By Ken Boehlke
Colombia vs. Greece (Group C)
2 way line – Colombia -0.5 (-135) Greece +0.5 (+115)
3 way line – Colombia (-135) Greece (+450) Draw (+240)
Total – Over 2 (+100) Under 2 (-120)
Side: Usually the first words when talking about Colombia are Radamel Falcao, but his knee will keep him out of the World Cup. Therefore, lone striker Carlos Bacca and attacking midfielder James Rodriguez will have to take charge. Colombia will deploy a much more patient style than most South American nations, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous in attack. Throughout qualifying they were excellent, but this is Los Cafeteros’ first World Cup appearance since 1998 in France. They’ve drawn a tough opponent in their opener, and will have to work hard to get the three points they desperately want.
The Greeks have played a defensive style that’s nearly impossible to break down at times ever since their remarkable Euro 2004 title. However, this time around they have a few more weapons to attack with and could surprise some people going forward. Using the 4-3-3, the Piratiko, or Pirate Ship, will need Kostas Mitroglou, Dimitris Salpingidis, Giorgos Samaras and even Theofanis Gekas to find the net when the chances arrive. It looks like a rather soft group without a true world power, but there’s not a poor side in the group including Ivory Coast and Japan, so all teams will be expecting results in each match. It may take a while, but Colombia should eventually break through. Pick: Colombia (-135)
Total: The number seems rather inflated for an opening match between two nations that both prefer the defensive minded approach. Obviously someone has to have the ball, and the thought is that they’ll have to try and score, but both sides provide tough defenses to solve. The brilliance of Falcao could have meant a larger probability of goal scoring in the match, but without him it’s hard to see this game getting to three. Pick: Under 2 goals (-120)
Ivory Coast vs. Japan (Group C)
2 way line – Ivory Coast PK (-120) Japan PK (+100)
3 way line – Ivory Coast +160 Japan (+190) Draw (+210)
Total – Over 2 (-115) Under 2 (-105)
Side: Might be the most intriguing game that no one will talk about before the first week of action kicks off. Ivory Coast are widely considered the best African side, while Japan are the undisputed champions of Asia. The Elephants have attacking threats everywhere you look along their front line. From Didier Drogba to Gervinho to Yaya Touré and Salomon Kalou, the Côte d’Ivoire will certainly be a fun squad to watch. One problem though, they’ve made a habit of underachieving when it comes to World Cups. 2006, they failed to exit the group stage. 2010, same story. In each of the previous two World Cups, they were able to manage one victory, but it came in the final game in Germany as well as South Africa.
Meanwhile, the Japanese are the kind of team that are constantly overlooked and then people are shocked at their consistent success. Ninth place finishes at two of the last four World Cups is quite impressive for a nation that’s never front of mind when naming powerful soccer nations. However, the Samurai Blue play a full throttle style that attempts to jam the ball right down the throat of opposing defenses. Keisuke Honda is the most recognizable name on the squad, but they are better as a unit than the sum of individual pieces. Paired with Ivory Coast’s history, Japan looks like a great bet to open the World Cup with a bang. Pick: 3 way bet – Japan +190
Total: The Samarai Blue have been on a goal scoring tear in their lead-up to Brazil. Scoring 15 goals in their last five matches Japan can be expected to score when they take to the pitch against the Ivory Coast. The Elephants aren’t too shabby themselves when it comes to surpassing totals. In their seven matches since August of last year, there has not been a clean sheet recorded by any side involved. Both teams are looking to score, and both are not immune to giving goals up themselves, looks like a match that could be played closer to 5-4 rather than 1-0. Pick: Over 2 goals (-115)
Uruguay vs. Costa Rica (Group D)
2 way line – Uruguay -1 (-130) Costa Rica +1 (+110)
3 way line – Uruguay (-225) Costa Rica (+725) Draw (+325)
Total – Over 2.5 (+120) Under 2.5 (-140)
Side: The darlings of the 2010 World Cup made a mess of qualifying in CONMEBOL. They were rescued by a miraculous 3-2 win at home against Argentina and then the gift of facing Jordan in the intercontinental playoff. But now that they’re here, they enter the tournament as the seeded team in the difficult Group D. Despite the wealth of world-class strikers, Los Charrúas are led by their back line. A pair of Diego’s, Lugano and Godin, are about as solid as they come in front of goalkeeper Fernando Muslera. The question still remains, which Uruguay team will show up? The one from South Africa, or the one who we humiliated by Colombia and Argentina in qualifying.
The Ticos enter Brazil as 1000:1 long shots to win the World Cup, but it has much more to do with the group of World Cup champions than it does Costa Rica’s form. Bryan Ruiz will take charge at the head of the Costa Rican attack for a side that will likely play with 10 men behind the ball for much of their stay in Brazil. Howbeit, the Ticos are a feisty bunch that made both the U.S. and Mexico look silly at times during CONCACAF qualifying. Their chances of even getting a single point out of the 2014 campaign look dull, but they won’t go down without a fight. Pick: 3 way bet – Uruguay (-225)
Total: Costa Rica will likely enter the match with the attitude of, “let’s do all we can to keep them out of our net.” In turn, they’ll spend a majority of the game pinned back in their defensive third and will rarely have opportunities to counter. The Uruguayans have not exactly been lighting up the scoresheet in friendlies against sub-par competition. Four goals in four matches against the likes of Jordan, Austria, Northern Ireland, and Slovenia doesn’t invoke confidence that they’ll hit their attacking stride in Brazil. Add in the first round bug that bites so many teams’ ability to play a free-flowing game, and the likelihood of a low-scoring, boring match may be in store. Pick: Under 2.5 goals (-140)
Italy vs. England (Group D)
2 way line – Italy PK (-130) England PK (+110)
3 way line – Italy (+155) England (+210) Draw (+200)
Total – Over 2 (+115) Under 2 (-135)
Side: Remember the Italy that used to sit back and then counterattack teams to death? Well, that team’s gone. Luckily, the new Azzurri are so much more fun. The unpredictability of Mario Balotelli paired with the wizard that is Andrea Pirlo will make Italy one of the most enjoyable sides to watch. They’ll try to get after England from the onset by pressing higher up the field and trying to keep the English on the back foot. Scoring chances should come in droves, but the Azzurri have lacked the final touch in recent friendlies against international competition. After being shut out in back-to-back match ups by Spain and Ireland, Italy managed just a single goal against Luxembourg. However, one goal might be enough since they still have one of the best in Gianluigi Buffon guarding their own net.
The Three Lions might be the team with the widest range of expectations in the tournament. Some pundits are predicting a trip to the semis or even the finals while others expect an embarrassing group stage exit. The match against Italy will go a long way in painting the picture of who’s eventually right. The notable cast of characters, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, and Frank Lampard are back, but it’s the younger players that lead to the confusion. 19 year-old Raheem Sterling and 24 year-old Daniel Sturridge have to set the tone for the English. In the past, England have started tournaments slowly, something they have in common with their first opponent, Italy. Odds are, this game won’t really get going until well into the 2nd half. Pick: 3 way bet – Draw (+200)
Total: There’s no shortage of attacking prowess, but the collective history of slow starts is concerning. The new Italian style should lend to more goals, but it simply hasn’t when they’ve come up against high-level competition. England heads to Brazil coming off a few rather unimpressive performances in friendlies as well, most notably the 0-0 draw with Honduras. It’s odd because both teams should be lighting up scoresheets, but aren’t. At some point it has to change, and the group stage is the most likely spot for it to happen, just not in the opener. Pick: Under 2 goals (-135)