More woe for England

Ben Coley and Matt Brocklebank preview Tuesday's World Cup games, including England's clash with Costa Rica.

Last Updated: 24/06/14 at 17:06 Post Comment

England manager Roy Hodgson has plenty to think about

England manager Roy Hodgson has plenty to think about

Costa Rica v England (Group D, Belo Horizonte, 1700 BST)

Top plays bottom in Group D - and bottom go into the game as odds-on favourites.

You read that correctly. If you'd like to bet on England signing off this disastrous World Cup campaign with victory, you'll have to take 10/11.

Of course, a fortnight ago England were rated 4/7 chances for this game so there's a case to be made for them being value - particularly as Roy Hodgson looks set to start many of the younger, fresher players who offer the optimistic fan some sort of hope for 2016 and beyond.

However, let's face it - the first option to cross off the list of potential bets is victory for the Three Lions.

Yes there were glimmers of promise from their performance against Italy and no they weren't all that bad against Uruguay, but the fact is England don't look as good a side as Costa Rica let alone half as confident and, increasingly, the South American sides appear to be significantly advantaged by conditions in Brazil.

There is of course a case to be made for Costa Rica not being at the races here as they look towards the last-16 but I'm not absolutely convinced by it.

For starters, avoiding Colombia looks a sensible policy if it can be achieved. Costa Rica have lost each of their last seven games with the likely Group C winners, a run stretching back to 1963, and would much rather face one of Ivory Coast, Japan or Greece. I fancy they'd be favourites to advance against all three which means a quarter-final spot is suddenly a real possibility.

Coach Jorge Luis Pinto is, of course, Colombian, but I'm not sure he'll be prepared to risk his side's further progress just for the opportunity to take on his home nation.

In addition, taking the scalp of England is still considered an achievement in certain parts of the world and I've little doubt that whoever is named in the Costa Rica side will be determined to make it three wins from three. They also have to make the most of being in the shop window while they can with lucrative moves to the Premier League and beyond surely up for grabs.

Pinto will make changes, but we know Hodgson will too and while there's a chance that England's reserves will flourish under the guidance of Frank Lampard now that they're freed from pressure, all of this is factored into odds-on quotes which would be madness to take.

I can just about convince myself that an England win is the most likely of three available scenarios here, but evens that they fail to beat Costa Rica strikes me as huge value. It's just preferred to the 7/2 available about the South American side albeit it'll probably pay to tread carefully in games such as this one where incentive isn't totally clear.

Verdict: Costa Rica 2 England 1 (BC)

Opta facts:

Costa Rica have scored in all seven of their previous World Cup meetings with teams from Europe.

England have been eliminated at the first group stage of a World Cup for the first time since 1958.

England have conceded eight goals in their last three World Cup games, as many as the previous 14 games combined.

Italy v Uruguay (Group D, Natal, 1700)

Momentum is firmly with Uruguay ahead of one of the most fascinating World Cup games so far.

In many ways this is a scenario we all expected. Italy need a draw, Uruguay a win, and they'll be through. That they'll be through with Costa Rica is the surprise and Italy's defeat to them last time leaves them with plenty to do.

Cesare Prandelli was understandably disappointed with his side's lacklustre performance against the likely group winners and they'll need to better it under the midday sun of Natal, where Uruguay are waiting to pounce.

Italy look set to be without Daniele De Rossi as his recovery from a slight knock continues to take longer than expected but the key dynamic here is their overall shift in style of late. In the past, you'd back them to put 10 men behind the ball and nullify Uruguay but that's just not a scenario I can envisage here especially without their experienced ball-winner.

Instead, they could rely on Ciro Immobile to fire them into the latter stages if speculation among the media proves correct. The Serie A top-scorer is a fans' favourite and after a toothless performance last time out the coach is under increasing pressure to include Dortmund's latest acquisition.

There shouldn't be many surprises from Uruguay, whose success at this World Cup will surely marry up with that of Luis Suarez. Their talisman relished the opportunity to eliminate his English peers last week and he'll strip fitter for that run, enough surely to tempt first scorer backers at 5/1.

My view on the match prices is that the value is probably with Italy, as is so often the case when one side arrives on a defeat and the other on a win.

Although they operate differently to their predecessors, there are more experienced, big-match players among the Azzurri ranks and while Uruguay have the best single player, Italy are a better team.

The issue is that a draw is enough for them and that just puts me off taking a potentially generous 9/5, and I'm prepared to leave along 10/11 quotes in the draw no bet market, too.

If the media speculation is right then Immobile is a touch big at 8/1 to score first on the back of such an impressive season for Torino but he lacks match practice at this level and again is passed over, while 11/10 about over 2.5 goals would tempt more were this game kicking off later in the day.

