Rooney to revel in central role

  • By: Ben Coley and Matt Brocklebank
  • Last Updated: June 19 2014, 20:23 BST

Ben Coley and Matt Brocklebank preview Thursday's World Cup action with England expected to prove too good for Uruguay.

Wayne Rooney: Can step up and score his first World Cup goal
Wayne Rooney: Can step up and score his first World Cup goal

Colombia v Ivory Coast (Group C, Belo Horizonte, 1700 BST)

Following really successful qualification campaigns and confidence-boosting victories in their opening World Cup games, Colombia and Ivory Coast look set to serve up a treat in Brasilia.

Los Cafeteros are the general 11/10 favourites having outclassed Greece 3-0 following a very bright start to their Group C encounter.

The pace and trickery of Monaco forward James Rodriguez playing in behind Teofilo Gutierrez caused the Greeks all sorts of problems and there was also a lot to like about the way captain Mario Yepes organised his troops at the back.

Ivory Coast were labouring against Japan and trailing 1-0 until the introduction of talismanic striker Didier Drogba sparked The Elephants into life just after the hour mark.

Drogba didn't have a direct hand in either of their goals that turned the game around but Ivory Coast looked re-energised when the former Chelsea superstar came off the bench and it will be fascinating to see if he makes the starting line-up this time.

My inclination is that he won't, as dropping goalscorer Wilfried Bony would do his confidence no good whatsoever.

With or without Drogba in the lone front role, Gervinho, who also opened his account against Greece, and Salomon Kalou offer enough of a threat cutting in from wide positions to think Colombia aren't going to be in for an easy ride.

Yaya Toure somehow managed to claim the FIFA Man of the Match award against Japan but it was a relatively low-key performance and he's still looking some way short of peak fitness.

The Man City man drives the Ivory Coast midfield from the centre and they tend to surge forward in numbers, which is likely to leave gaping gaps in behind for Rodriguez and co to exploit.

I suggested a small wager on Ivory Coast to win all three group games at 20/1 might be the way to profit in my in-depth Group C preview but, having seen both sides in action out in Brasil, I couldn't be confident by any means and if anything the adventurous Colombia look most likely here.

A draw wouldn't be the end of the world for either side but victory would likely mean top spot in the group and avoiding Group D winners so the incentive is there to attack.

Goals look an absolute given if the game is played as expected and backing over 3.5 at 31/10 means we can sit back and revel in the end-to-end action.

Verdict: Colombia 3 Ivory Coast 2 (MB)

Opta facts:

Colombia's record against African sides at the World Cup is balanced with one defeat (against Cameroon in 1990) and one win (against Tunisia in 1998).

Ivory Coast's two previous World Cup games against South American sides both ended in defeats (1-2 v Argentina in 2006 and 1-3 v Brazil in 2010).

Didier Drogba has scored both of Ivory Coast's goals against South American sides at the World Cup (v Argentina in 2006 and v Brazil in 2010).

Uruguay v England (Group D, Sao Paolo, 2000)

For the second time in less than a week, punters have been out in force to back England - this time to see off Uruguay and put themselves in prime position to reach the knockout stages of the World Cup.

Saturday's plunge might've been labelled a patriotic punt in places but it was more than that, and again there seems to be a weight of confidence behind England seldom seen at summer finals despite the fact that they ultimately lost their opening Group D game.

How much Gigi Buffon's absence from the Italy starting XI had to do with the gamble gone astray we'll never be sure, but it seems pretty clear to me that the uncertainty surrounding the fitness of Luis Suarez has something to do with England being chalked up as 6/5 favourites for Thursday's game in Sao Paulo.

The Liverpool striker says he is "100% ready" but only five days will have passed since he was left on the bench despite his side's struggles against Costa Rica, so I find it hard to buy into that claim. I've little doubt that Suarez will start, but I do question whether he'll be truly ready to produce the sort of performance his country so desperately needs.

