Italy to dent England hopes

  • By: Ben Coley
  • Last Updated: June 14 2014, 23:12 BST

Italy are fancied to get their World Cup campaign off to an ideal start by proving too good for England this evening.

Mario Balotell can fire Italy to victory in Manaus
Mario Balotell can fire Italy to victory in Manaus

Italy are fancied to get their World Cup campaign off to an ideal start by proving too good for England this evening.

Four games take place through the night and into the early hours of Sunday morning, with much of the attention on England's opening Group D clash with Italy.

Japan and Ivory Coast promise to provide an entertaining game to round things off but before then things could be tight between Colombia and Greece as well as in the game between Uruguay and Costa Rica.

Check out our match-by-match verdict below.

Colombia v Greece (Group C, Belo Horizonte, 1700 BST)

Like Chile, Colombia impressed in reaching the finals and many punters have concluded that their South American advantage makes them players in the outright market.

The problem for those clutching antepost tickets with fancy prices on is the loss of Radamel Falcao, a blow from which they may not recover. James Rodriguez, Teofilo Gutierrez and Jackson Martinez are three players picked out by my colleague Matt Brocklebank as capable of filling the void, but I find it hard to see them getting beyond the quarter-finals.

However, they are worthy favourites to win Group C and take on the underdogs Greece here, so for many 10/11 about a win for Colombia will do.

The Greeks, however, are past-masters at grinding out results and with that in mind they may adapt better than most to conditions in South America. Their style is defensive and they're used to playing without the ball, so there's a chance they'll be able to frustrate their opponents who lack their chief creator in attack.

I certainly hope so, having put Greece forward in the 'team to concede fewest goals' market in my specials preview, so it won't surprised you that if pushed for a correct score verdict here I'd be splitting stakes between 0-0 and a 1-0 win for Colombia.

Another option is to head to the cards markets, as both these sides have eye-catching disciplinary records.

Colombia received three red cards in their 16 qualifiers and their games averaged over 6.5 cards, while Greece received two reds in 12 qualifying games and produced an average of just over 5.6 cards throughout.

With this and the make-up of the game in mind, consider going high in the total bookings markets when they form properly in the run-up to kick-off, while prices upwards of 5/2 about a red being shown also make some sort of appeal.

Verdict: Colombia 0 Greece 0

Opta facts:

Greece have failed to score in five of their six games at the World Cup, scoring only against Nigeria (2-1) in 2010 with goals by Dimitris Salpingidis and Vasilis Torosidis.

Colombia had more shots on target than any other team in South American World Cup qualification (99).

Greece kept more clean sheets than any other European team in World Cup qualifying (eight).

Colombia's 2-0 friendly victory over Greece ahead of the 1994 World Cup is the only previous meeting between the two nations.

Uruguay v Costa Rica (Group D, Fortaleza, 2000)

The fitness of star striker Luis Suarez is the key concern for Oscar Tabarez as his Uruguay side seek to strike first in Group D.

Although not to be underestimated, Costa Rica are the weakest side in the group and Tabarez knows that three points are required from this fixture before games with Italy and England.

''The Costa Ricans are fast and they will try and make life difficult for us,'' the 67-year-old coach said. ''Costa Rica is a major obstacle and we have a lot of respect for them. But our intention is to get the three points.''

With or without Suarez, Uruguay should win this game and oblige for those prepared to take prices shorter than 1/2. Their opponents came through a weak qualifying group, finishing second to the USA, and simply don't hold enough of an attacking threat to win this game after Alvaro Saborio's injury.

However, what they are is energetic and hard to beat and for that reason I like Uruguay to win by exactly one goal at 9/4. In eight previous meetings between these sides, Uruguay have won six - five by just a goal - with the other two being draws, and Costa Rica

Uruguay showed at the last World Cup that they're capable of grinding out narrow wins - they beat Mexico and South Korea by a goal as they advanced to the semi-finals - so with their bigger challenges still to come, they might just settle for one here.

Verdict: Uruguay 2 Costa Rica 1

Opta facts:

Uruguay won the only previous World Cup held in Brazil, defeating the hosts in the final in 1950.

