Controversy once again marred proceedings in Natal as Mexico fought an uphill battle against torrential rain and questionable officiating to grab a deserved win against Cameroon in Group A. Group B was decidedly less tense as the Dutch erased an early deficit to storm to a convincing 5-1 win over Spain, the largest ever against a defending champion at the World Cup. Later on, Chile dispatched an over matched but valiant Australia side as Alexis Sanchez scored and assisted 2 minutes apart in the first half to stake Chile to a lead they never surrendered.
Now we can look ahead to Groups C and D, the latter of which features Brad's beloved England side, swing into action on Saturday.
Columbia v. Greece- 11:30 AM- ABC
Columbia will be without their undisputed best player in Falcao, who failed to recover in time from an ACL injury sustained during his turbulent first season in Monaco. They do, however, still have his club team mated James Rodriguez, who is more than capable of lighting up this stage himself, and fellow youngsters Victor Ibarbo and Juan Qintero bring youth to a sqaud also featuring a 38 year old captain in Mario Yepes, and 42 year old reserve goalkeeper Faryd Mandragon, who will be suiting up for a World Cup game 20 years after he first did in 1994, when Quintero was 1. Greece, on the other hand, play a very negative, style free brand of soccer designed to grind out results without being overly fun to watch, or even glance at for that matter. They made the tournament despite scoring 12 times in 10 games of qualifying. Needless to say, the purists will be in the corner of the South Americans for this one.
Level of Interest: Watching someone play Syracuse without a shot clock
Uruguay v. Costa Rica- 2:30 PM- ABC
Uruguay are the trendy pick to win Group D, thanks to their fear inspiring striking duo of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. While both supply goals by the boatload, they also have developed the ability to utilize one another and get the best out of the rest of Uruguay's wealth of attacking talent, as well. Their first test should be an easy one in Costa Rica, who will hope that Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz can recieve enough service to keep pace with Uruguay's attack, a task made easier by Suarez's absence.
Level of Interest: Watching a power conference team warm up against a cupcake
England v. Italy- 5:30 PM- ESPN
This one is definitely the crown jewel of the day's action, featuring two of the sport's traditional powers duking it out where soccer was meant to be played: in the middle of the Amazon jungle. While the choice of Manaus as a vanue for games is an interesting one to say the least (and a mind boggling one to say the most), both teams have tried to prepare for the heat and humidity as well as possible. England will be pinning their hopes on their almost unbreakable solidarity, developed under traditionalist Roy Hodgson, to supplant their former reliance on the individual brilliance of Gascoigne, Beckham, Owen, and co. Their fans will also clamber for young guns such as Danny Sturridge and Ross Barkley to be given a chance to sprinkle in a bit of magic with their organization. Meanwhile, Italy boasts legendary (read: old) midfielder Andrea Pirlo and one of the best back lines in the world to support striker Mario Balotelli, whose run ins with the English media may add fuel to his fire. He may also have forgotten all about it by now, who knows?
Level of Interest for Brad: Just stitch it shut with the needle and thread, honey. The hospital is open 24/7
Level of Interest for the Rest of Us: Two historically great programs going head to head at the beginning of the season. Call it UCONN-Michigan State.
Ivory Coast v. Japan- 8:30 PM- ESPN
The Ivory Coast's national team is known as Les Elephants, which is French for The Elephants (you're welcome). They have roughly the same makeup as the 2010 iteration of the team, which had a similar makeup to that of the 2006 squad. All this to say, it is a group of players that took the nation to its first World Cup, but has failed to make much of an impact beyond that. This seems like the curtain call for Drogba, both Toures, and possibly Kalou as well, meaning that the greatest generation of players Ivory Coast has ever produced will be looking to make this one count. It starts against a Japan squad who was shaky in qualification, losing to Uzbekistan, Jordan, and North Korea, while also exiting last year's Confederations Cup with nary a point to show for their performance. They do have firepower at the front though, in Shinji Okazaki, the leading scorer in Asian qualification, and Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa, who play their trade for AC Milan and Manchester United, respectively. All that being said, this is an intriguing matchup and will be well worth late night viewing.
Level of Interest: A big game in a mid-major conference such as, say, the AAC.