The first seven days of the 2014 World Cup have undoubtedly been thrilling. Defending champion Spain have been eliminated, Brazil have looked a bit vulnerable and both Netherlands and Germany have been mighty impressive.
The eighth day of the group stage features some interesting storylines. In Group C, Colombia and Ivory Coast are in good shape after winning their openers, while Japan and Greece desperately need a win to stay alive. In Group D, both Uruguay and England suffered surprising loses and thus need a positive result on Thursday.
Let’s take a look at how the three matches may unfold.
Colombia vs. Ivory Coast, Noon ET, ESPN
Colombia and Ivory Coast—the top two teams in Group C—each enter the match coming off a victory. A win for either team will very likely result in advancement to the knockout stage, so this game provides a golden opportunity that only one team will be able to take advantage of.
The Colombians won their first match in impressive form, defeating Greece 3-0. But Colombia will be without striker Carlos Bacca, who suffered an injury while training on Sunday, according to a statement from the federation via ESPNFC.com:
"Following the tests done by Colombia's medical team, led by Doctor Carlos Ulloa, it has been determined that player Carlos Bacca has suffered a first degree muscle strain and will require a period of treatment from seven to 10 days."
Meanwhile, Ivory Coast enter Thursday’s match a bit battle-tested after rallying to defeat Japan 2-1. Ivory Coast found themselves trailing after an early goal by Keisuke Honda, but the team came back to score two goals in less than two minutes, thanks to Wilfried Bony and Gervinho’s ability to find the net.
Both sides boast impressive offenses and leaky defenses. Expect this match to be a high-scoring affair, with Ivory Coast scoring a late goal to win.
Prediction: 3-2 Ivory Coast
Uruguay vs. England, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN
Uruguay and England were both defeated in their first World Cup contests of 2014, which puts the pressure on each club to come away with a victory on Thursday. A draw won’t do either team much good, so a victory is essential if either team hopes to advance.
Uruguay have a formidable attack in Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez. However, Suarez was resigned to the bench in the opener against Costa Rica, as a knee injury kept him from participating. Cavani found the net in the 24th minute on a penalty kick to give his team an early 1-0 lead, but Uruguay’s defense wasn’t sound enough in the second half, conceding three goals in a 3-1 defeat.
Fortunately for Uruguay, coach Oscar Tabarez says Suarez will be available for their match with England, even if he may not be fully fit, per Owen Gibson of The Guardian: "If he plays we must consider the possibility that he’s not as well as he was during the Premier League. Even when not 100% he is someone who can give a lot to his team. That’s what we’re considering right now."
Suarez is an extremely dangerous striker who can score at a moment’s notice. Last season for Liverpool, he scored 31 goals in 33 games and won both the PFA Player of the Year award and the Premier League Golden Boot.
Which Thursday match are you most looking forward to?
Like Uruguay, England are 0-1 to start the World Cup. Despite outshooting Italy 18-8 overall and 8-5 on shots on goal, England lost 2-1. Down 1-0 early, England responded with a quick goal to tie the game, but Italian star Mario Balotelli won the match with his goal in the 50th minute.
Wayne Rooney will need to play better for England to win on Thursday. The star Manchester United forward had an assist against Italy, but not one of his three shots were on target.
Suarez’s return can’t be understated. Not only is he creative enough to single-handedly alter the outcome of a match, but his presence alone can also boost the confidence and performance of his team-mates. Uruguay are too talented to bow out of the group stage without a fight, so expect the attack to be on point and net three goals, including a game-winner by Suarez.
Prediction: 3-1 Uruguay
Japan vs. Greece, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN
Both Japan and Greece lost their openers and are in dire need of a victory. A win will keep either team alive, a loss will result in elimination, while a draw will probably lead to both teams missing out on the knockout stage. In other words, there is a lot on the line for this match.
Japan enter Thursday a bit deflated after leading Ivory Coast through two-thirds of the match, only to see their opponent score back-to-back goals in less than two minutes to send the Japanese off with a 2-1 defeat.
Greece, a defensive team by nature, were thoroughly exposed by Colombia, conceding three goals in a 3-0 loss.
If Greece can score early and rely on their defense to prevent Honda from finding the net, they will give themselves a great chance to win. But I expect Japan to be aggressive in their attack and net two goals, which will be too much offense for Greece to overcome.
Prediction: 2-1 Japan
Follow Jesse Clark on Twitter: