It's Day 9 of the World Cup and the tournament continues to be one of the most exciting and surprising in memory. Today, we'll see a pair of soccer bluebloods (literally, the Azzurri of Italy and Les Bleus of France) who have won the Cup and 4 others, Switzerland, Ecuador, Honduras, and Costa Rica who are chasing that dream.
Day 8 lived up to its potential with plenty of the fantastic play and surprising drama which has highlighted the 2014 tournament so far.
The morning game between Colombia and Ivory Coast was the kind of wide open and athletic game you love to see, as the two teams traded speedy counterattacks all game long. Colombia delighted the seemingly home crowd with a 2-1 win in one of the most entertaining games to watch so far and they secured their place in the quarterfinals. Ivory Coast will still likely advance as the group runner up as they should handle their remaining match with Greece.
The drama then ratcheted up for the second game as Uruguay and England both needed a win to keep pace with Italy or Costa Rica for second spot in Group D. England had chance after chance in the game, and much maligned star Wayne Rooney finally got King Kong off his back with his first World Cup goal to tie the match, but it was Uruguay's striker Luis Suarez, the top scorer in the EPL this year, who returned to the field 4 weeks after knee surgery and converted twice to push England to the edge of elimination. No one in his right mind could have guessed that both Spain and England would be out after 2 games, but here we are. Hey, at least it wasn't on PKs, right, England? Gutted.
There was a late game between Japan and Greece that was of little importance and even less excitement, except for a red card to the Greek captain and a quick kick to start the second half that almost scored a goal. But even this 0-0 dog of a game was watched by about a billion people because...World Cup.
Today's games don't seem to have the same intrinsic potential as yesterday's early match ups, but the weight they carry for other teams is pretty big. All of England will be Italian today as their minuscule hopes hang on an Italian win over Costa Rica. This seems likely, but Uruguay didn't think much of Coast Rica either before losing to them 3-1. Switzerland and France are the two favorites to advance from Group E while Ecuador and Honduras will fight to stay alive in the group.
Here are the matchups, locations, times (UCLA local time) and the networks for today's games.
Italy v Costa Rica - Group D Recife 9am PT ESPN
The first match of the day features the Group D leaders who posted impressive wins in their openers. The Azzurri handled England with trademark surgical precision, while Costa Rica surprised Uruguay with its energetic and creative play. The two teams now present an interesting clash of styles in today's matchup. The key to Italy's success is defined by midfielder Andrea Pirlo. He completed an unbelievable 103 of his 108 passes against England, and it is that sort of precise and deliberate tactics that make Italy so efficient, though also fairly dull. Their pace can be slow and excruciating to watch, but it is very effective and it should help them manage the midday Brazilian heat, too. Costa Rica is led by 21 year old forward Joe Campbell whose youth, speed, and skill earmark him as a future superstar, but can he lead his team's attack through the tight Italian defense? England is praying he cannot. The winner clinches a spot in the knockout round of 16. If that winner is Costa Rica, or if the teams tie, Ta ta, England.
Switzerland v France - Group E, Salvador, noon PT ESPN
These countries share a 350 mile border through the Alps, so this match, five thousand miles away in the tropics, will serve as a battle for bragging rights back at home. Switzerland needed an immortal sequence in extra time by defender Valon Behrami to stop an Ecuadorian winner and begin the Swiss winner in the most exciting finish in this year's WC so far. France, meanwhile, steadily dominated Honduras from the start for a dominating 3-0 win. Both teams enter this game with 3 points in group play, and a winner in this game will get the top spot from Group E. As both teams figure to win their final game in group play, they could be quite content playing a careful defensive game and settling for a tie, but we may see a few chances spring up from that eternal competitive spirit between neighbors. After all, the Tour de France organizers just happened to exclude any routes into Switzerland this year.
Honduras v Ecuador - Group E, Curitiba, 3pm PT ESPN
It's CONCACAF v CONMEBOL at the bottom of Group E and the winner will keep hope alive. These two teams know each other well. They have met 13 times in international play, the most recent being a friendly 7 months ago, and Honduras leads the series 4-3 with 6 ties, which is pretty even. Both coaches have actually coached the opposing team in the past. Ecuadorian coach Reinaldo Rueda coached Honduras in the 2010 Cup, and Honduran coach Luis Fernando Suarez led Ecuador in the 2006 Cup, which is pretty coincidental. Ecuadorian forward Enner Valencia has scored a goal in 5 straight international games, which is pretty amazing. Neither team has a particularly good defense, and both are playing to stay alive, so this should be a pretty interesting game to watch.
This is your World Cup open thread for Day 9. Fire away with your thoughts, analysis, and opinions as you tune in with the your friends on BN to watch the biggest sporting event in the world.