Several teams are already facing make-or-break matches as we head into Thursday's slate of fixtures at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, promising even more drama and fireworks in what has already been a spectacular tournament.
Uruguay and England will be battling to keep their 2014 World Cup bids alive, as will Japan and Greece. Colombia and Ivory Coast lead Group C, and the winners of that match will almost certainly advance to the knockout stages.
Oddsmakers are rating all three matches as close affairs, so punters will need every ounce of their football knowledge to score some big winnings on Thursday. Here's the list of all three fixtures, including game lines per Odds Shark:
|Kickoff Time (BST)||Result||Game Lines|
|5 p.m.||Ivory Coast||+269|
Colombia's Defence Will Beat Ivory Coast
The words "Colombia" and "defence" usually don't appear in the same sentence, with Jose Pekerman favouring a direct attacking approach and fresh, entertaining football.
But lost in the offensive onslaught the team put together against Greece was the fact their defence actually performed pretty well. Mario Yepes in particular was excellent, completely shutting down the Greek attacks before they even started.
Ivory Coast aren't Greece, and they present the Colombians with an entirely different challenge in midfield and attack. Wilfried Bony's movement against Japan wasn't great, but with Didier Drogba and Gervinho, the Ivorians have the opportunity to put a lot of bodies in the box.
Their finishing was wasteful against Japan, however, and it nearly cost them the match. Per EPL Index, Ivory Coast took 21 shots at the Japanese goal and only hit the target five times.
On this level, those numbers are atrocious, and against a team as talented as Colombia, defeat is all but guaranteed if the team's strikers can't figure out a way to take smarter shots.
And that's where the Colombian defence comes in. With a strong high press, mobile full-backs and the influence of Yepes, chances are the Ivorians will be forced into bad looks on goal all match long.
Uruguay's Luis Suarez Concerns Will Cost Them—Again
Uruguay aren't dependent on Suarez. They haven't been in recent years, even when the striker was at his very best, and they aren't right now. But following his superb 2013-14 season with Liverpool, La Celeste have allowed the concerns over their striker to cloud their entire preparation.
Costa Rica wasn't supposed to be a challenge for the team, and under normal circumstances, they wouldn't have been. But with so much commotion surrounding Suarez's availability, manager Oscar Tabarez seemingly forgot to actually instruct his players on how to play in his absence.
Suarez's movement off the ball is exceptional, and too often, his teams rely on a moment of brilliance to make the difference. Against Costa Rica, Uruguay's movement was absolutely dreadful.
The full-backs offered no support further up the pitch, there was no connection between the midfield and the front two of Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan and the multitude of long balls La Celeste plays failed to miss their target nearly every single time.
These are the issues Uruguay need to address, but judging by Tabarez's pre-match comments, that isn't happening. Per FIFA.com, he said his team "didn't play badly" in the first game and refused to comment on Suarez's availability:
"We did not play badly in the first game. But we were hurt by the Costa Rica goals. We could not impose our strategy on the game."
And there's the issue—Uruguay did play badly, and it's time to accept that and move on. Suarez may or may not start against England, and in case he doesn't, Uruguay need to be ready. They were far from it against Costa Rica, and it cost them. England are a far better team than Costa Rica, and it looks like Tabarez is making the same mistake.
Greece Won't Solve Their Identity Crisis
How did Greece win Euro 2004 again? Let me refresh your memory—they defended expertly, were deadly on set pieces and counter-attacks and took whatever their opponents gave them.
The Italians call it Catenaccio, and when it's used properly, it can be one of the most lethal tactics in all of football. But Catenaccio and "parking the bus" aren't the same thing, and the Greeks seem to have forgotten that.
Their matches in preparation for the tournament were poor, and the 3-0 loss to Colombia confirmed one thing—Greece has forgotten how to play their own system. There is a total lack of creativity in the midfield, no movement forward from the full-backs and a general lack of pace out wide.
Without the threat of the counter, Catenaccio is essentially waiting for the other team to score. Without a solid presence at the full-back position (think Giacinto Facchetti, the best to ever play in a Catenaccio-based system), Colombia easily found the back-line and were able to exploit Greece's lack of mobility in the centre.
Japan use a very similar system when attacking teams who defend with 10 men behind the ball, and without a true class striker, they'll attempt to reach that back-line even more.
The Samurai Blue looked terrible in their opening game, but unlike Greece, Alberto Zaccheroni has a Plan B. Greece are in deep trouble in Group C, and it doesn't look like they can find a way out.