had a golden chance to equalize against Chile in the second half and will be an important secondary scoring option.

Prediction: Netherlands 3 (Sneijder, Van Persie, de Guzman), Australia 1 (Cahill)

The Dutch continue to roll with an easy victory and expectations will continue to grow for a country still waiting to win their first World Cup.

Match: Spain vs. Chile in Rio de Janeiro 

What to watch for: It will be interesting to see how Spain responds to the blow out loss on Friday. You can count of several lineup changes for Vicente Del Bosque’s side. Look for Pedro, Cesc Fabregas and Javi Martinez to feature. Spain lost their first match when they won the 2010 World Cup. After losing to Switzerland, they defeated Honduras and Chile to finish first in their group. Now they play a Chile team that is better than the 2010 squad and playing in South America. Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal started against Australia but didn’t look fully fit. Vidal playing against the Spain midfield should be an intriguing matchup to watch.

Players to watch: I think Javi Martinez will get the starting nod over Gerard Pique at center back. Pique had an awful game against the Netherlands and Martinez could be a significant upgrade in this situation. Alexis Sanchez remains Chile’s best scoring threat and might have some clear cut chances if Spain tries to offside trap again. Sanchez plays for Barcelona so he plays with or has played against most of the players on Spain.

Prediction: Spain 1 (Pedro), Chile 1 (Sanchez)

Not the result Spain needs especially with the -4 goal differential. Spain has overcome adversity before but I think this Chile team will give them trouble.

Match: Cameroon vs. Croatia in Manaus 

What to watch for: The draw between Brazil and Mexico wasn’t good news for Croatia. They need to get at least a result in this match and then beat Mexico in the last group fixture. Croatia is the more talented team in this match so their focus and fitness will be key in the Manaus humidity. The Croatians played very well in the loss to Brazil and need to build off that match with a solid start. Cameroon did create a few chances against Mexico but struggled for the most part in a 1-0 loss. Cameroon striker Samuel Eto’o might miss the match with a knee injury.

Players to watch: Croatia’s first-choice striker Mario Mandzukic returns from his suspension. Mandzukic is a much better option than Nikic Jelavic. Cameroon midfielder Stephane Mbia is going to have to play well against the Croatia midfield duo of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.

Prediction: Croatia 2 (Perisic, Mandzukic), Cameroon 0

I thought Ivan Perisic and Ivica Olic played very well in wide positions against Brazil. I think the two will link well with Mandzukic and give Cameroon’s defense trouble all evening.

 

Photo by Globovision