The initial days of the 2014 World Cup provided a few dramatic results and stunning upsets. The members of Group D and Group E stood at the center of that action. With six of those eight teams in action on Day 9 and four of the six having three points in their pockets already, here are full predictions for all three matches, right down to the final score.
|World Cup Game Schedule for Day 9 (June 20)|
|Italy vs. Costa Rica||D||12 p.m.||ESPN||Recife|
|Switzerland vs. France||E||3 p.m.||ESPN||Salvador|
|Honduras vs. Ecuador||E||6 p.m.||ESPN||Curitiba|
|Standing in Groups D and E After Game 1|
|Country (Group)||Win||Loss||Draw||Goal Diff.||Points|
|Costa Rica (D)||1||0||0||2||3|
Italy vs. Costa Rica
Italy square off against Costa Rica with a shot at controlling Group D on the line. The Italians waged a battled against England in their opening match, and a goal from Mario Balotelli lifted them to a 2-1 win and strong position in a very tough Group D.
That victory was rendered even more important in light of Costa Rica's shocking 3-1 upset of Uruguay. Despite a lack of experience on their back line, Costa Rica boasts a quality goalkeeper in Keylor Navas, who plays for Levante in Spain, and their attacking proved more than sufficient against a nation considered sleepers to claim the title.
Costa Rica has tasted World Cup success before, reaching the round of 16 back in 1990. Consistency will be their issue against an experienced squad like Italy. If they can piece together another 90 minutes of stingy, opportunistic soccer, Los Ticos could very well come away with a point or even steal three.
However, Italy are known for their stifling defense, and they continually frustrated the English on the way to a rousing victory. Moreover, they appeared to borrow a page from Spain's 2010 run with a tiki-takaesque display of crisp passing to break down the English defense.
Behind the brilliance of Balotelli and the leadership of veterans like Andrea Pirlo, Italy will seize control of the group with a dominating win against this small Central American nation.
Such a victory would also punch the Italians' tickets for the next stage.
Result: Italy wins 2-0
Switzerland vs. France
After they each claimed three points in their opening matches, France will tangle with their neighbors from Switzerland in the second Group E match.
France hardly faced any resistance in their 3-0 victory over Honduras, out-shooting their opponent 20-4 and not allowing a single corner kick. Karim Benzema scored two goals, which was one more than the number of saves his keeper had to make.
The Swiss edged Ecuador 2-1 and produced a thrilling result as Haris Seferovic netted the deciding goal off a counterattack in the waning seconds of injury time.
Switzerland held the majority of possession and peppered Ecuador's goal with 18 shots, but the score remained knotted until the final minute. Halftime substitute Admir Mehmedi made an immediate impression on the pitch and slotted a header into goal just three minutes after entering the match.
French assistant coach Guy Stephan remarked on the quality of the Swiss team, specifically their passing skills. While the French will exhibit much more attacking that the Swiss faced against Ecuador, the Swiss have the track record to trouble France.
Switzerland enjoyed an unbeaten run through their qualifying and friendly matches, which included a 1-0 victory over Brazil in August helped by a Dani Alves own goal. However, that streak was not without some hiccups, like the 4-4 draw against Iceland in September when Johann Gudmundsson's hat trick erased Switzerland's 3-1 halftime advantage.
It will be a tight match, and look for an unsatisfying draw as both sides play not to lose and produce a safe result.
This will also serve to keep a glimmer of hope alive for whoever claims points in the match between Honduras and Ecuador.
Result: 1-1 draw
Honduras vs. Ecuador
With no points from their first matches, both Honduras and Ecuador will be clawing for their World Cup lives.
After conceding three goals and getting blanked by France, Honduras has a goal-differential problem to worry about as well, but nothing less than three points will suffice for either team with a tougher opponent coming in their final group-stage matches.
Ecuador walked off the pitch stunned after their own injury-time scoring chance disintegrated and rapidly became the winning goal for the Swiss on the other end. Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rueda told Steve Douglas of The Associated Press after the last-gasp loss: “We were naive, and that cost us the game.”
They arrived in Brazil 26th in the FIFA rankings, only seven spots ahead of Honduras.
However, despite the bitter Cup-opening loss, La Tri will be buoyed after playing the sixth-ranked Swiss so closely. Unlike Honduras, who were outplayed in every facet of the game by France, Ecuador held the Swiss level until the last kick from play.
Ecuador will roll over Honduras, though their defense looks leaky enough to concede a goal to Los Catrachos and keep things interesting.
Result: Ecuador wins 2-1