1 Player for Every World Cup Team Who Needs to Shine This Week
A bout of midweek international friendlies might be the last thing that club managers want right now as they chase titles or look to avoid relegation.
But for international bosses this week represents perhaps a final chance to offer a World Cup ticket to certain players.
Plenty of interesting match-ups can be found in Wednesday's fixtures, with Germany facing Chile and Spain taking on Italy in two of the highest-profile games.
Managers will be hoping that key players can show they have a role to play and in-form squad members take their chance to guarantee themselves a spot in the final 23—and the players themselves will be desperate to be handed the chance to show what they can do.
Here we take a look at one player from each of the 32 competing nations who needs to take this opportunity to push themselves to the front of the queue.
Group A: Brazil
Brazil face South Africa on Wednesday, with their settled squad showing only a few changes as usual.
One player who will feel he has a place to play for, however, is Bayern Munich's right-back Rafinha.
Brazil have included just three full-backs in their squad: regular starters Dani Alves and Marcelo, certs for the World Cup, and the Bayern man. He will feel that he could merit a chance to add to his single cap and, if he performs well, could be going to the finals as Alves' understudy.
Mexico will face Nigeria in their midweek friendly, with Miguel Herrera calling up a mix of vastly experienced players alongside eight players who have not yet reached double figures in caps.
Striker Alan Pulido is in the squad again, having made his debut for the senior national team little more than a month ago against Korea Republic...where he netted a hat-trick for his team in a 4-0 win.
With 10 goals to his name for Tigres UANL this season, the 22-year-old will be hoping to show that his dream debut was not simply a one-off and that he can contribute to Mexico's team regularly. If he does so, Herrera might just have found himself a new weapon to take to the World Cup in the summer.
Croatia and Cameroon
Croatia play in Switzerland, while Cameroon travel to Portugal in their respective midweek games.
With the former, Mario Mandzukic's suspension means Croatia will need to find a striker to lead the line at the finals; with Nikica Jelavic finally rediscovering his form in front of goal at club level, he will hope to show he can do it for his nation, too.
We'll go for a striker for Cameroon, too: Barcelona's young forward Jean Marie Dongou has made three appearances off the bench for the first team this term while also regularly playing for the B side.
The 18-year-old won't get too many chances to impress like this ahead of the World Cup so really needs to make an impact if he wants to be a surprise inclusion in the squad.
Group B: Spain
Spain's choice is easy: Diego Costa.
The Atletico Madrid forward has been the leading headline over the past few international squads as Spain try to integrate him in their national team after Brazil continually overlooked him, and it looks as though he'll finally make his debut against Italy.
Costa has scored 21 times in La Liga this season, the second-highest scorer, but did not find the target against Real Madrid in the derby on Sunday. His qualities are not in question, but his ability to fit into the squad may yet be.
There are still a few youngsters who might feel they can gatecrash the Netherlands' World Cup squad, and midfielder Davy Klaassen is perhaps one with a lot of work to do but a great chance of making it.
He is uncapped as yet and will have to win a squad spot ahead of the likes of Adam Maher, but a fine season so far has seen his stock rise significantly—he only made his debut for the under-21s in October and now sees himself on the verge of a full senior cap.
His ability to work space and get into positions to score could see him at least get a run out.
Chile and Australia
Chile face an extreme test of their abilities as they head to Germany for a friendly.
An experienced and consistent squad shows few changes, so really the fight will be for who gets the nod as a starter in Brazil. Eduardo Vargas has quickly impressed on loan in Spain with Valencia and ended 2013 strongly with his nation, too, scoring against Venezuela, Spain and Brazil.
A good performance here could see him cemented as Chile's starter in attack.
For Australia, their squad is looking extremely weak compared to others in their World Cup group.
The big challenge, though, is in finding a goalkeeper to replace the retired Mark Schwarzer; Mathew Ryan is the only regularly starting stopper at club level, with Club Brugge in Belgium, so the chance to become the new No. 1 should be in his hands.
Group C: Colombia
The big question for Colombia is whether they can still make an impact at the finals after losing star striker Radamel Falcao to serious injury.
Jackson Martinez certainly possesses the goals and the ability to make up for that loss, but he has a fairly poor record at international level so far, scoring just eight times. He'd love to show he can be the main man over the summer, especially with Adrian Ramos enjoying such a great season in front of goal.
Colombia face Tunisia in their friendly.
Greek forward Kostas Mitroglou was enjoying a good season with Olympiacos, making an impact in Europe and miles clear at the top of the table in his domestic league, but swapped that in January for a move to Premier League relegation battlers Fulham.