Luis Suarez was the top scorer in the South American World Cup qualifiers (11 goals). He had the most shots on target in the last World Cup (15).

Costa Rica have won their opening game in two of their previous three World Cup tournaments (1-0 v Scotland in 1990 and 2-0 v China in 2002).

Los Ticos have lost all three previous World Cup meetings with South American sides, conceding nine goals in the process.

England v Italy (Group D, Manaus, 2300)

Ask the man in the street for a verdict on this match and it's highly likely that he'll come out with those words no neutral wants to hear - 'nil-nil'. It's a view that just seems to make sense given all the basics we know about these teams.

Under Roy Hodgson, England have been hard to break down and hard to beat, while Italy have been that way since the dawn of time haven't they?

Rewind two years and fans of both sides will quickly recall a 0-0 draw at the European Championships, and games between England and Italy since their 1980 meeting in that same competition average almost exactly 1.5 goals.

Throw in the heat and humidity of Manaus and it's pretty obvious that playing under that 1.5 spread at odds of around 6/4 will be a popular bet, one with plenty of statistical logic.

I certainly wouldn't put you off and the timing of this game in the schedule also lends itself to a tight, tense stalemate, given that both sides would be reasonably content with a point in the knowledge that two wins in their last two matches would ensure qualification.

However, this Italy side might just surprise a few with the nature of their play and while unreasonable to expect all-out attack in this scenario, they do have a lot of quality in the final third - such that Serie A top scorer Ciro Immobile is struggling to get a starting place in the team.

It's partly why I fancy them to win this group and certainly, 4/5 Italy in the draw no bet market makes a lot of appeal here.

Not only do Mario Balotelli and Immobile offer a serious goalscoring threat, but the midfield anchored by Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi is more cohesive than England's and much more efficient when it comes to ball retention - a potentially decisive factor in stifling conditions.

Antonio Candreva was one of the names to emerge from last year's Confederations Cup and can do more damage than Raheem Sterling, who is expected by many to start for England and is another reason why this may not be the crawl so many are expecting.

Italy have a very strong head-to-head record against England and providing they approach this game with the view that victory would be a giant step towards the last 16, I expect them to win.

I certainly find it very hard to envisage England keeping them out and scoring themselves, so this draw no bet option looks close to bombproof.

Verdict: England 0 Italy 2

Opta facts:

England have only won two of their last 11 internationals against Italy (D3 L6), losing to them on penalties in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012.

The one previous World Cup meeting between these two former winners came in the third place play-off in 1990; Italy won 2-1.

Italy have scored in each of their last 14 games at the World Cup, the longest current run. The last time they failed to score was on 3 July 1998 against France.

Ivory Coast v Japan (Group C, Recife, 0200)

"Wait until Saturday, June 14 to see if Yaya will play," said Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi, as he awaits confirmation that his captain, Toure, will be fit for this game.

For Ivory Coast, it's important that he is. They face an energetic Japan side, led by Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni, whose recent successes include a 3-2 friendly victory over Belgium.

Japan are everything that their African opponents are not - younger, quicker and arguably more technically astute - but Ivory Coast are a bunch who know each other well and count world-class players among their squad, the pick of whom is Toure.

With or without Toure this looks to be a fascinating, hard-to-call clash between teams of conflicting styles, and one that should entertain. Indeed, there's some temptation in both teams to score at 21/20 given Japan's all-out attacking approach and the fact that Ivory coast have scored in five of their six games at the last two World Cups - including against the likes of Holland, Brazil and Argentina.

Certainly, that would be the way to go for those searching for a bet but I'm more inclined to adopt a watching brief here in what could prove to be one of the most fascinating games of the group stage, particular while news of the game's standout player is yet to emerge.

Verdict: Ivory Coast 2 Japan 2

Opta facts:

Two of Japan's previous four World Cup wins have come in their only two previous meetings with African sides (2-0 v Tunisia in 2002 and 1-0 v Cameroon in 2010).

Despite going out in the "Group of Death" in their only two previous tournaments, Ivory Coast have the best goals/game average of any African side at World Cups (1.5).

These sides have met three times before, all in friendlies; Japan won the first two 1-0, before Ivory Coast won 2-0 in the most recent meeting in 2010.