Two more teams can punch their tickets into the knockout stage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup with a victory on Friday.
Control of both Group D and Group E hang in the balance with winners from the opening fixtures facing off to see who leaves Day 9 with sole possession of first place. Should either matchup of Italy vs. Costa Rica and Switzerland vs. France end with someone earning three points, the winner will essentially lock down a spot past group play.
Honduras and Ecuador are even more desperate to snatch a victory, as anything less will leave their days in Brazil numbered. Here's a look at the updated standings and predictions heading into Day 9.
|4||Bosnia and Herzegovina||0||-1||1||0||0||1|
|Italy vs. Costa Rica||12 p.m.||ESPN|
|Switzerland vs. France||3 p.m.||ESPN|
|Honduras vs. Ecuador||6 p.m.||ESPN|
Note: All odds are courtesy of Odds Shark.
Italy vs. Costa Rica
Odds: Italy -186, Costa Rica +673, Draw +318
Costa Rica was not expected to be fighting for Group D supremacy heading into the tournament, but a surprising 3-1 victory over Uruguay puts them on even footing with Italy in the point column.
According to Azzurri midfielder Daniele De Rossi, Costa Rica's fiery start is actually a good thing for the 2006 World Cup champions. As he told the Associated Press' Andrew Dampf, via the Miami Herald, the upset eliminated the chances of complacency sinking in after Italy's pivotal victory over England.
"That alarm bell could be an advantage for us," De Rossi said. "It should help us enter prepared like we did against England. If they had lost 3-0 or 4-0 to Uruguay maybe we wouldn't. But now I'm sure that won't happen."
If Costa Rica's emergence is for real, this group becomes the World Cup's deadliest quadrant. Two potent squads are going to get knocked out early, but don't count on Italy being one of them.
Another strong effort from Mario Balotelli, who has scored eight goals in his last 12 matches for Italy, should vault them to another victory in a high-tempo, high-scoring affair that shouldn't leave Costa Rica too discouraged. Win, lose or draw, they'll stay alive leading into their final group stage match against England.
Prediction: Italy 3, Costa Rica 2
Switzerland vs. France
Odds: France -118, Switzerland +389, Draw +266
Both sides of this clash also enter with a prime opportunity to take a stranglehold over their group. France holds three points after topping Honduras in a 3-0 shootout, and a late header from Haris Seferovic saved Switzerland from drawing Ecuador.
Who will win the France vs. Switzerland matchup?
A win for the Swiss would break a long-lasting drought against the French. Per The Independent's Scott Delhommer, Switzerland has not defeated France since winning an international friendly in 1992. Yet this is a different squad, one that went undefeated through 10 qualifying matches while surrendering a mere six goals.
While Les Bleus dominated an overmatched Honduras, Switzerland's strict defense is a much different animal. Then again, Switzerland would still be searching for a win with a shorter extra time, so their good fortune is unlikely to persist and grant them another three points.
Both sides look to control possession, and both are likely to employ a conservative approach with a draw serving each of them well enough in Group E.
Prediction: Switzerland 1, France 1
Honduras vs. Ecuador
Odds: Ecuador -143, Honduras +465, Draw +296
Honduras and Ecuador are both well entrenched into desperation mode. This match, depending on Switzerland vs. France's outcome, could possibly lead to one club's official elimination.
In a strange twist, both managers are looking to take down an old club. Honduras manager Luis Fernando Suarez led Ecuador to their best World Cup finish in 2006, and Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rueda oversaw Honduras' 2010 World Cup squad.
“I had great times in Honduras, but now I’m here and as always I must go for the win,” Rueda said in a Reuters report, via The Guardian. “Honduras are a great team, we all know their ability. They didn’t start well but they want and they need to win as much as we do.”
While Ecuador played Switzerland evenly for 90 minutes before conceding the late winner, Honduras played most of their match without Wilson Palacios after his red card. That makes it tough to jump to conclusions for either winless squad.
In 13 head-to-head matches, the two sides have produced eight draws. With a lack of star offensive power on either side, expect another one in one of this year's few scoreless stalemates.
Prediction: Honduras 0, Ecuador 0