Messi returns to SWC spotlight
Lionel Messi (AFP)
Rio de Janeiro - Goal machines Lionel Messi and Thomas Mueller return to the Soccer World Cup centre-stage on Saturday after France thrashed Switzerland 5-2 to surge into contention in the tournament.
Messi's Argentina can book a place in the second round if they beat Iran, while Mueller's Germany will be virtually certain if they win against Ghana.
But all the World Cup favourites have been forced to take a new look at France after the 1998 champions hammered eight goals in two Group E games.
Four years to the day after France watched in shame as their players went on strike at the South Africa World Cup, Didier Deschamps' team swept aside group favourites Switzerland in Salvador.
Goals from Olivier Giroud, Blaise Matuidi, Mathieu Valbuena, Karim Benzema and Moussa Sissoko gave France a thumping victory.
Deschamps, captain of his country's 1998 World Cup team, said he saw similarities in the spirit in his current squad.
"There is a force which is rising, it's not a guarantee of our success, but this mind-set is very powerful," he said.
There were also wild celebrations in Costa Rica after the Central American country beat Italy 1-0 in Group D to reach the knockout round for only the second time.
Bryan Ruiz headed the winning goal that also confirmed England's earliest exit from the World Cup since 1958. The British media called the two defeats to Italy and Uruguay "humiliating". But the English FA insists it is sticking with Roy Hodgson as coach.
Two goals by Enner Valencia gave Ecuador a 2-1 fightback win against Honduras in Friday's third match. Ecuador went into second place in Group E with renewed hope of reaching the knockout stages.
The striker for Ecuador club Pachuca moved alongside Benzema, Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Mueller as the tournament's leading score with three goals so far.
Mueller, who hit a hat-trick against Portugal on Monday, is back in action against Ghana on Saturday. Messi has called for a more attack oriented Argentina ahead of his side's game against Iran.
German coach Joachim Loew highlighted Mueller's importance influence - and not just his goals - ahead of their game in Fortaleza.
"He is unpredictable, he can score at any moment," Loew said.
"He is a boy who is very motivating for the others. He is funny, joyful. He is very positive, he talks to everybody. He is a real team player.
"He can transmit his good humour and spontaneity. It is very important for us," declared Loew.
Germany may have to shuffle their defence against Ghana, however, as Mats Hummels struggles with a thigh injury.
Ghana are seeking to recover after their shock 2-1 loss to the United States.
The game will feature brothers on opposing sides. Jerome Boateng will be at the heart of Germany's defence, whilst his half-brother, Kevin-Prince Boateng will be hoping for a start with Ghana.
Argentina's Messi came alive late in the match to inspire Argentina's 2-1 win over Bosnia in their first game. He has called on coach Alejandro Sabella to maintain the three-man attack used in the second half of the game, in a rare public challenge.
Messi said he had been "annoyed" by the more restrained tactics in the first half that held him back.
Gonzalo Higuain is expected to start the Iran match so that he, Messi and Sergio Aguero reform the attack partnership that cracked Bosnia's resistance. And Sabella said he did not mind Messi giving him public advice.
Iran's coach Carlos Queiroz calls the game in Belo Horizonte the most "eagerly anticipated" in Iran's football history.
Nigeria and Bosnia, both desperate for a win to get them back on course behind Argentina in Group F, play in Cuiaba.
Nigeria are currently ahead of their rivals with one point from their draw with Iran this week.
Meanwhile, the World Cup hosts are to boost security around Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium to prevent invasions by ticketless fans, officials said.
Rowdy fans gate-crashed each of the two matches at the iconic stadium so far, raising concerns about security at the venue which will host the July 13 final.
"We are going to establish an extra isolation cordon with mobile fences in the Maracana's sensitive zones and mobilize 600 police in those zones," Rio military police commander Jose Luis Castro told a press conference.