Just two days remaining of the second round of group games and the pressure, as we’ve seen over the past few days, is really starting to tell. Next to enter the
SLOVAKIA vs. PARAGUAY
12.30pm – Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Slovakia produced a sluggish performance against New Zealand during their opening game, and with the strongest sides in Group F still to come, Coach Vladimir Weiss knows his team have their work cut out to reach the last 16. He went as far to call their draw with the All Whites a “small sporting tragedy” and his young squad will be keen to make amends. Their opponents Paraguay frustrated Italy in their first match, but failed to kill off the reigning World Champions as they too picked up just a point.
However, Gerardo Martino’s side should have an added cutting edge as they welcome back Roque Santa Cruz from the start after a long-term knee injury. In fact his cameo appearance against the Italians, albeit a short one, proved his worth to the South Americans as he produced a number of assured touches. Club teammate Vladimir Weiss will again be decisive in the Slovaks’ midfield, while Stanislav Sestak is expected to start up-front in the place of the ineffective Erik Jendrisek.
ITALY vs. NEW ZEALAND
3pm – Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Gianluigi Buffon has joined Andrea Pirlo on the sidelines, with an injury looking set to rule the Juventus goalkeeper out of the rest of the tournament. Pirlo’s return is as yet uncertain, and Italy’s ability to retain possession against Paraguay in the absence of the Milan midfielder subsided dramatically as a result. Up-front, Antonio Di Natale is expected to partner Alberto Gilardino.
New Zealand showed similar defensive steel as they did during the Confederations Cup last year, but an added goal threat meant their first point in World Cup history was secured in the closing minutes against Slovakia. Tim Brown, who was injured for New Zealand’s opening game, should return to bolster the midfield. Having seen a number of high profile sides falter during this tournament already, Italy face a potential banana skin against the All Whites but it would take one of the more farfetched results in World Cup history for the three-time champions to be toppled in Nelspruit.
BRAZIL vs. IVORY COAST
7.30pm – Green Point, Johannesburg
It may have been a relatively comfortable win against DPR Korea, but in truth the expectations of Brazilian supporters and media would hardly have been realized after the five-time winners’ opening game of the tournament. A usually free-flowing Brazilian team were kept at bay for long periods against North Korea, who despite scoring late in the game, posed little attacking threat to punish their lacklustre opponents. Ivory Coast however, are sure to pose a far greater threat going forward. The return of Didier Drogba is crucial to Sven Goran Eriksson side’s chance in the group, with the talisman set to partner Chelsea teammate Salomon Kalou upfront. His opposite number Dunga is expected to name an unchanged side but the form of a number of his star turns, not least Kaka, is bound to worry the former captain. How to stop Drogba, one of the faces of this World Cup, is likely to give the boss a further headache.