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

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistMay 15, 2014

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 19:  Juan Cuadrado of Colombia attempts to move away from Daley Blind during the friendly International match between the Netherlands and Colombia at the Amsterdam Arena on November 19, 2013 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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
DateMatchTimeVenue
June 12Brazil vs. Croatia9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ETSao Paulo
June 13Mexico vs. Cameroon5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ETNatal
June 17Brazil vs. Mexico8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ETFortaleza
June 18Cameroon vs. Croatia8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ETManaus
June 23Cameroon vs. Brazil9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ETBrasilia
June 23Croatia vs. Mexico9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ETRecife
FIFA.com
Group B Fixtures
DateMatchTimeVenue
June 13Spain vs. Netherlands8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ETSalvador
June 13Chile vs. Australia11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ETCuiaba
June 18Spain vs. Chile11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ETRio de Janeiro
June 18Australia vs. Netherlands5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ETPorto Alegre
June 23Australia vs. Spain5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ETCuritiba
June 23Netherlands vs. Chile5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ETSao Paulo
FIFA.com
Group C Fixtures
DateMatchTime (ET)Venue
June 14Colombia vs. Greece5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ETBelo Horizonte
June 14Ivory Coast vs. Japan11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ETRecife
June 19Colombia vs. Ivory Coast5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ETBrasilia
June 19Japan vs. Greece11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ETNatal
June 24Japan vs. Colombia9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ETCuiaba
June 24Greece vs. Ivory Coast9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ETFortaleza
FIFA.com
Group D Fixtures
DateMatchTime (ET)Venue
June 14Uruguay vs. Costa Rica8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ETFortaleza
June 14England vs. Italy11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ETManaus
June 19Uruguay vs. England8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ETSao Paulo
June 20Italy vs. Costa Rica5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ETRecife
June 24Italy vs. Uruguay5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ETNatal
June 24Costa Rica vs. England5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ETBelo Horizonte
FIFA.com
Group E Fixtures
DateMatchTime (ET)Venue
June 15Switzerland vs. Ecuador5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ETBrasilia
June 15France vs. Honduras8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ETPorto Alegre
June 20Switzerland vs. France8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ETSalvador
June 20Honduras vs. Ecuador11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ETCuritiba
June 25Honduras vs. Switzerland9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ETManaus
June 25Ecuador vs. France9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ETRio de Janeiro
FIFA.com
Group F Fixtures
DateMatchTime (ET)Venue
June 15Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ETRio de Janeiro
June 16Iran vs. Nigeria8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ETCuritiba
June 21Argentina vs. Iran5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ETBelo Horizonte
June 21Nigeria vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ETCuiaba
June 25Nigeria vs. Argentina5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ETPorto Alegre
June 25Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Iran5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ETSalvador
FIFA.com
Group G Fixtures
DateMatchTime (ET)Venue
June 16Germany vs. Portugal5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ETSalvador
June 16Ghana vs. United States11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ETNatal
June 21Germany vs. Ghana8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ETFortaleza
June 22United States vs. Portugal8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ETManaus
June 26United States vs. Germany5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ETRecife
June 26Portugal vs. Ghana5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ETBrasilia
FIFA.com
Group H Fixtures
DateMatchTime (ET)Venue
June 17Belgium vs. Algeria5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ETBelo Horizonte
June 17Russia vs. South Korea11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ETCuiaba
June 22Belgium vs. Russia11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ETRio de Janeiro
June 22South Korea vs. Algeria5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ETPorto Alegre
June 26South Korea vs. Belgium9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ETSao Paulo
June 26Algeria vs. Russia9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ETCuritiba
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

VERONA, ITALY - APRIL 13:  Juan Cuadrado of ACF Fiorentina  looks on during the Serie A match between Hellas Verona FC and ACF Fiorentina at Stadio Marc'Antonio Bentegodi on April 13, 2014 in Verona, Italy.  (Photo by Dino Panato/Getty Images)
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.

INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 06:  Son Heung-Min of South Korea celebrates after scoring a goal during the international friendly match between South Korea and Haiti at the Incheon Stadium on September 6, 2013 in Incheon, South Korea.  (Photo by Chung
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

TURIN, ITALY - MAY 11:  Alessio Cerci of Torino FC salutes the crowd at the end of the Serie A match between Torino FC and Parma FC at Stadio Olimpico di Torino on May 11, 2014 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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.

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 19:  Memphis Depay of Netherlands in action with Santiago Arias of Columbia during the friendly International match between the Netherlands and Columbia at the Amsterdam Arena on November 19, 2013 in Amsterdam, Netherland
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.

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.