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Thursday's WCup Tips

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Editor's Note: Don't miss out on World Cup winners from our soccer expert Toby Maxtone-Smith. Click to win!

Uruguay vs. England (ESPN, 3:00 p.m. ET)

Uruguay face England in Thursday’s most important World Cup match at the Arena São Paulo. Both teams lost their opening group matches, but in very different circumstances. While England came out of an unlucky 2-1 defeat to Italy with some credit, there was some serious soul-searching to be done in the Uruguayan camp as the two-time champions went down 3-1 to Costa Rica.

Italy look very likely to qualify, and unless Costa Rica prove that their victory over Uruguay was no flash in the pan, this game could go a long way to deciding who follows Italy to the knockout stages. A defeat would be almost fatal. A draw would be a better result for Roy Hodgsons’s England side - they would back themselves to get a better result against Costa Rica than Uruguay do against Italy (assuming Italy beat Costa Rica on Friday).

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The big team news is that Luis Suarez returns for Uruguay. He terrorised the English Premier League last year and will be the key if the South Americans are to unlock the English defence. For England, the main question comes over the role of Wayne Rooney. Will he play through the middle, or on the left. Will he play at all?

England’s good performance against Uruguay has seen them backed into 91/100 favourites with Sportsbook.ag, but this seems too short against a side that, whatever its faults, has good tournament experience. Uruguay are 14/5 with a draw chalked up at 27/10.

Traditionally, both these teams have had their strength in defence, but I’d question whether that is the case this year. England creative lots of chances against Italy, and they have a less formidable defence than at most past tournaments, with full-backs Glen Johnson and Leighton Baines particularly suspect defensively.

Likewise Uruguay aren’t great at the back. Diego Godin had a fine season with Atletico Madrid, but his partner is 33 year-old Diego Lugano. Never the quickest, Lugano’s lack of pace has now become a severe problem. It forces Uruguay to sit very deep and play too uncreative destroyers in central-midfield, both of whom have disciplinary problems. Daniel Sturridge, who leads the England attack, is very quick and can certainly exploit this lack of pace. I’m very keen on over 2.5 goals at 19/20.

The joint leaders of the First Goalscorer market are Liverpool duo Sturridge and Suarez, both at 4/1. With superior service and without a strike partner to take half his chances, Sturridge looks a better shout at the prices. Raheem Sterling, who almost broke the deadlock for England against Italy and was their outstanding player, is now as short as 7/1 to score first. Rickie Lambert will be England’s Plan B - it is easy to foresee him scoring late on.

Top Bet: Over 2.5 goals - 27/10

Colombia vs. Ivory Coast (ESPN, 12:00 p.m. ET)

In the first game of the day, Colombia meet Ivory Coast. Having been backed from 150/1 three years ago into around 25/1 now, Colombia are tipped by many to do well in Brazil. They were very convincing in a 3-0 win against a limited Greece side, and they are 11/10 favourites to all but seal qualification with a win in Brasília. Ivory Coast came from behind to beat Japan 2-1 in their first game, putting them in a great position to qualify.

Ivory Coast are available at 23/10 here, and a draw is 5/2, but I’d be inclined to get on Colombia. They have the attacking weapons to open up the ageing Ivorian defence. Juan Cuadrado was excellent on the wing against Greece, while James Rodriguez in behind Teofilo Gutierrez both have lots of goals in them.

In Kolo Touré and Sol Bamba, Ivory Coast have a defence that is vulnerable to pace, and Colombia certainly have that.

Top Bet: Colombia to win at 11/10

Greece vs. Japan (ESPN, 6:00 p.m. ET)

In a real ‘do or die’ game in Natal, both Japan and Greece know that a defeat is likely to end their participation at the World Cup, while a draw would not be of much more help. This is a must-win. Japan played some good stuff in their 2-1 defeat to Ivory Coast, but as so often, they were let down in both penalty areas. Their finishing wasn’t good enough, and their defending was naive. Everywhere else, they were excellent.

Greece were totally outplayed in a 3-0 defeat to Colombia in a match they did not for one moment look like getting anything out of. There is a chronic lack of creative players in their team, although their defence is not the worst.

Japan should win this one. They are the 11/10 favourites and rightfully so. Greece are at 11/4 with a draw at 5/2. While Greece’s centre-backs are good, their two full-backs (particularly left-back Jose Holebas) often get caught far too high up the field. Japan have the pace and the quick passing to exploit that. Shinji Okazaki, who can play both wide right and up front, looks a good pick for first goalscorer at 6/1. He has scored 38 in 76 goals, and has recently become the regular goalscorer Japan have craved.

Top Bets: Japan to win at 11/10, Shinji Okazaki to score first at 6/1

  
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