20 June 2014 | News Comments

Previews: Friday's World Cup action

GROUP D

Italy v Costa Rica, Arena Pernambuco, 17.00
Buoyed by an unlikely 3-1 victory against the Uruguayans in the opener, Costa Rica could secure a place in the World Cup knockout stages for only the second time with victory here against the Italians.

The four-time World Cup winners are certainly no mugs, though, and should prove to be a tougher opponent than Uruguay as they look to take six points from their opening two games for the first time in 24 years.

Italy to get right to it
The Italians enjoyed significant success attacking England's left flank in their opening game, with all of their crosses during the game being delivered from the right - Antonio Candreva's delivery teeing up Mario Balotelli 50th-minute winner. Prior to the finals, Costa Rica conceded a third of qualifying goals from their own left flank.

Costa Rica counting on the counter
Costa Rica only completed 80.9% of passes during their opening encounter with Uruguay, a stat which puts them in the lower reaches in terms of ball retention so far at the finals. However, given the effectiveness of their counter attacks during that match, Pinto and his team could utilise the hit-on-the-break tactic once again against Cesare Prandelli's side. But getting the ball back from the Italians may be difficult: in the first round of group games no team matched their pass completion rate of 93.3%.

Set-piece success
Costa Rica used set-pieces to good effect during their opener when Oscar Duarte headed Cristian Bolanos' second-half free-kick beyond Fernando Muslera. The Central Americans' record during qualifying was pretty impressive, too - more than a quarter of their goals were created from set-pieces. Italy's tendency to concede headers (33%) on the way to the finals should certainly offer the Costa Ricans hope.

Summary
On paper, Italy should hold little fear going into this clash and will be largely expected to secure the three points needed to see them join Holland and Chile in the knockout stages. Prandelli's side will need to be wary of the Costa Ricans, though and, if the likes of Joel Campbell and hard-working wing-back Cristian Gamboa can pick up where they left off against the Uruguayans, there could be another shock on the cards.

GROUP E

Switzerland v France, Arena Fonte Nova, 20.00
While a defeat is unlikely to spell the end of the tournament for either side - given the shortcomings of their group rivals - victory would likely mean avoiding a second-round encounter with pre-tournament favourites Argentina, and both teams will be very keen to do that.

Careless Swiss
Despite snatching three points in their match with Ecuador, the Swiss were careless in possession. Ottmar Hitzfeld's side made more passing errors - 30 - than any other team in the first round of group games. Only five teams made fewer misplaced passes than France's 12.

France finally make it stick
Against Honduras, France showed no signs of the goal-shy performances which were a staple of their qualifying campaign. France failed to score in a third of their matches en route to Brazil, a higher percentage than all but two other sides, but with star striker Karim Benzema starting with a bang, Les Bleus will hope the net keeps on bulging against Switzerland.

However, the Swiss are a tough nut to crack, having kept clean sheets in an impressive 70% of their qualifying matches - more than any other finalist.

Rodriguez v Debuchy
Against Ecuador, Switzerland relied on the attacking instincts of their left-back, Ricardo Rodriguez, to be a constant threat - and that is exactly what he did, grabbing both assists.

The Swiss scored nearly a quarter of their goals through qualifying from the left; only six other finalists scored a greater share of their goals from this side of the pitch. The battle between Rodriguez and France right-back, Mathieu Debuchy, could be pivotal in deciding this contest.

Summary
Switzerland were lucky to come away with three points from their first game against Ecuador, in which either side could have won in the dying minutes. If Hitzfeld's men are as careless in possession against France as they were in Brasilia, Les Bleus have the firepower to make them pay.

In what is likely to be a cagey affair - with the desire to not lose outweighing the need to win - this could well be a battle of the defences.

Honduras v Ecuador, Arena da Baixada, 23.00
Defeats in their opening games mean both Honduras and Ecuador would be on the verge of elimination should they lose in Curitiba.

Honduras beware the set-piece
One of Ecuador's strong points is dead-ball situations and this proved true against the Swiss, when Valencia converted Walter Ayovi's free kick in the 22nd minute. This continued a trend from qualifying, where Ecuador scored the second highest proportion of goals (20%) from free-kicks. To add to Honduras' worries in the defensive set-piece department, they have proven to be vulnerable through qualifying, conceding 20% of goals directly from free-kicks.

Total football? Maybe not
Against France in their opening match, Honduras were unable to find any sort of passing rhythm as Les Bleus dominated the match from start to finish.

Even before Palacios' red card, Honduras were struggling to make an impact or keep hold of the ball, as they completed the third fewest passes of any side in the opening round, with 203. However, Ecuador were not much better against Switzerland, with the South Americans only managing to complete 216 passes - the fifth lowest. Purists, you have been warned.

Summary
With everything on the line for these two sides, expect this match to be fiercely contested as both teams vie to keep their tournament hopes alive. While Ecuador are considered strong favourites, their defensive lapses - they have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last six matches in all competitions - may offer Honduras a first World Cup goal in five matches. Whether they can convert a goal into victory could be a step too far.