Favourites Italy could be in for a nasty surprise

2014-06-20 00:00

THE action from Brazil on Wednesday night gave another stark reminder of why World Cups are such special times. The night belonged to Chile, who brushed Spain aside to send the World Champions crashing out of the tournament after just two lacklustre displays.

But Australia played their part in what was a memorable night with a spirited display against the flying Dutch. The match see-sawed from start to finish and Tim ­Cahill’s wonder strike will be remembered in his country for many years to come.

When Mile Jedinak, under all of the pressure in the world, slotted home his penalty to put the Aussies 2-1 up one sensed that Group B was about to be blown wide open, especially if Spain had won later on. An Aussie win and a Spain win would have left all four teams in the group on three points going into their final round of fixtures.

As it turns out, Monday’s clash between Spain and Australia will be nothing more than an exhibition match — and possibly the last time that some of the great Spaniards will be viewed on the biggest stage.

The Spanish dominance of world football over the last six years has been unrivalled, but it came to an undignified halt on Wednesday. On July 13 we will have new champions, and that can only be good for the global game. Will the winners come from Europe or South America?

Tonight’s action opens with the Italians taking on Costa Rica. There has been a school of thought that suggests that the American (north, south and central) teams have performed well at this tournament due to their obvious ability to acclimatise to the tropical Brazilian conditions better than their European opposition.

This was proved in Chile’s win over Spain, where the South Americans played at lightning pace while keeping their shape. On paper Italy will be favourites to win convincingly, but we have seen enough already this tournament to know that team sheets do not win matches. It is likely to be an electric affair, with the winner booking their place in the last 16.

At 9 pm we’ll see a shift to Group B, where Switzerland and France meet after having also won their opening matches.

The Swiss credentials, potentially deceiving due to their Fifa world ranking of sixth, will be tested here. France seem to have gotten things right this time around. There are no hidden agendas in the dressing room, no player dramas and they seem to be on the same page after having realised in 2010 that team unrest at a World Cup can only end one way. France are a side littered with Europe’s finest, and there is no reason that they cannot be amongst the contenders for a place in the final if they play to their potential.

The midnight kick-off is one you can afford missing. Honduras and Ecuador clash with the latter the favourites to take the three points as they attempt to resurrect their tournament.

TODAY’S FIXTURES

6 pm – Italy v Costa Rica

9 pm – Switzerland v France

12 am – Honduras v Ecuador

TONIGHT’S HIGHLIGHT

The France/Switzerland clash should provide the most evenly contested tactical battle, and the quality of football should benefit as a result.

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