Since then, fitness issues have mainly sidelined the striker so he could really do with a big performance against the Korea Republic to prove he is ready for a big three months at club level and a summer of goals for his nation.
Japan and Ivory Coast
Japan are at home to New Zealand on Wednesday and, all things being equal, should make short work of their rivals. There still seem to be forward places in the squad up for grabs, though, with Yoichiro Kakitani missing out this time, so Yuya Osako will hope to further his own cause for a squad place.
Ivory Coast, meanwhile, face a tough task away to Belgium.
The African side has a good chance of making it out of the group if they perform well in Brazil, so they'll hope for a big showing from their main players against strong opposition to give themselves belief of making a challenge at the World Cup.
Yaya Toure has just won a domestic trophy with his club Manchester City, so an international friendly might not hold the same appeal, but he should be looking to lead his side into a good performance against a nation many feel have a chance of outright victory.
Group D: England
England still have one or two places on the plane up for grabs, no doubt, with Theo Walcott's injury opening up a starting spot on the wing.
Raheem Sterling only has one senior cap to date—but he's the most in-form English wide man in the entire Premier League, arguably behind only Eden Hazard counting all wide forwards, and a good display against Denmark for England might not just secure him a spot in the squad but a starting role.
There will be competition for the place from the likes of Andros Townsend or Adam Lallana, but Sterling has shown with Liverpool he deserves the chance at present and can bring a greater final-third threat than either of the others.
Italy face Spain in the most glamorous-looking fixture of the week, with the striker role perhaps the most open battle at present with Mario Balotelli and Giuseppe Rossi both out injured.
Dani Osvaldo could well get the chance to play centrally in attack if they opt for a 4-3-3 system, with the on-loan Juventus man having struck twice for his new club of late after a poor half-season at Southampton in England.
Osvaldo might not get too many more opportunities to show his worth so against such great opposition will have to play well to take his chances.
Uruguay and Costa Rica
Uruguay will face Austria in a friendly on Wednesday, with Oscar Tabarez as ever naming a squad with few changes.
Tabarez often changes his shape of the team according to the opposition, so a big performance from one of the key creative midfielders in Nicolas Lodeiro could persuade his manager to utilise his talents more consistently from the start of games.
Few regulars are in danger of not making the Uruguay squad, but Lodeiro flits in and out of the XI at times.
Paraguay are the opposition of choice for Costa Rica, meanwhile.
For the CONCACAF side, we'll opt for striker Joel Campbell; already with 30 caps under his belt, he's a regular part of the Costa Rica side at the age of 21, but the spotlight may be on him more for a while after a Champions League goal against Manchester United and his team, Olympiacos, miles clear in the Greek Superleague.
He could do with adding to his tally of eight international goals to boost his confidence of making an impact at this level and at the World Cup.
Group E: France
French winger Antoine Griezmann is uncapped so far, but the 23-year-old Real Sociedad player is into the senior squad now after his suspension with the national side was lifted.
He doesn't have long to impress and win himself a spot alongside the likes of Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri in the attacking midfield roles, but he has had a stellar season in La Liga and is well worthy of his squad place.
If he gets a chance to play in the big game against the Netherlands, he could make an instant impact, such is his level of ability.
Switzerland have a fair defence, an extremely good midfield and a regular, reliable goalkeeper...but boy, do they lack goals.
The current squad's top scorer is veteran winger Tranquillo Barnetta, who has just 10 for his country.
Any striker who proves himself capable of hitting the net with regularity is likely to get the nod to start in the World Cup finals and Mario Gavranovic looks the most likely to do so. The FC Zurich forward has netted 10 times in the SuperLeague this term and has four in nine at international level.
If he can put in a good performance and grab a goal against Croatia, it would do his chances no harm at all of becoming Switzerland's regular first-choice forward.
Ecuador and Honduras
Ecuador play Australia, Honduras face Venezuela.
Left-sided defender Oscar Bagui had been in the international wilderness for three years before playing once last season for Ecuador, but has only managed one further substitute appearance this season—a few minutes against Spain.
He'll need to put in a good performance to show he's worth taking to the World Cup in the summer.
Honduras have named uncapped Real Sociedad (HON) duo Henry Clark and Walter Williams in their squad, aged 28 and 30 respectively.
They can be considered fortunate to have been handed such a late opportunity to impress at this level just before a World Cup; either player will have to make a huge impact to be considered for the final squad.
Group F: Argentina
As ever, it seems the only real concern over Argentina's strength of side is in defence.
