Sunday's World Cup preview

Sat, Jun 19
9:40
PM ET

Slovakia versus Paraguay, Sunday, 7:30 a.m. ET, Bloemfontein

Fittingly on Father's Day, Slovakian Vladimir Weiss Jr. will trot onto the pitch under the adoring gaze of his father and coach, Vladimir Weiss. Their spontaneous hug upon Junior's substitution was one of the emotional high points of the tournament so far. The Slovakians were unlucky to leak a goal to New Zealand late in injury time and will be eager to compensate by earning the three points before challenging Italy in the final game. The Paraguayans will hope for more offensive output from Roque Santa Cruz and Oscar Cardozo. Especially because swimsuit model Dallys Ferreira has offered to "make love to each member of the Paraguay World Cup team" if they lift the trophy, adding, "The players know my pledge still stands. Women from my country are ardent, and to be honest, I'm more ardent than most. I take no notice of societal norms."

Italy versus New Zealand, Sunday, 10 a.m. ET, Nelspruit

I, too, am "honest and ardent" and would offer myself up to my New Zealand maestros if they were to trump the World Champion Italians. Fan favorite Shane Smeltz was among the most ineffective players on the pitch in their opening 1-1 tie against Slovakia, yet he still managed to conjure the magic to set up their last-ditch equalizer. Watch out, Italy, if Smeltzy actually decides to get his head into the game. A sloppy Italy labored in their opener, as they so often do. The team has lost goalkeeping anchor Gigi Buffon to a herniated disk. Backup Federico Marchetti will have to fend off the Jabulani in his first full World Cup start. The New Zealanders lack quality and style but may compensate with pluck. Asked about the challenges presented by the altitude, Ryan Nelsen enthused, "It's fantastic. It's kind of like you're on a high, isn't it? It takes me back to my university days."

Brazil versus Ivory Coast, Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET, Johannesburg

The rest of the weekend can be viewed as an intriguing undercard for this, the main event: The biggest matchup of the World Cup so far. While coach Dunga made it explicit his team would be pragmatic, not majestic, nobody expected them to have to labor to a 2-1 victory over the rank outsider North Koreans. Much of the postgame scrutiny has centered on Kaka's fitness and performance. Brazil's linchpin struggled in the opening game, raising doubts about the health of his groin. Robinho and Maicon stepped up in his absence, and more will be expected from the clinical striker Luis Fabiano. The Ivory Coast are optimistic about cast-sporting striker Didier Drogba's ability to start and will require him to hold up possession. Ivory Coast's defense is not built to withstand the Brazilian counter. This match will be goal-laden. Drogba's energy level, or lack of one, will determine which end of the field the goals fly into.