Neymar lines up a free kick during Brazil's World Cup opener against Switzerland. Photo: AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

CAPE TOWN - After the shock of Argentina going down to Croatia last night (Thursday), will there be further surprises in this most engaging World Cup? There is certainly potential for one in the Brazil v Costa Rica game, while Africa will be holding thumbs for Nigeria…

2pm: Brazil v Costa Rica (Saint Petersburg)

Are the real Brazil going to stand up? After a disappointing 1-1 draw with Switzerland, they need to prove that they are genuine title contenders. And for that to happen, they need Neymar to wake up. The PSG star was kicked to pieces by the robust Swiss defence, and it’s going to be no different against the tough-tackling Costa Ricans.

The fact that he limped out of training this week won’t help his cause, although he has been declared fit to play. He has more than enough support, with Philippe Coutinho scoring a wonderful goal in the opening game.

Costa Rica lost to Serbia, and need to pull off an upset. Goalkeeper Keylor Navas is a familiar face from Real Madrid, but it’s upfront where the likes of Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz will have to make things uncomfortable for the Brazilian back division.

Prediction: Brazil 1-0 Costa Rica

5pm: Nigeria v Iceland

Suddenly, following Argentina’s 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Croatia, Group D has opened up for Nigeria. If the Super Eagles can get past Iceland, they will be confident of toppling Lionel Messi’s demoralised team – as they did so last November.

But then captain John Obi Mikel and his teammates will have to produce the performance of their lives, as they lacked a spark in surrendering meekly to Croatia. The likes of Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho are a powerful attacking force, but can they hold off an Iceland side that scored against Argentina? Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson is Iceland’s stand-out player, while their physical presence could intimidate Nigeria…

Prediction: Nigeria 1-0 Iceland

8pm: Serbia v Switzerland

Things could get rough and tough in this one! Switzerland will be brimming with confidence after holding Brazil to a draw, including man-marking Neymar so tighthly that his socks were torn. 

But they’ll come up against an equally abrasive Serbian side that won’t take a step backwards, and who come off a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica. Branislav Ivanovic will be their rock in defence, while Aleksandar Kolarov scored the winner in the opening game with a powerful free kick.

Manchester United’s Nemanja Matic adds a touch of class to the midfield, but he will face a serious challenge from the Swiss duo of Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka, while Steven Zuber will look to follow up on his goal against Brazil.

Prediction: Serbia 1-1 Switzerland


IOL Sport

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