Slovakia v. Paraguay (Group F, 7:30AM ET)
In the interest of strict honesty, this game isn’t likely to get the day off to a particularly momentous start. Slovakia and Paraguay are each hard-working, defense-first teams. To the extent that you’re a believer in momentum, Paraguay have to come in feeling better about themselves, having grabbed a point off of group favorites Italy, than Slovakia do after their inexplicable draw with New Zealand. Expect Slovakia to come out aggressively, because they need all three points with Italy on the horizon, whereas Paraguay would be thrilled to just bank another point and head into their New Zealand match controlling their own destiny.
Prediction: Slovakia 1-1 Paraguay
Italy v. New Zealand (Group F, 10AM)
Both of these teams outperformed our expectations in their first game. Italy looked surprisingly spry going forward, with replacement CM Riccardo Montolivo and winger Pepe impressing. The more we look at the team, the more we realize that the age is at the back, where 2006 hero Fabio Cannavaro has lost a step, and GK Gianluigi Buffon is out with a back injury. Italy will score more than we expected, but they’re also going to concede more.
New Zealand stole a late goal against Slovakia to get their first-ever World Cup point. The rest of the tournament is pretty much gravy for them, because they’ve shown they belong and have probably ensured that they won’t finish last. The Kiwis actually gave Italy a scare last year in a pre-Confederations Cup friendly, though we think that’s actually bad news for them here, because it lessens the chance that Italy think they can win just by showing up.
Prediction: Italy 2-1 New Zealand
Brazil v. Cote d’Ivoire (Group G, 2:30 PM)
Fun. As we thought, Brazil were a little subdued against North Korea, finding it tough to break down the stubborn Korean defense and even giving up a dumb late goal once the game was safely in hand. Unless Kaka can get things going in midfield, Brazil are going to be more dependent on counter-attacks than usual, which limited them against a team that had no intention of attacking. Expect better against CdI, who will actually come out to play a little more.
Oh, and yes, Maicon meant that goal.
Cote d'Ivoire also looked more or less like we thought they would, with excellent athletes and much improved organization. But they also had the expected lack of touch in front of goal until Didier Drogba came on, broken arm and all, to lead the frontline. Drogba will apparently start against Brazil, which should give CdI a fighting chance. Bear in mind that a draw is a good result for CdI, because they’d likely be able to go into their last game against North Korea knowing how many goals they’d need to advance.
Prediction: Brazil 2-1 CDI