World Cup 2014 Preview: Groups, Fixtures, Stars to Watch and Predictions

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World Cup 2014 Preview: Groups, Fixtures, Stars to Watch and Predictions
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Just under a month remains until the wait is over for the most anticipated sport event of the year to kick off in Brazil, as 2014 World Cup hype reaches fever pitch.

Nations from all corners of the globe will once again compete to win football's highest honour, and defending champions Spain face a mountainous task in hanging onto their most prized piece of silverware.

The group proceedings get underway on June 12, where the best and brightest of the international elite will aim to work their way out of the pool phase and into knockout-round contention.

Ahead of the South American extravaganza, we detail all the fixtures that lie ahead, along with a profiling of some lesser-known stars it would be wise to keep an eye on.

Here's where each country will line up in the group stage:

Bleacher Report

Each team will play three group matches before the top two of each pool move on to the knockout phase of the tournament:

Group A Fixtures
Date Match Time Venue
June 12 Brazil vs. Croatia 9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET Sao Paulo
June 13 Mexico vs. Cameroon 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET Natal
June 17 Brazil vs. Mexico 8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET Fortaleza
June 18 Cameroon vs. Croatia 8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET Manaus
June 23 Cameroon vs. Brazil 9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET Brasilia
June 23 Croatia vs. Mexico 9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET Recife

FIFA.com

Group B Fixtures
Date Match Time Venue
June 13 Spain vs. Netherlands 8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET Salvador
June 13 Chile vs. Australia 11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET Cuiaba
June 18 Spain vs. Chile 11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET Rio de Janeiro
June 18 Australia vs. Netherlands 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET Porto Alegre
June 23 Australia vs. Spain 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET Curitiba
June 23 Netherlands vs. Chile 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET Sao Paulo

FIFA.com

Group C Fixtures
Date Match Time (ET) Venue
June 14 Colombia vs. Greece 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET Belo Horizonte
June 14 Ivory Coast vs. Japan 11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET Recife
June 19 Colombia vs. Ivory Coast 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET Brasilia
June 19 Japan vs. Greece 11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET Natal
June 24 Japan vs. Colombia 9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET Cuiaba
June 24 Greece vs. Ivory Coast 9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET Fortaleza

FIFA.com

Group D Fixtures
Date Match Time (ET) Venue
June 14 Uruguay vs. Costa Rica 8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET Fortaleza
June 14 England vs. Italy 11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET Manaus
June 19 Uruguay vs. England 8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET Sao Paulo
June 20 Italy vs. Costa Rica 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET Recife
June 24 Italy vs. Uruguay 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET Natal
June 24 Costa Rica vs. England 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET Belo Horizonte

FIFA.com

Group E Fixtures
Date Match Time (ET) Venue
June 15 Switzerland vs. Ecuador 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET Brasilia
June 15 France vs. Honduras 8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET Porto Alegre
June 20 Switzerland vs. France 8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET Salvador
June 20 Honduras vs. Ecuador 11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET Curitiba
June 25 Honduras vs. Switzerland 9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET Manaus
June 25 Ecuador vs. France 9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET Rio de Janeiro

FIFA.com

Group F Fixtures
Date Match Time (ET) Venue
June 15 Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina 11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET Rio de Janeiro
June 16 Iran vs. Nigeria 8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET Curitiba
June 21 Argentina vs. Iran 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET Belo Horizonte
June 21 Nigeria vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina 11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET Cuiaba
June 25 Nigeria vs. Argentina 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET Porto Alegre
June 25 Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Iran 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET Salvador

FIFA.com

Group G Fixtures
Date Match Time (ET) Venue
June 16 Germany vs. Portugal 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET Salvador
June 16 Ghana vs. United States 11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET Natal
June 21 Germany vs. Ghana 8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET Fortaleza
June 22 United States vs. Portugal 8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET Manaus
June 26 United States vs. Germany 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET Recife
June 26 Portugal vs. Ghana 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET Brasilia

FIFA.com

Group H Fixtures
Date Match Time (ET) Venue
June 17 Belgium vs. Algeria 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET Belo Horizonte
June 17 Russia vs. South Korea 11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET Cuiaba
June 22 Belgium vs. Russia 11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET Rio de Janeiro
June 22 South Korea vs. Algeria 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET Porto Alegre
June 26 South Korea vs. Belgium 9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET Sao Paulo
June 26 Algeria vs. Russia 9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET Curitiba

FIFA.com

Bleacher Report

 

Stars To Watch

Everyone is well aware of what a spectacle the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar are capable of bringing to the table, but each World Cup has a habit of propelling some lesser-known marvels into the international spotlight.

