World Cup Day 3 is the busiest, longest day of the tournament in Brazil with four games spread out over 11+ hours.
Game No. 1: Colombia vs. Greece (Group C), 12 p.m. (ABC, Adrian Healey and Taylor Twellman)
How good is Colombia? Playing without injured striker Radamel Falcao, Colombia remains a trendy pick to make a deep run into the tournament — granted today represents the first time many touting its virtues will see the team actually play. Greece could prove decent opposition, given its defensive nature. Greece dropped its opener in 2010 to South Korea, 2-0, there are enough holdovers left in the side to make you think they’ll be more cautious this time around. A point here would be welcome for Greece, disappointing for Colombia.
Remember this is Colombia’s first World Cup match since 1998. Given its talented roster (James Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado, etc.) a lot is expected, regardless of that long wait. Teófilo Gutiérrez and Víctor Ibarbo will start at forward for Colombia. The duo has a combined 13 international goals.
Hopefully Colombia’s No. 1 fan — the ‘Birdman’ — gave the squad a pep talk before kickoff.
Game No. 2: Uruguay vs. Costa Rica (Group D), 3 p.m. (ABC, Jon Champion and Stewart Robson)
Luis Suarez’s isn’t expected to play Saturday and his status for the rest of the World Cup remains veiled in a cloud of uncertainty, turning Uruguay from a legitimate darkhorse to a massive question mark. (Note the use of two buzzwords in one sentence!) Which Uruguay team do we see? The one that went to the semifinals in 2010 and won the Copa America the following summer or the one that nearly failed to qualify for Brazil? Can Edison Cavani fill in for Suarez capably, or will he again be ineffective like he was standing in for Zlatan Ibrahimovic in PSG’s loss to Chelsea in the Champions League quarterfinals?
Costa Rica never gets much respect from the world soccer media, but Americans should know the Ticos are hardly pushovers, although losing Alvaro Saborio to an injury before the tournament is big loss. If nothing else, Joel Campbell should increase his list of suitors for Arsenal to loan him out to (again) over the three Group D games.
Game No. 3: England vs. Italy (Group D), 6 p.m. (ESPN, Ian Darke and Steve McManaman)
Don’t mention the heat.
If England manager Roy Hodgson has the guts (sorry, hard to type that with a straight face) to play guys like Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson — youngsters off good club seasons — maybe the Three Lions surprise in Brazil. If he throws out the tired, wizened Steven Gerrard-Frank Lampard midfield Italy is going to grind this down to a 0-0 draw or a game decided on a Andrea Pirlo free kick and we’re all going to hate soccer and life (well, except for Pirlo’s glorious beard). It’s in your hands, Roy.
Italy’s World Cup-winning all-everything keeper Gigi Buffon is a late scratch for the match with an ankle injury. PSG’s Salvatore Sirigu will deputize. The biggest loss here is we won’t get to see Buffon belt out the Italian National Anthem before kickoff.
Bonus England song:
Another bonus clip: a great goal by Macca in the 2000 Champions League final for Real Madrid.
And if you’re really bored, try to keep track of all the times the tropical, Amazonian climate of Manaus is mentioned during the match.
Game No. 4: Ivory Coast vs. Japan (Group C), 9 p.m. (ESPN, Derek Rae and Efan Ekoku)
Didier Drogba & Co. have smiled about this matchup since the draw came out in December. In its previous two World Cups, the Ivory Coast opened against European powers Argentina and Portugal — losing and drawing respectively. Japan represents a winnable match for the Ivory Coast which enters the 2014 tournament on so-so form. The Ivory Coast has the standout players here: Drogba, Yaya Toure, Gervinho, etc., but Japan could be the more organized squad. The Samurai Blue also have experience playing at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife from last year’s Confederations Cup. Group C might be the most wide-open of the World Cup and three points here puts either team well on its well to the knockout rounds.