Without him, Uruguay don't look strong. Edinson Cavani offered little bar showing himself capable of converting a penalty on Saturday night and was well and truly outshone by the Costa Rica attack, while Diego Forlan lasted only an hour and is clearly on the decline after a long, prosperous career for club and country.

The absence of the suspended Maxi Pereira is a concern and Diego Lugano looks particularly vulnerable, so England and their fans have cause for optimism heading into a game which may well shape their campaign - even though they can advance regardless of the result here providing Costa Rica don't get anything from Italy.

Roy Hodgson's side showed more against the Azzurri than we've come to expect in recent years. While ultimately coming up short - arguably due to the fact that Italy had those one or two match-winners lacking from the England team - they produced several periods of prolonged dominance and looked a consistent threat on the counter-attack on those occasions that Italy had managed to pen them in.

Speculation is mounting that the much-maligned (and unfairly, based solely on Saturday) Wayne Rooney will revert to a more familiar central role for this game and at 13/2 he makes plenty of appeal to open the scoring.

It's well-documented that the Manchester United striker hasn't produced on the biggest stage for his country but it's fair to say that's always had plenty to do with the supporting cast and, with Hodgson set to give him the confidence boost he's always relied on, I expect a display reminiscent of those which offered a ray of hope for his country back in 2004.

Certainly, from a central role and with market leader Suarez unlikely to be at his best, there's plenty of juice in 13/2 quotes about Rooney answering his critics in the best possible way and that represents a sporting wager for those who, like me, think England may edge this without offering pre-match value at the odds.

Verdict: Uruguay 0 England 2 (BC)

Opta facts:

England have scored in each of their last eight World Cup encounters with South American sides.

England recorded their highest ever World Cup pass completion rate (91%) in the opening match vs Italy (1966-2014).

Uruguay continued their run of not winning an opening group game since 1970 and they have won only once in their second game in their last six World Cup appearances.

Japan v Greece (Group C, Natal, 2300)

Given how easily Greece were brushed aside by Colombia, it's probable that 6/5 quotes about a Japan win will attract support here particularly if Ivory Coast frank the form by giving a Colombia a game as my colleague Matt Brocklebank expects them to.

Those who stayed up into the wee small hours will know that Japan threatened to put Ivory Coast to bed in the first half of their opening game before a quickfire double after the break turned the game on its head, and it seems certain to me that they'll once again create chances against a Greece outfit whose confidence must be at a low.

Keisuke Honda was the man responsible for Japan's strike against the Ivory Coast and at 7/1 he'll have his backers to again score, but it's Shinji Okazaki who catches my eye at 6/1 given the lasting impression he's made on many a Bundesliga judge with his performances for Mainz.

I'd like to see him returned to the middle instead of asked to cut in from the right, though, so until there's suggestion that will be the case I can leave the price alone.

Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda - the pair capable of setting the tone for the Blue Samurai - have both been bullish in their responses to last week's defeat and you'd have to think the spirit in their camp is much better than Fernando Santos's men.

The Portuguese coach may be forced to recall the experienced Giorgos Karagounis to his starting line-up in the hope that they can have more of a say in midfield, where Japan look sharper and more technically able under the guidance of Alberto Zaccheroni, and that says much about the lack of options at his disposal.

Giorgios Samaras has promised that Greece will again seek to attack - in contrast to the approach which has brought them so much success - and that may again be their undoing against a side who are more gifted on paper, and who played well enough for an hour against the Ivory Coast to suggest that they can win again here.

At odds-against, Japan look a solid bet.

Verdict: Japan 2 Greece 0 (BC)

Opta facts:

This is Japan and Greece's first World Cup encounter.

Their only previous meeting was in the 2005 Confederations Cup with Japan securing a 1-0 win thanks to a goal by Masashi Oguro. Yasuhito Endo is the only current member of the Japan squad to have taken part in that game.

Greece have failed to score in six of their seven World Cup games. Only against Nigeria in 2010 did they manage to find the net (2-1 - Dimitris Salpingidis and Vasilis Torosidis).