Ivory Coast v Japan
Watch the match live on ITV1 at 2am UK time (Sunday)
The Ivory Coast has produced numerous world-class players in recent years, but they have exited at the group stage in their two previous World Cup forays. And the Elephants have, somewhat surprisingly, yet to triumph in the African Cup of Nations.
However, in contrast to South Africa four years ago when they were drawn in the ‘Group of Death’, Sabri Lamouchi’s men have been presented with a good opportunity to reach the last 16 in Brazil, having been pitched into Group C with Colombia, Greece and Japan.
The Ivory Coast kick-start their campaign in the early hours of Sunday morning (UK time) against reigning champions of Asia, Japan, and BetVictor make the African side marginal favourites at 17/10, with Japan at 15/8 and go 23/10 the draw.
On paper, the Elephants look the stronger nation. But key players such as Didier Drogba (36), Didier Zakora (33) and Yaya Toure (31) are all either at, or approaching, the veteran stage in terms of their football careers.
Toure showed no signs that his powers were on the wane in the Premier League, playing a pivotal role in Manchester City’s title-winning campaign, chipping in with an impressive 20 goals. He could make a big impact in Brazil, but he’s a doubt ahead of this match due to a hamstring problem.
The Japanese, on the other hand, have been given a boost in terms of personnel, with captain Makoto Hasebe set to return after recovering from a serious knee injury. The key player for Alberto Zaccheroni’s side could prove to be Shinji Okazaki who weighed in with eight goals during Japan’s qualification campaign.
Despite the Ivory Coast’s perceived superiority, to my mind the Samurai Blue operate with more cohesion on the pitch and, when push comes to shove, I reckon Japan will want it more. And at 15/8 with BetVictor they rate a good bet to draw first blood in Group C.
Switzerland v Ecuador
Watch the match live on ITV1 from 4pm on Sunday
Switzerland and Ecuador will meet for the first time in the opening match of Group E on Sunday, and it promises to be a tight, evenly-matched game between two up-and-coming footballing nations.
Since taking hold of the national squad reins, Ottmar Hitzfeld has made the Swiss more of a threat going forward. The likes of Josip Drmic, who has recently joined Bayer Leverkusen, and Real Sociedad’s Haris Seferovic are dangerous strikers.
Switzerland’s defensive record is still very strong. They upset Spain in their opening game in South Africa four years ago and they’ve conceded just once in their last seven World Cup matches overall. Bet365 go 31/20 about La Nati making a winning start in Brazil, too.
Ecuador are 11/5 with the same firm. On the face of it, that looks decent value about a progressive side that will be better equipped to cope with the hot, humid conditions than their rivals who, incidentally, have lost their last four matches against South American opposition.
La Tri coach Reinaldo Rueda has injury concerns ahead of this game, with midfielder Segundo Castillo ruled out of the tournament and Christian Noboa a doubt after taking a knock in the friendly against England.
Still, Ecuador will pose a real threat going forward, particularly with Antonio Valencia and Jefferson Montero bombing down the wings. Rueda is likely to opt for a 4-4-2 formation with Enner Valencia and Felipe Caicedo as centre forwards.
There won’t be much in this game; the draw is appealing at 21/10, but I reckon Ecuador will have enough about them to edge it, so the aforementioned 11/5 with Bet365 about the La Tri is the recommendation.