Here, we discuss some of those players simmering just below the surface of stardom, ready to grip their chance in Brazil and stage a few surprises.

 

Juan Cuadrado, Colombia

Dino Panato/Getty Images

Jose Pekerman has made a bold choice in electing the injured Radamel Falcao to his provisional 30-man squad for the World Cup, per BBC Sport. But even if the striker does make it, Colombia will likely need to rely on other inspirations to find the back of the net.

Which is where Juan Cuadrado comes in. Although based mainly on the right flank at Fiorentina, the trickster has often found himself fulfilling numerous roles in attack, which should lead to him playing a prominent role for Colombia this summer.

As it's one of his many strengths, it's no surprise that WhoScored.com points to Cuadrado's elusiveness as being a major boon to La Viola this term:

His 11 goals in 31 appearances in Serie A, per Squawka, sit as impressive testament to the maestro's potential, but Cuadrado's 56 chances created and 85 percent passing accuracy are altogether more indicative of a devastating architect.

 

Son Heung-Min, South Korea

He may only be 21 years of age, but already Son Heung-Min has established himself as a crucial component in South Korea's setup.

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

The attacker is coming off a season that saw him score 10 goals in 29 Bundesliga starts for Bayer Leverkusen, per Transfermarkt, not to mention netting four times in his last seven international appearances.

His performances in national team colours are well-recognised, too, as Son was voted South Korean Footballer of the Year for 2013, per the official Bundesliga Twitter account:

Like the aforementioned Cuadrado, Son can regularly be found poised on the wings, but his malleability means that the Asian nation will rely on the youngster to probe defences from all areas of the attacking line, and he's capable of delivering.

 

Alessio Cerci, Italy

Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Earning rave reviews for his hand in guiding Torino to sixth spot in Serie A this season, Alessio Cerci has played his way into contention for a starting place under Cesare Prandelli.

The 26-year-old will have a tough time in occupying one of the striking roles ahead of the likes of Mario Balotelli, Ciro Immobile or Mattia Destro among others, and beIN Sports' Tancredi Palmeri foretells that the attacker will have a lot of the Azzurri's system moulded to fit him:

After scoring 13 goals and making 11 assists in 36 league appearances this season, per Transfermarkt, Cerci has high expectation ahead of him and will be essential as one of the older heads among Prandelli's attacking assets.

 

Final Predictions

Colombia vs. Spain

In the world of the football hipster, there isn't many a more conflicting final imaginable than that of Colombia taking on Spain, with one of the emerging powers of the global game taking on a powerhouse of recent years gone by.

Spain's path to a second consecutive World Cup final may be simpler than some would make out, and with Croatia looking likely Group A runners-up, life after the pools could be worse to begin with. Italy could well be next to fall, if they top Group D themselves.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Possession-based football, though currently on its way out of fashion, will provide the means to push Vicente Del Bosque's men past Belgium and set them on a collision course with Colombia, provided Marc Wilmots' side can deliver on their potential and beat Russia, Algeria and South Korea to reach Group H's summit.

After that comes the test of Colombia...

Pekerman's men are one of the retro outfits worth backing as a dark horse, having conceded fewer goals than any other team in CONMEBOL qualifying for the tournament. They possess a selection of attacking superstars—particularly out wide—who will strike fear in even the most glittering of outfits.

The Times' Rory Smith recently lauded the depth of Pekerman's options up top:

Topping a pool of Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan is far from impossible for the South Americans, who will be more used to the climate than a few of their rivals, and there's potential in the Colombian squad to beat whomever finishes second in Group D, whether it's England, Italy, Uruguay or Costa Rica.

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Their journey will be far from a simple one, as managing to beat likely Group A victors Brazil at their own game in the quarter-finals will be an almighty ask, but the Selecao beat Spain at last year's Confederations Cup by soaking up pressure and releasing it tenfold, a tactic that Colombia would be wise to employ themselves.

A more controlling approach will be needed against France or Germany, the two most probable semi-final opponents for Pekerman and Co., as their shape and structure will be a much more pertinent part of their approach.

The same goes for Spain, of course, whose success relies so much on the pragmatism and sensibility of a rigid strategy, injected with brief moments of magic, the likes of which Colombia's weapons won't be able to contend with.

Infostrada Sports shows just how much experience there is within Del Bosque's ranks, as well as a powerful injection of up-and-coming talent:

In a way, this will be a similar story to that of Euro 2012, where a hopeful Italian side were downed 4-0 against La Furia Roja, who were simply too regimented in their ways.

This time around, Diego Costa will be contending to provide the striking presence that they've lacked in recent years, tying up an historic fourth major international title in a row for Spain, as well as back-to-back World Cups. 

Prediction: Spain beat Colombia 1-0 in normal time.

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