With all the excitement, thrills and instant-classic matches that the World Cup has already produced, it almost feels like the tournament will be over soon. Amazingly, though, we aren't even halfway done.
However, while there are still 41 matches to be played in the entire tournament—41! Thank you for being amazing, World Cup—some of the groups are beginning to take shape.
Netherlands, Chile and Colombia have already booked their spots in the knockout stages, while Cameroon, Australia and Spain (which of these is not like the other?) have all officially been eliminated. Moreover, as the statistical gurus at Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight.com noted, England are all but out:
With Matchday 8 in the books, let's take a gander at the updated tables, as well as a look forward to Friday's crucial action that features four opening-match winners.
World Cup 2014 Standings
|4||Bosnia and Herzegovina||0||-1||1||0||0||1||1||2|
FIFA.com; As of June 19 matches
Matchday 9 Fixtures
|Group||Matchup||Local Time||Time (ET)||Time (BST)|
|D||Italy vs. Costa Rica||1 p.m.||Noon||5 p.m.|
|E||Switzerland vs. France||4 p.m.||3 p.m.||8 p.m.|
|E||Honduras vs. Ecuador||7 p.m.||6 p.m.||11 p.m.|
Italy vs. Costa Rica may not have served as a compelling fixture a week ago, but with each country grabbing three points in its opener, this one suddenly has much more intrigue.
The Italians picked apart an aggressive, upstart England squad, completing an astounding 93 percent of their passes for 56 percent possession, per WhoScored.com.
Veteran Daniele De Rossi explained the importance of the Azzurri's blend of old and new, via FIFA.com:
It is important to have some sort of "solid core" in a national team, that group of four, five, six players who have been together for a few years. Those players, having gone through various experiences and even a World Cup, can help the new and younger players who come in. Balotelli, Verratti and Darmian are a few of the new players, but there are many others, such as Insigne and Immobile etc. It’s easier to integrate these players because there’s already a strong structure in place, a solid group that can help make the step up smoother for the youngsters.
This will be a difficult match for Costa Rica, but no one expected them to be able to compete with Uruguay, and they left that match with a 3-1 victory. Arsenal youngster Joel Campbell was a big part of that success, scoring once, assisting once and completing four successful dribbles.
Squawka provided a look at his goal-scoring missile:
He is an electrifying talent, and we saw a player with similar pace and dribbling ability in Raheem Sterling give the Italians some trouble. The 21-year-old Campbell's sheer talent versus Italy's experienced midfield and defense will be a captivating battle.
England, however, will be hoping Andrea Pirlo continues his magical ways pulling the strings, because the Red Lions need a victory from Italy to stay alive. Everyone's favorite striker Mario Balotelli is obviously well-aware of that, and he came forth with a very Mario Balotelli proposition for England:
If we beat Costa Rica i want a kiss,obviously on the cheek, from the UK Queen.😂😂😂.— Mario Balotelli (@FinallyMario) June 19, 2014
The second match is another meeting between teams with three points, although France and Switzerland took very different routes to get there.
France destroyed an undermanned Honduras squad with three goals (and could have had many more), while Switzerland broke Ecuadorian hearts with a Haris Seferovic game-winner in stoppage time.
While the French will be favored, this will be very compelling to watch. The Blues' attacking prowess (Karim Benzema, Mathieu Debuchy and Antoine Griezmann were all splendid in the absence of the talismanic Franck Ribery, while the presence of Paul Pogba always looms) versus Switzerland's patience and discipline is a fascinating contrast.
Match you're most looking forward to?
There is less importance on the day's final match, but don't overlook it. With both teams' backs against the wall, Ecuador's speed on the wings against Honduras' physicality is certainly worth your time.
Either way, with the first two matches featuring a quartet of unbeaten teams, Friday looks set to continue what has been a magnificent tournament full of breathtaking moments.