World Cup: Weekend guide

Your guide to all the weekend’s World Cup action

World Cup: Weekend guide

TODAY

Group C: Colombia v Greece (Belo Horizonte, 5pm)

The absence of the mercurial Radamel Falcao from the Colombian squad is quite the blow to Jose Pekerman’s team but, 16 years on from their last appearance in the finals, the draw has been relatively kind and they have a good chance of progressing from, perhaps, the most open of the groups, with four teams who approach the game in four very different ways. Greece have a poor record at the Copa Mundial — failing to score in 1994 and bowing out with just one win four years ago — but progression to the second round would be considered a success. Their coach, Fernando Santos, an easygoing sort who has had a four-year love-in with the Greek media, has been on the record since the day the draw was made, saying Colombia are the favourites to finish top but will equally be aware avoiding defeat is required if they are to advance.

Verdict: Colombia

Group D: Uruguay v Costa Rica (Fort Aleza, 8pm)

It is bordering on cliche, but Uruguay’s history in this tournament gives la Celeste an additional swagger. The captain, Diego Lugano, of West Brom infamy, has spoken of the squad being ‘obliged’ to perform well in Brazil, the scene of their victory in 1950, but much will depend on how Luis Suárez performs with his dodgy knee. They should not have too much trouble swatting aside Costa Rica and then being able to watch on as Italy and England duke it out afterwards happy in the knowledge that they will have an advantage over one, if not both, with three points already tucked away. Jorge Luis Pinto has warned that his Costa Rica team should not be underestimated, and while Arsenal’s Joel Campbell promises much, it would be hard to see them making too big a dent in their more-fancied oppositions’ aspirations.

Verdict: Uruguay

England v Italy (Manaus, 11pm)

Hopes are at their lowest point in 50 years across the channel. One notoriously cut-throat tabloid has reined the usual bluster in so much that their catchline is merely for England to ‘do us proud, boys’. They are another who would consider a place in the last 16 a success but so much will depend on avoiding defeat in this opening fixture. Win and the hype-o-meter will kickstart, draw and they will have a very good chance. Defeat would be disastrous. Yet this Italy team, as Ireland found out at Craven Cottage last month, are not a vintage edition. Andrea Pirlo, man of the match when they met at Euro 2012, remains irrepressible in midfield and Mario Balotelli is capable of anything but England’s younger players will be a much different test to two years ago and could exceed what is expected of them. It will be fascinating.

Verdict: Draw

TOMORROW

GROUP C: Ivory Coast v Japan (Recife, 2am) Ready yourself for goals in this one, maybe enough to justify staying up at such an ungodly hour to watch two sides who, let’s face it, are not going to be challenging the big hitters. If Japan are any bit as exciting as they were in last summer’s Confederations Cup (remember that game against Italy?) then they will be a great watch. Ivory Coast have lots of attacking prowess (see Yaya Touré) but little in the way of a defensive barricade (see Kolo Touré). Both are likely to line up with three up front and while plenty of excitement is likely, it’s tough to predict a result. Draw

GROUP E: Switzerland v Ecuador (Brasilia, 5pm) You know the contrary sort who like to make alternative choices, those who like to stand out from the crowd? Well they are all rooting for Switzerland in this World Cup. They could capture the imagination a la North Korea’s in Middlesbrough in 1966. The core of the team is made up of sons of immigrants, with plenty of the 2009 U17 World Cup winners involved. They are attack-minded, exciting and Xherdan Shaqiri could be the player that explodes in this tournament. They should be too good for Ecuador in this one, who rely on the Valencias, Enner and Antonio (no relation) for much of their attacking threat. Switzerland

France v Honduras (Porto Alegre, 8pm) It’s hard to know what to expect from les bleus in this tournament. They have a favourable draw but are without two of their greatest attacking threats — Franck Ribery is injured, Samir Nasri was left at home due to in-fighting. They have impressed greatly in their warm-up games and Karim Benzema appears to be in the mood but there is a lingering sense that it could all fall apart in a single moment. In their opening game, Honduras should be cannon fodder but, as demonstrated against England in Miami last Saturday, they are not afraid to get stuck in. It won’t take much for them to improve on their last showing in the World Cup, when they failed to score, but when Wilson Palacios and Roger Espinoza are your household names, you’re not going to expect a result against France. France

GROUP E: Argentina v Bosnia-Herzegovina (Rio de Janeiro, 11pm)

Will this be Lionel Messi’s World Cup? Such pressure has been leveled at his wizarding feet that he has been vomiting before games due to anxiety, though it hasn’t yet appeared to affect his performance. He will never be held in similar regard to Diego Maradona at home, according to some, but there is an urgency for him to perform here if he really is to join the pantheon of all-time greats. Luckily for him, Argentina have a nice opening game and a soft group. It’s a landmark moment for Bosnia-Herzegovina — 22 years after becoming independent as a nation, they have reached the greatest sporting stage — but they rely too much on Edin Dzeko and this will likely be a good chance for one of the favourites to lay out their stall at the earliest opportunity. Argentina

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