The complexion of Groups D and E will invariably shift after Thursday's action.
The second match of the group stage is one of the most important. The wrong result and you're World Cup is over before it started—see Spain, Cameroon and Australia. A win, meanwhile, can either put you nearly into the round of 16, or, at the very least, make up for what might have been a lackluster opener.
Day 9 features a little of both, as Switzerland, France, Costa Rica and Italy will be looking to start 2-for-2, while Ecuador and Honduras are hoping for some points in order build momentum after losing their previous matches.
|2014 World Cup Schedule—Day 9|
|12 p.m. ET; 5 p.m. BST||Italy||Costa Rica||ESPN (US); BBC One (UK)|
|3 p.m. ET; 8 p.m. BST||Switzerland||France||ESPN (US); ITV 1 (UK)|
|6 p.m. ET; 11 p.m. BST||Honduras||Ecuador||ESPN (US); ITV 1 (UK)|
Italy vs. Costa Rica
Costa Rica were one of the biggest surprises in the first week of the tournament. Few foresaw their systematic decimation of Uruguay coming. Joel Campbell deserved all the plaudits thrown his way, but lost in the hoopla over the Arsenal forward were the performances at the back of Giancarlo Gonzalez and Oscar Duarte.
They did a great job of nullifying Edinson Cavani's impact on the match.
The problems for Los Ticos are twofold. How will they perform now that they have pressure and expectations on their shoulders? Can they maintain a high level of play if they're chasing Italy the entire match?
The Azzurri weren't at the peak of their powers against England, but Andrea Pirlo was his typical metronomic self in midfield, while Antonio Candreva provided width and service on the right.
Playing in Manaus, Cesare Prandelli couldn't afford to let his team play at a high tempo. Instead, Italy were defensive, plodding and effective.
The handbrake won't be on against Costa Rica.
Switzerland vs. France
This will almost certainly be the match that decides the winner of Group E. Most pegged Switzerland and France to advance the knockout stages, and both delivered in the first round of fixtures. The Swiss needed a late winner from Haris Seferovic to beat Ecuador, but they were three points all the same.
Les Bleus will have their mettle tested in this one.
Their victory against Honduras came much easier after Wilson Palacio's sending-off in the 43rd minute. Still, Bleacher Report's tactical expert Sam Tighe believed the French were among the most impressive sides in the opening week:
Karim Benzema in particular was impressive, nearly missing out on a hat trick. Didier Deschamps has always backed the Real Madrid striker, and that faith is clearly being repaid now. Benzema's re-emergence means that Olivier Giroud is unlikely to get the start against Switzerland.
The one player who will likely decide this match is Blaise Matuidi. The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder will likely be tasked with tracking Xherdan Shaqiri down the flank and shadowing Granit Xhaka in central midfield. Those two players play large roles in Switzerland's attack, so if France can negate them, a win could be on the cards.
Honduras vs. Ecuador
Honduras were one of the most disappointing sides to watch through the first round of fixtures. You can understand why Los Catrachos went with a more defensive style in order to combat the French attack. However, they were content to try and kick the crap out of Les Bleus, with Palacios' foul on Paul Pogba particularly galling:
Palacios' absence against Ecuador will be a tough blow for Honduras. Their midfield will likely be stretched having to deal with Jefferson Montero and Antonio Valencia out wide.
The problem for La Tri will be breaking down what will be a bunkered and organized Honduran defense. One of Ecuador's biggest challenges coming into the tournament was the lack of a central midfield capable of pulling the strings in the attack.
Not having a player like that could cost Ecuador the win in this match.
Group D and E Predictions
The dream won't necessarily end for Costa Rica, but they will come down from their high following the win over Uruguay.
Nothing from Italy's win over England gives you pause. Playing Giorgio Chiellini at left back was a risk, but England had little success down the right flank. Now that the Manaus test is over, the Azzurri can open up a little more and prove why they're a serious contender to win.
Italy should get the better of Costa Rica.
The Group E fixtures should also play to form. France are the better side, and while Switzerland will give them a tough fight, Les Bleus should come through with three-points in a 1-0 or 2-1 win. Meanwhile, Ecuador-Honduras will be a meandering affair with a premium on goal-scoring opportunities.
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