World Cup 2014: 5 Players Set to Shine Again in Upcoming Qualifiers

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterMarch 24, 2013

World Cup 2014: 5 Players Set to Shine Again in Upcoming Qualifiers

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    The next round of international fixtures looms on March 26, and there are some enticing encounters to take in.

    There are many who played superbly in the first round of games, and we've picked out five of those performers who look set to put in another commanding performance.

    Who would you add to our list? 

Brad Guzan, United States

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    Brad Guzan put in a solid showing for the United States against Costa Rica.

    His performance may have seemed a little average, but take into account the circumstances: He returned for a World Cup qualifier for the first time in nearly four years, and that just happened to be in the middle of a blizzard in Denver.

    Almost every domestic league game that's come close to being played in that weather has been postponed, and being a goalkeeper without an orange ball must have been tough.

    Next up is Mexico, and a bitter rivalry will resume. Jurgen Klinsmann needs "Godzan" at his very, very best. 

Mario Balotelli, Italy

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    In Thursday's exhibition match between Italy and Brazil, Mario Balotelli completed the Azzurri's comeback by scoring a stunning second goal.

    Some of the early refereeing decisions didn't go to his liking, and the former Manchester City star has started to become football's answer to Bruce Banner—you should never make him angry.

    Italy have the chance to solidify the top spot in Group B and will ask Balotelli to replicate his heroics against Malta. 

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, England

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    England vs. Montenegro has shaped up to be one of the most pivotal clashes in European World Cup qualifying.

    Group H is finely poised, and if the Three Lions win, they can leapfrog Tuesday's opponents into first place and will remain odds-on for automatic qualification.

    Lose, though, and Hrabri Sokoli will seal a seemingly unassailable five-point lead at the summit.

    Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was superb against San Marino and staked a big claim for a start in the big clash. Steven Gerrard is sure to return, and the Ox should be in the same breath after a wonderful showing. 

Juan Guillermo Cuadrado, Colombia

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    It's tough to pick out a single performer from Colombia's 5-0 victory over Bolivia because each and every one of the players was superb.

    With five different goalscorers and two more disallowed early on, this was truly a rout. Bolivia failed to deal with the searing pace in Jose Pekerman's side, with Juan Guillermo Cuadrado and Juan Camilo Zuniga running the show in the wide areas.

    In combination with Radamel Falcao's hold-up and link-up play, this was an unstoppable system.

    Expect Cuadrado, among others, to shine again as Los Cafeteros look to solidify the second spot in the CONMEBOL qualifying table against Venezuela.

Lionel Messi, Argentina

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    Gonzalo Higuain sealed a brace against Venezuela with the help of Lionel Messi, and Argentina have to win every remaining game if they want to stave off the threat of Colombia.

    With Brazil automatically qualifying as hosts, the Argentine public see this phase as a chance to assert their authority over the CONMEBOL region. Finishing second to Los Cafeteros is not in the plan.

    La Albiceleste travel to face Bolivia in dreaded La Paz—the city 3,600 meters above sea level and utterly devoid of oxygen. Three weeks are needed to acclimate, but players get just a few hours.

    Bolivia thrashed Diego Maradona's Argentina 6-1 in La Paz just a few years ago, and Alejandro Sabella will hope his team can take their chances and get away with a result.

    Gonzalo Higuain will miss this game after picking up a booking against Venezuela, so the attacking onus falls on Messi and his combination work with the replacement No. 9, likely to be Rodrigo Palacio. His excellent form for his country over the last 12 months suggests he's up to the task.