By Nick Mulvenney, Gideon Long and Rex Gowar
Italy must find a way to shut down Uruguay striker Luis Suarez when the teams clash at the Dunas arena on Tuesday in a World Cup showdown which will decide who goes through to the last 16.
Uruguay, semi-finalists four years ago, will arrive in Natal on an almighty high after Suarez’s double strike beat England and eased the pain of their opening 3-1 loss to Costa Rica – a match their totemic striker missed as he recovered his fitness. Italy also lost to Costa Rica by 1-0 but their opening victory over England means the four-time World Cup winners need a point from the fixture, while twice champions Uruguay must win because of their inferior goal difference.
If there was any team you would back to shackle a goal-scoring phenomenon, it would probably be Italy but they will need to be at their miserly best at the back to deny Suarez and his strike partner Edinson Cavani.
“They are a very strong combination in attack,” Italy captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon told reporters on Sunday. “This is not something we’re discovering now. They’ve established their reputation as a duo for Uruguay and on their own for their clubs.”
With Suarez already confirmed as fit to play by the Uruguay team doctor despite pre-tournament knee surgery, and captain Diego Lugano still an injury doubt, coach Oscar Tabarez could stick with the same lineup that beat England. Italy and Uruguay played out an entertaining 2-2 draw in the Confederations Cup in Brazil last year with the Italians claiming a third-place playoff win by 3-2 in a penalty shootout.
Greece and Ivory Coast meanwhile are both appearing at their third World Cup and neither has ever reached the second round, but that could change on Tuesday when they meet for the first time in their final Group C clash.
The Ivorians have the better chance of going through, having taken three points from Japan in their opening match. Victory over the Greeks will put them into the last 16 and even a draw might be enough.
Greece have no such luxury. Having taken just a point from their first two matches they have to win, and even then they might lose out to the Japanese on goal difference. The former European champions have an abysmal record at the World Cup. In their eight matches to date they have conceded 18 goals and scored just twice. Their only victory was a 2-1 win over Nigeria in South Africa four years ago.
Here in Brazil, their usually solid defence let them down in a 3-0 defeat by Colombia in their opener, and they were slightly lucky to scrape a goalless draw against Japan. The Ivorians have a better World Cup pedigree than Greece but not by much. They recorded wins over Serbia in 2006 and North Korea four years ago and kicked off their campaign in Brazil with a 2-1 victory over Japan.
Striker Didier Ya Konan played in that match but missed the Elephants’ subsequent 2-1 loss to Colombia with a knee injury. Coach Sabri Lamouchi is hoping he will be fit again in time to face the Greeks.
The sun could rise again for Japan at the World Cup if they upset Colombia at the Pantanal arena on Tuesday although they will also need the result of the other match on the last day of Group C to go their way.
Colombia have already qualified for the round of 16 with six points after stringing together two wins for the first time in five visits to the finals. Japan, who have just one point from their first two matches, can expect to find the going tough in the hot conditions in Cuiaba which will better suit the Colombians, used to playing their home games in the qualifiers at steamy Barranquilla on the Caribbean coast.
They also face a side that iconic 1990s playmaker Carlos Valderrama said had recovered his country’s footballing identity under the guidance of coach Jose Pekerman and will be looking for a third win.
“I think these lads are making history…I feel admiration and respect for the professor (Pekerman) with all he has done, he recovered the identity of Colombian football,” Valderrama told reporters.
Japan have no option but to attack which is the way they play best. The Asians may command plenty of possession, moving the ball swiftly with many interchanges among the front four and full backs Yuto Nagatomo and Aysuto Uchida playing like wingers. However, the team have failed to click in Brazil after a promising start against the Ivorians when Keisuke Honda scored their only goal so far before losing 2-1