World Cup Previews: Ivory Coast’s Mountain to Climb, Who Will Qualify out of Group H?

25 June 2010

Brazil's national soccer team coach Dunga attends a training session at the Princess Magogo Stadium. (Credit Image: © epa/ZUMApress.com)
The final set of World Cup group games conclude on Friday, and there are certainly a lot more questions than answers compared to the previous three days. Brazil is about the only team certain of a spot in the last sixteen, something one might have expected before the World Cup started. The bigger questions are if Portugal can beat Brazil, all but eliminating Ivory Coast.

Group H isn’t much clearer. While Chile have six points, it is still possible they could not advance to the next round. Switzerland is facing Honduras, and it is quite possible they could overturn the goal difference required if Spain beat the current group leaders. While all Chile need is a draw, setting up for one against Spain could lead to disastrous results.

On Thursday, it wasn’t a good day for either of us. While Johnathan predicted all four of the games incorrectly, Jeff had 1 win and 3 losses. Jeff’s record now stands at 20 wins, 17 losses, and 7 no results. Johnathan’s record now stands at a paltry 18 wins, 21 losses, and 5 no results.

10:00 am on ESPN: Portugal v Brazil
Johnathan Starling
: Personally, I think Brazil is going to go for the kill here early, and keep it up often. Portugal needs to do the same. This could possibly be the most wide open game of football the entire World Cup. I think that will translate into goals. While I think Brazil will win, my prediction is over 2.5 goals at +125.
Jeff Hash: Things came out very well for Portugal in their running over of North Korea 7-0.  But Kaka being out for this one on a bad red card may work out even better for them, as it neuters some of their attack.  One thing I do wonder about, however, is how much either team is going to press to win, given they'd then be facing a possible match with the Netherlands in the quarterfinals instead of either Japan or Paraguay.  I expect tense and close, not open.  My pick will be under 2.5 goals at -160.

10:00 am on ESPN2: North Korea v Ivory Coast
Johnathan Starling
: I think Portugal has broken the North Korean spirit. After fighting so hard against Brazil, Portugal flew by them faster than both Usain Bolt on land and Michael Phelps bonged up at sea. Ivory Coast is going to want to make it interesting in the race for second, and that I think they will do. My prediction is Ivory Coast -1.5 at +115. Those odds just scream ‘BET ME’.
Jeff Hash: I'm not going to waste much time on this one: I expect goals, and I expect them to come from the Ivory Coast.  They are going to be gunning it out from beginning to end, and I don't think the North Koreans will be able to handle the frantic pace that the African side will be putting them through.  The fact that North Korea doesn't really have anything to play for does not help either.  My pick is over 2.5 goals at -130.

2:30 pm on ESPN: Chile v Spain
Johnathan Starling
: Chile would be more than happy to play to a draw here, and I think it will backfire. The only thing that worries me about Spain is their inability to finish the chances they have created. I think Spain wins, but it will only be by 1 goal. Since I can’t figure out if it will be 1-0 or 2-1 to Spain, my prediction is for Spain to win outright at -220.
Jeff Hash: Will another of the traditional European powers be going home after the group stage?  Unfortunately for Spain, the last match day draw really does not help their cause.  Chile has done well so far in collecting two 1-0 victories, especially in scoring against Switzerland.  But the loss of two starting midfielders due to yellow cards (Carlos Carmona and Matias Fernandez) will test their depth.  Spain, on the other end, rebounded well in beating Honduras 2-0, but know they will have to win this one given the other group match.  Is this the day to bet against the South American side?  Amazingly, I think it is, but I think its going to be close regardless.  With that in mind, and in case of the draw, I will take Chile +1 goal at +110.

2:30 on ESPN2: Switzerland v Honduras
Johnathan Starling: Switzerland has to be thinking right now ‘we may have gotten the best end of this draw’. Honduras has shown nothing, and I’ll emphasize nothing, too me to show that they can hold out a Swiss side that knows how to pick it’s spots in attack. Hell, they won’t have to do that because I think they could attack all day if they wanted to and know that Honduras is going to do nothing to them in it. With Switzerland also needed goals, I think the parings match up well. My prediction is Switzerland -1 at -115. This game just has 2-0 written all over it.
Jeff Hash: On the surface, it'd be easy to think of Switzerland falling into the same trap of not changing their game plan like the other defensive sides in search of a result (Greece and New Zealand).  But Switzerland has one advantage those teams did not have: a weaker opponent.  Honduras needs a lot of goals to move on, but they don't have the offense to break down the Swiss defense like Chile did Monday.  I think the Swiss will press early and often, and the goals will come in.  My pick is Switzerland -1 goal at -115.

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Johnathan Starling, the self proclaimed 'most brutally honest man on the net, dishes out his own unique brand of opinions, and analysis on the Premier League, Bundesliga, and all things US Soccer.

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