As you can probably tell, this is a match I'm looking forward to watching without a bet.

Verdict: Italy 2 Uruguay 1 (BC)

Opta facts:

Italy have managed just two wins in nine previous attempts against Uruguay (incl. 1980 Copo d'Oro, D4 L3).

Uruguay last faced Italy in the 2013 Confederations Cup; they were beaten for the third place, by way of a penalty shootout.

Italy have lost only three of their 19 World Cup games against South American opposition - round 1 game against Chile in 1962, the 1970 final and the 1978 third place game against Brazil.

Uruguay have faced Italy twice in the World Cup; they failed to score in both matches (D1 L1).

Greece v Ivory Coast (Group C, Fortaleza, 2100)

Greece haven't yet scored in the World Cup but could yet reach the next stage of the competition if managing to find the net against the Ivory Coast.

A 0-0 draw with Japan was more like the Greece we've come to know following their 3-0 defeat to Colombia, and it's the more recent of those formlines which looks the most representative.

Ivory Coast meanwhile have played well enough to reach the last-16 in patches, but some shaky defending and periods of slackness across the pitch have cost them. For large parts of their 2-1 defeat to Colombia they offered plenty, but there's just a feeling that they're not quote the some of their parts.

Ivory Coast have been rocked by the death of Ibrahim Toure, younger brother of Kolo and Yaya, in the run-up to this game. The pair have elected to remain in Brazil and Yaya is certainly expected to feature with only victory guaranteed to see the Elephants through.Whether it's good news or not given their troubles in front of goal, striker Kostas Mitroglou looks set to be passed fit for Greece and he probably remains the chief threat ahead of Dimitrios Salpingidis, the pair having led the way in qualifying.

What we have here is a good attack (Ivory Coast) against a good defence and it's a case of what gives. Greece certainly don't look threatening enough to get away with defending poorly here, and the reverse applies to the Ivory Coast.

Ultimately this is a World Cup in which we've seen attack win the day and that looks to be the more likely outcome once again here. In Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba, Gervinho and Wilfried Bony, Ivory Coast have by far the more attacking creativity and with it comes experience of top-flight football across Europe.

If you do fancy Greece a 1-0 win at 10/1 looks the best policy given both their qualification form and scoring troubles, but I'm keen on the Ivory Coast at odds-against.

Verdict: Greece 0 Ivory Coast 2 (BC)

Opta facts:

This will be the first ever meeting between Greece and Ivory Coast.

Greece's previous World Cup games against African opposition were both against Nigeria, losing in 1994 (0-2) and winning in 2010 (2-1).

Greece have failed to score in seven of their eight World Cup games while their clean sheet last time out against Japan was their first ever at a World Cup.

The Ivorians have scored in seven of their eight World Cup games.

Japan v Colombia (Group C, Cuiaba, 2100)

Colombia have already booked their place in the last-16 following Group C wins over Greece and Ivory Coast but there is a chance they could be pipped for top spot if beaten by Japan and that's enough of an incentive to maintain their focus against Alberto Zaccheroni's side.

Despite two highly entertaining victories, Colombia's manager Jose Pekerman is keeping a lid on expectations and will not take anything for granted against Japan, who in his words, "are going to grow in their game and are capable of fighting for qualification."

The final point is an important one when looking at this match for betting angles as Japan can of course still reach the first knockout stage with a win, provided Ivory Coast draw against Greece, or if the Greeks get the three points but do not overhaul Japan's goal difference.

Unless Ivory Coast steamroll Greece in the first half-hour in Fortaleza and effectively shatter any belief the Japan side may have had, then we should be in for another open and exciting encounter.

Japan have thus far based their strategy on trying to keep things tight at the back and hit sides on the break but they've only managed to find the net once and something has to change in what could be their final appearance at Brazil 2014.

If they do opt for a more attacking stance, Colombia are the ideal team to open up a stretched Japan side on the counter and they look a very fair price around the 7/5 mark to maintain a perfect group-stage record.

In James Rodriguez they have a skilful young striker who is visibly growing in confidence by the game and he will be hard to contain in his current mood.

Colombia are solid if unspectacular at the back and although they may not be able to completely shut out Japan, they simply have more quality in the final third.

Both teams to score makes a degree of appeal at 4/5 but I'd rather seek a greater profit by having a couple of correct score bets, with Colombia 3-1 and 3-2 both worth backing at 20/1 and 33/1 respectively.

Verdict: Japan 1 Colombia 3 (MB)

Opta facts:

Juan Cuadrado (3) has now provided more assists at a single World Cup than any other Colombian player since 1966.

James Rodriguez has scored in each of his last four appearances for Colombia.

Japan have scored only one goal in their last three World Cup games.

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