Super Mario can tame Lions
Ian Ogg previews this evening's World Cup games as Spain look to get their tournament back on the right track.
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Ian Ogg previews tonight's World Cup games as Spain look to get their tournament back on the right track.Spain v Chile (Group B, Rio de Janeiro, 2000 BST)
Vicente del Bosque shouldn't need to motivate his players who will be hurting after their dismal display against the Netherlands but their confidence must be shaken and Chile will be keen to put Iker Casillas under pressure to see if they can rattle the experienced stopper.
They will have to get the ball first, of course, and they have yet to defeat the Spaniards; the layers aren't expecting them to get the better of the World Champions who are a general 4/7.
It's hard to argue with that price with the Chileans fading after a bright start against Australia and their defence should be put under even more pressure by the Europeans.
Chile have managed to keep just one clean sheet in their last five (against Northern Ireland) but they haven't had any problems at the other end and have scored at least two goals in their last seven World Cup games and 10 of their last 12 internationals, including a 2-2 draw with Spain in September.
Goals, goals, goals is the way forward it seems and they may deem that attack is, indeed, the best form of defence given their frailties at the rear and plenty of people will be expecting a high scoring encounter.
While it could be fun to watch, profiting from that outcome is less straightforward with the markets priced up on that expectation but one area where there does appear to be a little mileage is backing Spain to win with both teams to score.
The Spaniards need to win in order to guarantee staying in the tournament and they have enough experience in their ranks to rise to the challenge and the 11/5 makes some appeal.
Verdict: Spain 2 Chile 1 (IO)
Chile have never beaten Spain in their 10 previous encounters (D2 L8).
Spain lost their opening game of the 2010 World Cup finals (0-1 v Switzerland) but became the first team to ever lift the World Cup trophy after having lost their opening game of the tournament.
Alexis Sanchez has been involved in seven of the last eight goals that Chile have scored (six assists and one goal).
Spain have not lost back to back internationals since October 2006 (2-3 v Northern Ireland and 0-2 v Sweden).
This will be the first ever game between Cameroon and Croatia who are playing an African nation for the first time in a World Cup and they will be expected to walk away with the points.
The Indomitable Lions scraped through qualifying and managed only one shot on target in the whole of their opening group stage game against Mexico - and that came in the 91st minute!
In contrast, Croatia have scored in all of their last five matches and will be boosted by their fine performance against Brazil and the expected return to the starting line-up of Mario Mandzukic.
The Bayern Munich man's goal threat should prove too much for Cameroon and it will be a huge surprise if the game doesn't result in anything but an early exit from the tournament for the Africans.
Cameroon were flattered by the 1-0 scoreline in their opening game with two 'good' goals incorrectly ruled out and Volker Finke's defence will have their work cut out to keep this game to the same margin.
Niko Kovac has vowed to set his team up in a more attacking fashion saying: "Against Cameroon it will be a completely different game. It was difficult to attack Brazil - we had to look through counterattacks - but against Cameroon we will have greater ball possession and seek dominance.
"The first goal will be an advantage - it would be good to go into half-time with a positive result. We know all about Cameroon, we analysed them like Brazil and will set our tactics accordingly."
They may only have had 39% possession against Brazil but their passing accuracy was up at 78% and their composure was impressive when they had the ball which will help in the humid conditions at Manaus.
Ivica Olic and Ivan Perisic both performed well on the flanks against Brazil and backing Mandzukic to score with a header is worth considering for those who fancy him to net.
There's no need to complicate matters, however, with Croatia to be leading at half-time and full-time a perfectly respectable 6/4.
Verdict: Cameroon 0 Croatia 2 (IO)
Cameroon have won only one of their 13 World Cup games against European sides (2-1 v Romania in 1990), drawing five and losing seven.
Cameroon have only won one of their last 14 World Cup games (1-0 v Saudi Arabia in 2002), drawing four and losing nine.
The Indomitable Lions have scored just seven goals in their last 12 World cup matches, and never more than once during this run.
Croatia will have Mario Mandzukic available for selection for the first time in this World Cup finals tournament. No player scored more headed goals than the Bayern Munich striker in the top five European leagues in 2013-14 (7).
Croatia have not won any of their last five World Cup matches (L3 D2), with their last WC finals victory coming in 2002 versus Italy (2-1).