Several teams are already facing must-win matches from the 2014 World Cup when they take to the pitch on Thursday. The hopes of Japan, Greece, Uruguay and England are as good as over in the case of a loss on Matchday 8.
All four of those teams lost their opening fixture, and with but one match left on the schedule for each following Thursday's slate, a potential three out of nine points in the group stage just won't cut it.
Colombia and Ivory Coast will play for the top spot in Group C, and the winner is all but guaranteed to have an easier path to the finals once the knockout stages begin.
|Time (BST)||Time (ET)||Home||Away|
|5 p.m.||12 p.m.||Colombia||Ivory Coast|
|8 p.m.||3 p.m.||Uruguay||England|
|11 p.m.||6 p.m.||Japan||Greece|
Colombia v Ivory Coast
The Colombians looked very impressive during their 3-0 win over Greece, despite leaving arguably their two best strikers on the bench to start the match. One of Jackson Martinez or Carlos Bacca was expected to start, but instead it was Victor Ibarbo who got the nod on the left wing.
Jose Pekerman's gamble worked to perfection, his mobile attacking unit taking full advantage of Greece's static back line. The 3-0 final score was an accurate reflection of what we saw on the pitch, and Colombia certainly lived up to their reputation of being a dark horse at this World Cup.
Pekerman praised his players after the match, emphasising a positive tactical plan and the fact that his team doesn't have to rely on just one or two options in front of the goal, per Yahoo Sports:
Colombia proved (against Greece) that we have many positive assets.
We can play, we can create good opportunities and we can take them.
All the players did what they were expected to do and that makes us very confident.
The Colombians will need that confidence against an experienced Ivorian team, who overcame a sloppy start and an early 1-0 deficit to beat Japan 2-1.
Ivory Coast looked flat and uninspired during the first half, and they weren't aided by Wilfried Bony's poor performance. The young striker didn't move well and had difficulties holding on to the ball, and his teammates advancing from midfield struggled because of it.
The introduction of Didier Drogba sparked the team back to life, and within minutes, two crosses from Serge Aurier turned the match on its head. A similar tactical plan could be in order against a more physical Colombian defence who completely shut down the Greeks thanks to a wonderful performance from Mario Yepes.
This match's biggest X-factor will be the play of Yaya Toure. The experienced midfielder had a phenomenal 2013-14 season with Manchester City but failed to duplicate that form in Ivory Coast's opener.
His presence in the centre of the pitch will be needed against a superior Colombian side.
Prediction: Colombia wins 2-1.
Uruguay v England
There were plenty of fans and pundits who predicted a Three Lions loss against Italy in their opener, but no one would have expected both these teams to be winless after the first round of fixtures.
Once thought to be one of the tournament's most exciting attacking teams, Uruguay's 4-4-2 was completely overrun by Costa Rica during their 3-1 loss. Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan were isolated up front, and the full-backs made no effort to take advantage of the space between the Costa Ricans' lines.
The good news for La Celeste is the probable return of Luis Suarez, who told reporters he's ready to take on England, as shared by Sky Sports News:
Suarez adds mobility up front playing next to Cavani, but without support arriving from the midfield areas and the full-backs, he won't fare any better than Forlan did.
The Three Lions put together an excellent 90 minutes against 2006 champions Italy, and the 2-1 loss was simply a matter of running into a stronger team. The Azzurri struggled with the runs inside from Raheem Sterling, and it's a tactic Roy Hodgson shouldn't be scared to use against Uruguay's defence.
Gary Cahill did a solid job containing Mario Balotelli, but as the Italian forward demonstrated, a single step in the wrong direction will be punished at this level. The duo of Cavani and Suarez will present more of a challenge for the England defence, and Leighton Baines in particular will have to elevate his game in this match.
Italy's wingers exposed the England defence time and time again in their match, and you can be sure the Uruguayans were watching. Baines and Glen Johnson will need support from their team-mates playing further up the field, or Uruguay's full-backs will just bomb forward and fire in crosses all day.
Prediction: 1-1 draw.
Japan v Greece
Coming into the tournament, Greece looked unimaginative, slow and lacking in form, and those traits were immediately confirmed in their first match against Colombia. In contrast, Japan looked to be in great shape, only to put together their worst 90 minutes of the past year.
The Samurai Blue are a good team who played a bad match—that doesn't mean they're suddenly a bad team. With Alberto Zaccheroni at the helm, the group filled with veteran players won't panic after a single stinker. Yasuhito Endo told FIFA.com that he and his team-mates are looking forward to Greece, not back at Ivory Coast:
On the day of the match everyone was fairly depressed, and I talked to a few different players, said that it's finished, we can't turn back time, we should look forward, get motivated again, and go out and get back to work.
During the first half, Japan's defence did a great job against Ivory Coast, but it was the attacking third where things went wrong. Shinji Kagawa looked lost playing next to Keisuke Honda, while Yuya Osako was nearly invisible playing as a striker.
Expect Zaccheroni to shake things up against Greece and perhaps introduce the highly touted Yoichiro Kakitani to the starting XI. His mobility could be a big asset to the team against the bigger, slower Greeks, who were undone by a similar tactical plan against Colombia.
The Greeks aren't a particularly flashy side—they have two good strikers in Kostas Mitroglou and Georgios Samaras, and they'll ride the both of them as much as they can.
There's no Plan B, and right now, Greece are in dire need of one. Like Colombia, Japan like to press high and dash for the bylines, and while their forwards may not be as clinical as Colombia's, the Samurai Blue know how to score.
Greece play from an organised defence and take whatever the opponents give them, but in need of all three points, they simply can't afford to just sit back and wait. It's time for this team to start moving forward and find some source of creativity—or their World Cup will be over very soon.
Prediction: Japan wins 2-0.