The two favourites in Group E will go head-to-head for the right to avoid probable knockout-stage opponents Argentina on Friday, the second of three total fixtures on Matchday 9 of the 2014 World Cup.
France and Switzerland both won their opening fixtures, and the winner of Friday's match will most likely end the group stages as winners of Group E. Ecuador and Honduras still have a chance at progressing to the next round but a loss on Friday will all but guarantee elimination.
The first match of the day will see Costa Rica take on Italy, and while the 2006 champions should be heavy favourites going into that match, the Central Americans proved to the world they're not to be taken lightly with their surprising 3-1 win over Uruguay.
Here's the full schedule for all of Friday's matches.
|Time (BST)||Time (ET)||Home||Away|
|5 p.m.||12 p.m.||Italy||Costa Rica|
|8 p.m.||3 p.m.||Switzerland||France|
|11 p.m.||6 p.m.||Honduras||Ecuador|
Italy's Play Out Wide Will Make The Difference Against Costa Rica
The Costa Rican win over Uruguay was one of the most exciting moments of the opening round of this year's World Cup. No one expected the team to do much in this tournament, let alone beat one of the teams many expected to make a serious run at the title.
Everyone remembers Joel Campbell's heroics, and Costa Rica deserve every bit of credit they've received for fighting back against La Celeste, turning a one-goal deficit into a convincing win.
What people shouldn't forget, however, is that Uruguay lost that match as much as Costa Rica won it. The South Americans' play out wide was disastrous, and without timely runs coming from the back, the attacking duo of Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan were completely isolated.
The Italians don't make tactical mistakes like that, and as we saw in their 2-1 win over England, winger Antonio Candreva is in the form of his life. With Andrea Pirlo's continued excellence on the ball in the centre of the pitch, defences are forced to concede space in other areas.
According to 8 Fact Football, the Azzurri's passing was truly phenomenal:
93.2% - Italy's passing accuracy vs England is the highest ever recorded in a World Cup game since 1966.— 8 Fact Football (@8Fact_Footballl) June 15, 2014
The Italians define the word "team" on this level. They don't rely on the individual brilliance of players like Cavani and Forlan, who were neutralized beautifully by the Costa Ricans. Instead, they will let the ball do the work, and with space available out wide, it'll be the difference against a feisty Costa Rican squad.
France Will Struggle Against Switzerland
I've been pointing at Les Bleus as perhaps the most underestimated side in this tournament for months now, and their 3-0 win over Honduras did nothing to change my mind.
The French are talented, physical, fast and deadly efficient. There are few weak links in the starting XI, and manager Didier Deschamps has a strong and versatile bench to work with as well.
Deschamps has turned this team around following the dreadful showing in South Africa four years ago, and the victory over Honduras was understandably satisfying, as he said after the match, per FIFA.com:
We've had good times during our preparation, but this is competition. Winning today is a very good start.
We will enjoy this victory, a 3-0 win in the World Cup, because it's never easy. We were patient. We had our chances and hit the bar twice in the first period. We did well. Pleasure is total in football when there is victory.
The Swiss are no slouches, however, and while Ottmar Hitzfeld's team may not be as talented as Les Bleus, the gap isn't that wide. More importantly, the two sides have built somewhat a rivalry in recent years and such emotions only add to what will already be a great match.
Per Footballzz, France have been unable to overcome the Swiss team in their last three meetings, including one of the most exciting 0-0 draws the sport has seen in the last decade, during the 2006 World Cup.
This Switzerland team is far better than the one that played Les Bleus in 2006, and following their underwhelming performance against Ecuador, Hitzfeld will have his players ready.
Unlike Honduras, Switzerland have the ability to limit space without getting overly physical, and they boast a lot more quality in the centre of the pitch. They can be deadly on the counter, but they won't just dig themselves in against a strong French team.
People expecting another routine win for Les Bleus could be in for a rude awakening—this match will be anything but routine.
Honduras And Ecuador Won't Set A New Record For Cards In A Match
Fans already looking forward to another 2006 Portugal v the Netherlands spectacle will be disappointed, but it's unlikely these two physical teams will allow this match to get out of hand.
You need several things to turn an ordinary match into a complete bloodbath, including a real instigator and high stakes. Wilson Palacios will be suspended for this one, and in all likelihood, neither team will be progressing to the next round.
Ecuador will look for a goal early, and the longer it takes for the South Americans to score, the more physical this match will get. But after Palacios' complete meltdown against France, Luis Fernando Suarez won't allow his players to go over the edge again.
The same goes for Ecuador, who know they'll still need a result against France in their next match and simply can't afford to lose one or two players to suspension.
An early incident could turn this match on its head, but it's just not likely.