It's a little hit-or-miss as to who might start centrally for them, but we'll go with Ezequiel Garay, with the Benfica defender playing the full 90 minutes in the last match against Ecuador. If he can put in a commanding showing, he stands a good chance of perhaps being the regular partner of Federico Fernandez once the World Cup starts.
Argentina take on Romania this week.
Kenneth Omeruo might be less experienced than his international team-mates, and at a more modest side while on loan at Middlesbrough, but he certainly has the ability to make himself a starting player for Nigeria.
The Super Eagles face Mexico in their Wednesday friendly, so he will be assured of a tough test in terms of both movement and technique if he gets to start.
Alongside the likes of Joseph Yobo and Efe Ambrose, Omeruo could really be a star of this Nigeria team and make a name for himself at a major tournament aged just 20.
Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran
Bosnia's side is relatively well-settled, so we'll go for a young squad player looking to force his way into the team: Sead Kolasinac.
The left-back is first choice at Schalke in the Bundesliga and made his international debut in November against Argentina. If handed another chance, he could show he has enough to make the World Cup squad and challenge for a future spot. He is just 20 years old.
Bosnia-Herzegovina play Egypt.
Iran play Kuwait and Guinea during the week; they have named five goalkeepers in their squad but none has yet managed to reach double figures in caps.
Any who perform well in training and have a good game in one of the friendlies could become the No. 1 stopper—Rahman Ahmadi is the stand-out in terms of age (33) and caps (eight) at this point.
Group G: Germany
Germany's game against Chile will be eagerly anticipated by those fond of watching fast-paced, attacking teams.
Jogi Low has a huge array of riches to pick from in the attacking midfield areas, but true strikers are somewhat in short supply, so a first international call-up for Pierre-Michel Lasogga gives the Hertha Berlin forward a chance to shine.
The 22-year-old forward has scored 11 in 17 while on loan at Hamburg this season. The uncapped striker will need to make a big impression this week, and over the rest of the campaign, to try and force his way into the squad.
The United States are away to Ukraine in their friendly match.
It's not yet clear whether Julian Green will be playing with them or is merely training with the squad, but the 18-year-old Bayern Munich II forward is in high demand, with the USA wanting him to switch to their squad despite the player representing Germany at under-17 and under-19 level.
The Florida-born forward made his first-team debut for Bayern in the Champions League this season and has scored 15 in 19 in the second string's campaign.
If Green decides to switch and shows his great potential for the USA, he could be a late but quality addition to their World Cup squad.
Portugal and Ghana
Despite starting the recent Madrid derby, Fabio Coentrao has endured a very difficult season. He was also subbed in the derby at the weekend after not making enough impact.
He should be looking to gain form and confidence playing for Portugal against Cameroon.
Meanwhile for Ghana, Kevin-Prince Boateng's decision to be available for international selection again means he still has a few people to win over ahead of the World Cup.
Ghana face Montenegro.
Group H: Belgium
Thibaut Courtois might be getting a few accusations of double standards thrown his way soon.
The on-loan Atletico Madrid goalkeeper was reportedly unhappy, as per Metro, with national team-mate Simon Mignolet saying he wanted to challenge for Courtois' No. 1 jersey with the Belgian national team...but has then demanded to replace Petr Cech as No. 1 at Chelsea, according to the Express.
Now wouldn't be a very good time for the Chelsea goalkeeper to have a poor game, as Belgium take on Ivory Coast.
Korea Republic's squad and side seems as though it will be relatively settled heading into the World Cup, though in a relatively inexperienced defence it is Guangzhou Evergrande's Kim Young-Gwon who could take the game against Greece to make himself an immovable part of the team.
Kim can be the leader of South Korea's side heading into the World Cup, a talented and dependable central defender who has just come off the back of a season in which he helped his side win the 2013 AFC Champions League.
The 24-year-old has 18 caps so far but should add to that significantly over the coming seasons.
Russia and Algeria
Russia play Armenia and Algeria face Slovenia.
Wide forward Fyodor Smolov has been out of favour at Dynamo Moscow and so has moved to the league's bottom club Anzhi Makhachkala in a bid to get game time before the World Cup.
He has yet to make himself a regular part of Russia's team so needs to show his capability here if he is to have a chance of making the cut.
Algeria have named Tottenham midfielder Nabil Bentaleb in their squad as he bids to win his first cap, but the 19-year-old has a lot of experience ahead of him in the national team and will have to have a big impact if he is to gatecrash the World Cup squad.