Benzema bandwagon worth riding
Matt Brocklebank and Andy Schooler preview Friday's World Cup games and France's Karim Benzema is fancied to continue his fine form.
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Matt's backing the Real Madrid man to find the target again against Switzerland.
Andy has previewed the day's two other games with Italy taking on Costa Rica in a key game in England's group, while the late match sees Honduras face Ecuador.
Check out our match verdicts below.
Costa Rica pleasantly surprised in Saturday's group opener against Uruguay, pulling off a 3-1 win that few predicted.
Uruguay admittedly looked a poor side that day but Los Ticos took full advantage with an attacking brand of football which has been prevalent in the tournament thus far.
With his Arsenal links, Joel Campbell was always going to be focused upon but his performance more than justified the added attention.
Whether he and his team-mates can cause Italy the same problems remains to be seen but they certainly didn't look a watertight outfit against an England team prepared to go at them and I'm sure that Costa Rica's approach will be a similar one.
With that in mind I'm tempted to back goals in this one, albeit that goes against the grain when it comes to Italy games.
It should be noted that this Italy team has conceded two goals in games against Argentina, Denmark, Armenia and Nigeria this season. Had England joined that list at the weekend they could have had few complaints.
It's 11/4 that there are four or more but the worry is that this game will be taking place in the heat of the day in Recife with temperatures expected to hit 28C.
Still, that didn't stop England and Italy going toe to toe in Manaus and the bet is at least worth considering.
Antonio Candreva at 9/2 in the anytime market is also worth a look.
The winger caused plenty of problems for England and got into central areas on several occasions, hitting the post on one of them.
He's since signed a new deal at Lazio so is happy, settled and, having started the tournament well, ready to get at a Costa Rican defence which has not kept a clean sheet in 13 attempts.
The price looks a little big given what we saw in Manaus.
Verdict: Italy 3 Costa Rica 1 (AS)
Best Bet: Antonio Candreva to score anytime at 9/2
Costa Rica have scored in each of their six World Cup games against teams from the UEFA confederation.
Italy's pass completion of 93% vs England is the highest rate ever recorded in a World Cup game (1966-2014).
Italy have scored in their last 15 World Cup games, a record run for them and the best current run of any side.
Italy have not won their second game at a World Cup in any of the last three editions. (D2 L1).
We all knew France were the technically superior side heading into their Group E opener against Honduras but what impressed greatly about their 3-0 victory was the way they went about their business.
Barring a moment of petulance from Paul Pogba, Les Bleus dealt with the aggressive Hondurans calmly and they didn't come close to conceding a goal.
Many predicted the injury to star midfielder Franck Ribery would have a negative effect on the team but passes were fizzing confidently between Mathieu Valbuena, Blaise Matuidi and Ribery's replacement Antoine Griezmann.
Indeed the latter, whose national-team prospects appeared dim when he was banned by the French Football Federation for a year over a disciplinary issue, could prove to be one of the rising stars to emerge from Brazil 2014.
The inexperienced Real Sociedad forward went AWOL between two play-off games for France's Under-21s in October 2012, but he looks to have come a long way since then and is clearly enjoying being allowed to roam freely by Didier Dechamps as part of a fluid front-line.
Spear-heading the attack, France have one of the finest out-and-out centre forwards at this summer's finals.
Like Griezmann, Karim Benzema has had a few disciplinary problems in the past but he looks in a good place mentally having just helped Real Madrid to Champions League glory and his virtual hat-trick (forced an own goal from the goalkeeper after hitting the post) against Honduras will have done his confidence the power of good.
The 26-year-old has everything to his game; he drops deep to collect the ball, runs tirelessly into the channels and his finishing is razor-sharp. He also has now scored eight times in his last seven internationals.
In short, given France are around 5/6 favourites to win the game, I want Benzema on side in his current mood and the 9/2 to open the scoring appears very generous.
Switzerland and the draw have come in for good support and I can understand the interest after a deserved 2-1 victory over Ecuador on Sunday.
A slow start did Ottmar Hitzfeld's side no favours but they appeared to grow in stature as the game went on and the manager's undoubted know-how came to the fore when his two substitutes both scored to turn the game around.
Stephan Lichtsteiner is functional on the right, Valon Behrami and Xherdan Shaqiri are comfortable on the ball but young striker Josip Drmic appeared so keen to showcase his talents on the biggest stage that he tried too hard and ultimately ended up doing precious little against Ecuador before being taken off after 75 minutes.
There must be some doubt as to whether he'll get the nod to start again but it's unlikely Mamadou Sakho and Raphael Varane will be quaking in their boots either way.
Switzerland look a work in progress to me and should be outclassed but, as highlighted in our preview of their clash with Honduras, France do tend to take a while to warm up in matches.
The draw/France suggestion in the half-time/full-time market only missed out due to a 45th-minute penalty that day and the same bet is worth considering again at 19/5, but red-hot strikers should be followed and I'm happy to put all my faith in the classy Benzema.
Verdict: Switzerland 0 France 2 (MB)
Best Bet: Karim Benzema to score first at 9/2
France are unbeaten in their last five games against Switzerland (W2 D3), who have yet to beat them in a competitive match.
The last three games between Switzerland and France have all been drawn and have only produced two goals.
France's Karim Benzema has scored eight goals in his last seven international appearances.
Eight of Switzerland's last 10 goals at the World Cup have come in the second half.
The question to answer here is how much of an effect did Wilson Palacios' red card have in Honduras' 3-0 defeat to Ecuador?
France were on top before the Stoke man's dismissal for a second yellow card shortly before half time but didn't make the breakthrough until he had left the field.
It's fair to say the opposition is weaker this time around and the market suggests maybe we can expect a bit more from Honduras, particularly given their need to get a result if they are to stay in with a shout of reaching the last 16.
However, Ecuador are not odds-on for nothing. They could well have beaten the Swiss on Sunday but, after blowing a lead, missed a late chance and seconds later saw their opponents net the winner on the break. Boss Reinaldo Rueda called it "a moment of naivety" which was a fair assessment.
Still they showed enough in that game to suggest they will pose Honduras plenty of problems.
One man who will look to do just that is worthy of consideration in the scorer markets, namely Enner Valencia.
He scored against the Swiss and also caught the eye when netting against England in a pre-tournament friendly. He's now on a run of scoring in his last five internationals, a record not to be sniffed at, particularly given the strength of opponents.
Valencia's run includes a goal against these very opponents - they drew 2-2 in a friendly in Houston back in November.
He's 11/5 to score at any time but a better bet may be to side with him in the first scorer market in which he's a 7/1 chance. Valencia has bagged the opener in his last two outings and, given the level of opposition, he should get chances.
It's also worth noting the both teams to score option, offered at 20/23.
It's something that's occurred in Ecuador's last six games, while if you only include games played outside Ecuador - they have a very strong home record with their games played at a high altitude - the last six between these two have also produced goals on both sides.
Verdict: Honduras 1 Ecuador 2
Best Bet: Enner Valencia to score first at 7/1
Ecuador forward Jaime Ayovi has scored three goals in his last two games against Honduras.
Honduras have failed to score in their last five World Cup games and they are still waiting for a win at the World Cup (D3 L4).
Ecuador have gone six matches in all competitions without keeping a clean sheet.
Enner Valencia has scored in each of his last five appearances for Ecuador.