By DAN KARELL
If there’s one thing the 2014 World Cup hasn’t lacked, it’s drama, and that’s expected to continue into day three of the tournament.
The highlight of the day is a battle between two former World Cup champions, England and Italy, at the Arena Amazonia in Manaus. Temperatures are expected to hover around 80 degrees with 80 percent humidity around kickoff, weather that could favor the slower pace of Italy.
Veteran midfielder Andrea Pirlo may have slowed down in recent years but his passing game is as good as it’s ever been. Pirlo will play the heart of a midfield trio like to include Marco Verrati and Daniele De Rossi, with out-of-form forward Mario Balotelli playing on his own up top.
It’s England’s job to not only stop Balotelli but also keep Pirlo from popping up in dangerous areas with the ball. Everyone but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is fit for England but there’s still a big question mark as to whether Wayne Rooney will start and if he does, where he might play.
Here are some more notes ahead of today’s World Cup action:
COLOMBIA vs. GREECE
After an easy period of warm-up matches, Colombia now begin their tournament hoping to make it to the quarterfinals for the first time in their nation’s history.
Los Cafeteros take on the defensively stout Greece at the Estádio Mineirão in Belo Horizonte, with plenty of neutrals interested to see how Colombia recover from losing Radamel Falcao. Luckily for Colombia, they’re blessed with multiple options up top, from Sevilla star Carlos Bacca to Porto forward Jackson Martinez.
Attacking midfielder James Rodriguez will run the show for the South Americans and he’ll likely face an interesting match-up against Giorgos Karagounis, who at 37-years old is playing in his second straight World Cup.
This match features a clash of two styles, with Greece preferring to sit back and counter-attack or win set pieces to score goals, and Colombia preferring to play a short-passing game through the midfield and using their athletic midfielders to stretch the field.
URUGUAY vs. COSTA RICA
Uruguay heads into their World Cup opener without their talismanic striker Luis Suarez.
Head coach Oscar Washington Tabarez confirmed the news at a press conference on Friday, leaving La Celeste with veteran forward Diego Forlan to step into the lineup in Suarez’s place. Forlan is expected to play alongside Edinson Cavani, but the aging Uruguayan defense could be in for a difficult game against Joel Campbell and Costa Rica.
Diego Godin is coming off a tremendous season with Atletico Madrid but his centerback partner Diego Lugano failed to find a regular place at West Bromwich Albion last season and is in danger of not being match fit for the tournament.
Los Ticos enter the tournament with nothing to lose, knowing they will have to face England and Italy after the opener with Uruguay. Throughout qualifying, Costa Rica played very well and were able to beat both Mexico and the U.S. at home, dominating games through the midfield with Celso Borges and his great range of passing.
Costa Rica could use a five-man back line with Giancarlo Gonzalez, Roy Miller, and Michael Umaña anchoring the defense. The man to keep an eye on will be goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who was by all reports the top goalkeeper in Spain last season while playing with Levante.
IVORY COAST vs. JAPAN
The golden generation of Ivory Coast has their final opportunity to bring their nation glory, and it all begins with a match against Japan at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife.
Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, and Kolo Toure anchor a strong spine of the team, which will look to use their speed and strength to power past the much smaller Japanese side. However, there are some questions over the Toure brother’s fitness, as Yaya recovers from a thigh injury and Kolo overcomes a malaria.
For the Elephants, a couple of attacking players who could make the difference against Japan are Salomon Kalou and Gervinho, both who are talented dribblers of the ball who combine good movement with great, entertaining footwork. If they can get the ball to Drogba in dangerous areas, the Ivory Coast could put Japan away early.
Japan however, under the management of Italian Alberto Zaccheroni, are very good in possession and excel passing in tight-windows through the middle of the field. Keisuke Honda, Yasuhito Endo, and Shinji Kagawa combined both in qualifying and recent friendly matches to slalom through opposing defenses, and the Blue Samurai have proven they they can score goals against just about anyone.
What do you think of today’s slate of matches? Do you think England can shut down Pirlo and Balotelli? Do you expect Greece to concede to Colombia? Can Uruguay win without Suarez?
Share your thoughts below.