This morning, we were introduced to the groups and fixtures that will take place at next Summers World Cup in Brazil. Excitement levels dramatically increase when you see the groups and actually have real visual evidence that games will actually take place in Brazil. We are only 6 months away from Brazil vs Croatia! As always, opinions are circulating as to which group is the "group of death" and which present easier rides for certain countries. Here, we explore some of the top fixtures to watch up for across all of the group stage games and which players will form the key match-ups in those games.
No. 10 - Argentina vs Nigeria
Date: June 25
Looking at the draw, it really couldn’t have went any better for Argentina! To say they got one of the easier groups is an understatement and their clash with Nigeria is the only one that really stands out. Nigeria has plenty of experience in the World Cup, and they have twice managed to find a way to win their group. This one should set the tone for both teams.
Player Match-Up to Watch: Lionel Messi vs Efe Ambrose
If Nigeria is going to stand any chance of getting a result, they will need to stop Lionel Messi. The brilliant Barcelona striker definitely has a point to prove at international level and he won’t want to disappoint in Brazil. Ambrose will be center back for the Super Eagles, expect to see a lot of him as Argentina will have a lot of chances!
No. 9 - England vs Italy
Date: June 14
This is one of those classic match-ups that will get plenty of publicity in England leading upto the tournament. Both teams will be extremely familiar with each other, so there is a strong possibility they will cancel each other out. But it is still sure to be full of drama and intrigue.
Player Match-Up to Watch: Wayne Rooney vs Mario Balotelli
Considering the fact this game is going to be tight, there is a huge onus on both teams’ forward lines. This match-up is about goals and the two players to watch for are Rooney and Balotelli. Where Rooney is all about grit and workrate, Balotelli is all about swagger and a little arrogance.
No. 8 - Portugal vs USA
Date: June 22
If the US have serious aspirations of qualifying for the knock-out stage, this is a must win game. And they have done it before! Back in 2002, three first half goals inspired the US to victory over the Portuguese, one of the most memorable World Cup victories in US history. Portugal are sure to be on the lookout for revenge.
Player Match-Up to Watch: Cristiano Ronaldo vs Omar Gonzalez
We all know Cristiano Ronaldo will be one of the most watched players in Brazil, so the question is who the US will use to stop him. Omar Gonzalez has emerged as a central part of the US backline and he is sure to be put to the test against Ronaldo. Before he signed a new contract with LA Galaxy, many wondered if Gonzalez would make a move to Europe, this is going to be a new test that will give us some indications of his defensive qualities.
No. 7 - Belgium vs Russia
Date: June 22
Expectations are extremely high for Belgium football at the moment, and their current crop of young stars are touted to be some of the best currently in the game. Where they are seen as the team to watch, Russia should be seen as the team to avoid. Fabio Capello helped the Russians move comfortably through qualification and they should strongly be seen as the dark horses of the tournament.
Player Match-Up to Watch: Eden Hazard vs Roman Shirokov
To the outsider, Russian players are somewhat of an unknown quantity considering most players play in the Russian league. Shirokov is the current captain of the squad and he has a very influential role playing as a deep lying defensive midfielder. Hazard is one of the top midfielders in the world right now and he loves to cut inside at speed from the left. Shirokov is sure to be waiting, so it will be worth watching to see what Hazard can do in a match of this magnitude.
No. 6 - Brazil vs Croatia
Date: June 12
The opening fixture of the 2014 World Cup looks pretty intriguing. Croatia have not been flying at top gear in recent times, but they are sure to want to impress in one of the most watched games there is. Brazil will not want to let their fans down, so expect to see fireworks right from kick-off.
Player Match-Up to Watch: Neymar vs Luka Modric
Both of these players are going to be tasked with being the creative force for their respective teams. Neymar proved at the Confederations Cup that he has what it takes to impress in top games, and Modric has been the key to Croatia’s success in recent years. Expect the game to be heavily influenced by both of these players.
No. 5 - Spain vs Chile
Date: June 18
A few weeks back, we watched these teams clash in a friendly and although the game finished in a tie, Chile bossed the game and showed why they are a team to watch. Spain, though, will have vivid memories of that match and are likely to step things up an extra gear to ensure they get it right when it matters – in a competitive game.
Player Match-Up to Watch: Gerard Pique vs Alexis Sanchez
Sanchez has had a great start to the current La Liga season, banging in 8 goals in 11 games. Seeing as his Barcelona teammate Gerard pique will be the man tasked with closing him down, this is a match-up to watch. It is a case of which players knows the other better!
No. 4 - Uruguay vs England
Date: June 19
English fans are a little more realistic with their expectations of the team for once, with many acknowledging the fact that they are not going to win this World Cup with the current squad. But, they can be decently pleased with Group D and the opponents they are coupled with. The Uruguay fixture is going to be particularly interesting considering Luis Suarez extraordinary form for Liverpool at the moment.
Player Match-Up to Watch: Luis Suarez vs Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka
As things stand, the Cahill/Jagielka partnership seems to be the one that will be tasked with stopping Suarez. Even with two players, it might be hard to stop the Uruguay striker, who has a knack for scoring spectacular goals.
No. 3 - Germany vs Portugal
Date: June 16
Another top European clash that will add an extra element of spice to Group G. Portugal struggled to qualify for Brazil 2014, needing to get over Sweden in a playoff. At this point, Portugal are a one man team, relying heavily on the exploits of Cristiano Ronaldo, but if you were going to need to rely on one guy, I would want it to be CR7.
Player Match-Up to Watch: Philipp Lahm vs Cristiano Ronaldo
Even though he is right footed, Lahm will probably be tasked with controlling Cristiano Ronaldo. The Bayern Munich defender is one of the best in the game, so he will be tasked with cutting off Ronaldo’s runs from the outside into the box.
No. 2 - Germany vs USA
Date: June 26
At any point, a Germany vs USA encounter is a mouthwatering encounter, but the battle will be even more intriguing with Jurgen Klinsmann on the US sideline. The former German international is seen as a cult hero in Germany and he is sure to have mixed emotions about this draw. The US will be seen as strong underdogs in Group G, so they won’t have as much pressure as the Germans will.
Player Match-Up to Watch: Mesut Ozil vs Michael Bradley
Bradley has become the linchpin in the US midfield over the past few years and his presence adds a calming dynamic to the US style of play. Ozil is more attack minded, so Bradley will need to be on top form to stop the creative Arsenal midfielder.
No. 1 - Spain vs Netherlands
Date: June 13
What a fixture to kick off group B – a rematch of the 2010 World Cup final! It doesn’t get much better than this and the result is sure to set the tone for one of these nations through the tournament. When Spain won in 2010, there was a hostile feel to the game, with plenty of nasty challenges going in across the pitch.
Player Match-Up to Watch: Andres Iniesta vs Wesley Sneijder
Two of the most creative midfielder currently in the game, these players were former teammates and have come up against each other several times in the past few seasons in both international and domestic competitions.