By Ken Boehlke
Italy vs. Costa Rica (Group D)
2 way line – Italy -1 (-110) Costa Rica +1 (-110)
3 way line – Italy (-215) Costa Rica (+625) Draw (+330)
Total – Over 2.5 (-115) Under 2.5 (-105)
Side: Italy played the perfect game from a stylistic standpoint. They attacked regularly while maintaining an excellent shape at the back. The midfield, defense connection was a little dicey in the early going but as the match wore on they became better and better and were a steel trap by the end. Both goals were distinctly Italian, as the first was set up by a brilliant dummy by Andrea Pirlo and the second off the head of Mario Balotelli. They’ll face a much different side, in a much different climate in game two however. Costa Rica stunned Uruguay, but did it in a clinical fashion. The Azzurri defense has to get back to the second half unit otherwise the Ticos will get in behind them often. The key for Italy will be how often they can maintain control in the final third. They have the players to score, but Costa Rica did a superb job of keeping the strong Uruguayan attack out of their area.
The Ticos were the surprise of the first set of matches. Their 3-1 stunner of Uruguay showed that they are not merely a formality in the group of former champions. Joel Campbell was unbelievable in the opener and he’ll be leaned on again if Costa Rica hope to get a point off of Italy. Costa Rica also scored directly off a set piece and could look to do so again. However, their one big mistake was the penalty kick that was also earned off a free kick. Trouble defensively with set pieces is one thing, trouble with set pieces against Pirlo, Balotelli and the rest of the Italian attack is another. The Costa Rican effort was not a fluke. The way they advanced the ball from defense to midfield and then up to the front will work against any team in the tournament. However, the final touches were there against a seemingly out of sorts Uruguayan defense, it’ll be a lot tougher to finish against Italy. Pick: 3 way bet – Italy (-215)
Total: Costa Rica looked every bit the attacking side they claimed they were coming in, and Italy proved their front foot approach was not just noise coming from the handsomely dressed Cesare Prandelli. This being said, both teams proved to be tough to break down as each only allowed a single goal to strong attacking sides. Italy will be the determining factor in how many goals this game sees. They’ll have the ball for most of the match, it’s up to them how often they truly want to get forward understanding that the Ticos are dangerous in the counterattack. As in every match of first game winners, a draw suits both. It’s just hard to see Costa Rica playing so well at the back once again. Pick: Over 2.5 goals (-115)
Switzerland vs. France (Group E)
2 way line – Switzerland +0.5 (+105) France -0.5 (-125)
3 way line – Switzerland (+390) France (-125) Draw (+265)
Total – Over 2.5 (-105) Under 2.5 (-115)
Side: The Swiss got a miracle goal with just seconds left on the clock that took this game against France from a must-win to one in which they are not even in desperate need of a draw. The substitutions were the difference in their match against Ecuador as Haris Seferović scored the winning goal and Admir Mehmedi was a huge part of why the Swiss looked much more dangerous late in the match. Switzerland used it’s defenders well in attack as the outside backs were constantly getting up the field to pressure the Ecuadorian defense. However, defensively they were often stretched and the normally compact Swiss allowed multiple goals to what should have been a lesser side. Also, goalkeeper Diego Benaglio had trouble with set pieces and looked on edge every time Ecuador sent in a cross. Expect them to drop back into their shell against France and make scoring much more difficult than it was for Ecuador.
The French were spectacular in their opening match of the 2014 World Cup. However, they were playing a Honduras side that thought they were part of an MMA fight rather than a soccer match. Patrice Evra, Mathieu Debuchy, and Mathieu Valbuena completely dominated the midfield and delivered service after service in to Kareem Benzema that eventually netted three French goals. Against the Swiss, they will have to be much more creative when they enter the final third. Honduras was all over the place defensively and the prominent French attack just played the ball to the empty spaces. When they find themselves in attacking areas against Switzerland it’s going to take much sharper combination play to break them down. Scoring will not be easy in this match, and they will need Benzema to pick up right back where he left off against Honduras. Easier said than done though. Pick: 2 way bet – Switzerland +0.5 (+105)
Total: After the first group of matches the goals have been flying in, due to this the books have raised their totals dramatically. Switzerland vs. France is an excellent example of this. When France come up against strong opponents they rarely play games where both teams score, and Switzerland almost never play games over three goals. The Swiss will go right back into their defense-first formation and will attempt to make it very difficult for the French to break them down. As for France, they’ll want to create chances, but after seeing the way Switzerland were able to exploit the wings against Ecuador they’ll likely be a little more careful when sending wide players forward. One team will likely be shutout, and despite the strength of the French offense, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if this one ends in a scoreless draw. Pick: Under 2.5 goals (-115)
Ecuador vs. Honduras (Group E)
2 way line – Ecuador -1 (+120) Honduras +1 (-140)
3 way line – Ecuador (-165) Honduras (+455) Draw (+300)
Total – Over 2.5 (-125) Under 2.5 (-105)
Side: The Tri-color fell asleep for 25 seconds just before the final whistle in Brasilia and it buried them. Now they are in desperation mode in their second match. Lucky for Ecuador they get to play Honduras. The Ecuadorians looked really good for a majority of the match against the seeded Swiss. They were dangerous along the edges, converted on a set piece, and threw multiple crosses into the mixer that seemed to terrify the stingy Swiss defense. When the chances arose, Ecuador sent defenders forward and challenged Switzerland. Against Honduras, the game will be much more open and they shouldn’t have any problems creating solid goal scoring opportunities. Add in that the fact that it’s a must win for a South American side on their home continent, and there’s a strong likelihood of a blowout.
Oh Honduras, what can you even say. They rarely got forward. They were a mess in the midfield. The defense couldn’t stay in front of Kareem Benzema, and they fouled, fouled, and fouled again the entire 90 minutes. Honduras’ strength, attackers Carlo Costly and Jerry Bengston were almost nonexistent and never really struck any fear in the French defense. Flicking on a switch which makes them go from deplorable to suddenly competitive in five days is unlikely. They’ve been the only CONCACAF side that hasn’t impressed during their stay in Brazil. Odds are, they won’t start now. Pick: Ecuador -1 (+120)
Total: This game has a strong chance of getting ugly, and early. Ecuador will want to get after what they see as a vulnerable Honduras side as quickly as they possibly can. Despite coming off a loss, Ecuador will still enter the game with some confidence while Honduras must do something positive quickly otherwise the already fragile side may shatter. Ecuador will attack down the wings and are particularly dangerous on set pieces. Honduras have to get their stars going so they will likely try long service to Bengston and Costly more often than they did against France. Ecuador will probably cover the total on their own, but it wouldn’t be shocking if Honduras added one themselves. Pick: Over 2.5 goals (-125)