The 2014 World Cup has already completed half of its group-stage matches, and fans haven't been disappointed so far. From crazy upsets and miraculous come-from-behind wins to the defending champions being the first team eliminated, this has to be one of the best tournaments the sport has seen in recent history.
Friday's slate of fixtures promises yet more drama, with several teams fighting to keep their World Cup bids alive and others already looking to qualify for the knockout stages.
Here's all of the Matchday 9 information you need, including full TV and live stream info:
|2014 World Cup Day 9 Schedule|
|Time (BST)||Time (ET)||Home||Away||TV Info||Live Stream|
|5 p.m.||12 p.m.||Italy||Costa Rica||ESPN/BBC1||WatchESPN/BBC iPlayer|
|8 p.m.||3 p.m.||Switzerland||France||ESPN/ITV||WatchESPN/ITV Player|
|11 p.m.||6 p.m.||Honduras||Ecuador||ESPN/ITV||WatchESPN/ITV Player|
Italy v Costa Rica
Raise your hand if you thought these two teams would play for the top spot in Group D in their second fixture. Now, unless you're Costa Rican, put your hand down, you liar.
Costa Rica's 3-1 upset win over Uruguay is why people watch the World Cup—it's irrational, unpredictable and so much fun. The Costa Ricans fought back from a one-goal deficit and took full advantage of Uruguay's inability to deal with deep balls out wide and set pieces.
Unlike La Celeste, the Italians don't often drop formation. They're extremely well organised, and because of their tendency to use a deep playmaker like Andrea Pirlo, it's very hard to catch them over the top.
England's only goal in their 2-1 loss against the Azzurri came on the counter, and that is perhaps Italy's biggest weakness—a lack of pure pace in a back line that is tremendously experienced, but one of the oldest in the tournament.
Costa Rica have no need to attack the ball or use a high press in this match. They can afford to draw the Italians out, knowing a draw would be an excellent result for a team many thought wouldn't even be able to score a goal against the likes of Uruguay.
Cesare Prandelli was very satisfied with how his Italian side played against a younger, quicker England team, as he told football-italia.net:
This was an epic performance, one we will remember for all our lives against a great England side. However, it is absurd that FIFA would not allow time-outs in these conditions. If we want football to be a spectacle, we have to give players the opportunity to give their best.
We do not have players who are good at the one-on-one like England do, so we made the most of our own characteristics, namely the technical quality in short passing.
Andrea Pirlo is a player who brings quality to every corner of the pitch. He has such experience that he can control each zone of the field.
Italy often controlled the game, though we should’ve done better in defence, but we are on the right path. This is the approach we’ll build on.
Prandelli has worked wonders with this Italian team so far, and going up against an underdog who will choose to defend, it'll be interesting to see what kind of tactical plan he has in store.
Switzerland v France
Switzerland underwhelmed in their opening fixture against Ecuador; France looked absolutely dominant against Honduras. It's easy to just assume France will have no trouble handling their neighbours, but things aren't that simple.
The Swiss have France extremely tight in recent years and haven't lost in the teams' three past meetings. Not unlike the Belgians' opener, manager Ottmar Hitzfeld will have found cause for celebration with his team's struggles against Ecuador.
Hitzfeld is a tactical genius, but he's also a skilled motivator. His team's biggest strength, its physical central midfielders, was turned completely inside-out by Ecuador. Valon Behrami and Gokhan Inler will be eager to prove to their coach those struggles were a fluke, and they'll get their chance against the mighty Paul Pogba.
Les Bleus did an excellent job finding space on the ball against Ecuador, and it was the incisive running of the central midfielders that truly made the difference. Against Behrami and Inler, those runs won't come easy, and without such support, the likes of Mathieu Valbuena and Antoine Griezmann will find it harder to dominate.
The Swiss team is one of the few in all of football that can match Les Bleus on a physical level, and unlike Honduras, they won't have to resort to dirty tricks to win the battle in the centre of the pitch.
This match will be a close affair, and don't be surprised if it turns out to be one of the best of the entire tournament. France are still favourites in Group E, but the gap between Les Bleus and the Swiss isn't as wide as you might think.
Honduras v Ecuador
Ecuador's 4-4-1-1 gave Switzerland all sorts of trouble in their first match; expect to see much of the same against a Honduran side that couldn't contain France's excellent play out wide.
The South Americans don't care much for niceties, and they're completely the opposite of the Italians on a tactical level. They play fast and furious, often skip the centre of the pitch altogether and will hammer you out wide until you collapse.
Incredibly enough, it often works. Against Switzerland, Ecuador came within seconds of stealing a point against a team which, on paper at least, should have easily handled La Tri.
Honduras were unable to get anything going against France, in large part thanks to Les Bleus' brilliant play in the centre of the pitch. By winning the ball back quickly, France took away any momentum Honduras might have built, and the Central Americans were forced into kicking long ball after long ball in order to move forward.
Ecuador don't have the kind of ball-winners in the centre of the pitch France have, but they do have the quality out wide to make life miserable on the Hondurans. Expect a similar tactical plan like the one we saw against Switzerland, with more of an emphasis on a fast recovery of the ball.
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