FIFA World Cup 2014: Italy vs Costa Rica – Preview
Rio de Janeiro: Cesare Prandelli`s Italy and Didier Deschamps` France can take a major step towards the World Cup second round if they win their testing games on Friday.
Italy play Costa Rica in the battle of Group D`s two unbeaten teams in Recife at 1600 GMT. France and Switzerland, who also both won their opening Group E games, follow at 1600 GMT in Salvador. In the same group, Honduras and Ecuador play in Curitiba at 2200 GMT.
The day will not be easy for either of the two European powerhouses.
Italy`s stars will have to take on a Costa Rican team who pulled off a major shock by beating Uruguay 3-1 last Saturday. Maybe Prandelli should not be surprised though as 11 of the Costa Rica squad play in European championships and three in the US Major League Soccer.
Costa Rica`s spearhead striker Joel Campbell, who has just finished a season with Olympiakos in Greece on loan from Arsenal, promised Italy would have a tough time.
"We are calm, tranquil and we hope to qualify for the second round," he said confidently.
But Italy`s impressive passing game gave them control against England and veteran midfielder Daniele de Rossi declared "we always respect our adversaries but fear no one."
Italy`s captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is fit again and could reclaim his place from Salvatore Sirigu.
The FIFA rankings give Switzerland the advantage in their match as they are in sixth place and France are 17th.
But France beat Jamaica 8-0 in their last friendly and started Group E with a steely 3-0 win over Honduras. The Swiss have taken note of Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema`s goalscoring run in recent friendlies, and against Honduras, and coach Ottmar Hitzfeld shrugs off any favourites tag.
"We`re in a special position with France being our neighbours and it`s a derby, so to speak, but if we are to have a chance, we really have to go beyond our limits," said Hitzfeld.
Similarly Swiss captain Gokhan Inler predicted a "hot duel" with French midfield rival Paul Pogba -- an extension of the rivalry between their Italian league clubs Napoli and Juventus.
"It will be an interesting match for connoisseurs of football and I hope we come out of it with the right result," said the Swiss coach.
The last three matches between the two have been draws. The main incentive for the winner is that the top team in Group E will probably avoid Argentina in the next round.
Honduras play Ecuador mainly to see which of the two can avoid coming bottom of the group. Qualification for the second round would only be possible with a victory for one of them and the run of Switzerland-France draws is extended.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the game is that the respective coaches used to coach their opponents with Honduras`s Luis Fernando Suarez having guided Ecuador into the last 16 in the 2006 finals while Reinaldo Rueda coached Honduras to the 2010 World Cup finals.