6 Players to Watch on Day 6 of the 2014 World Cup

Andrew GibneyFeatured ColumnistJune 17, 2014

6 Players to Watch on Day 6 of the 2014 World Cup

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    Yves Logghe/Associated Press

    Unfortunately, it couldn't last forever; there has finally been a goalless game during the 2014 World Cup. However, forget about the 0-0 draw between Iran and Nigeria. Tuesday is set to be an action-packed day in Brazil.

    Group H finally gets underway, and it starts in the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte as Belgium face Algeria.

    After that, hosts Brazil play their second game of the tournament against Mexico in Fortaleza.

    The final fixture of the day sees Russia take on South Korea at the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba as we complete the first set of group matches on Tuesday evening.

    But who are the players to watch on Day 6 of the World Cup? Here, we provide six key men to look out for on Tuesday.

Eden Hazard, Belgium

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    JANERIK HENRIKSSON/Associated Press

    They have gone from hipster country of choice to dark horses to a team mentioned so much that they can't be called dark horses. Now, if Belgium are to achieve anything at this World Cup, they need to get the best out of Chelsea's Eden Hazard.

    After breaking through with Lille OSC in Ligue 1, the 23-year-old winger has come on in leaps and bounds during his two years in the English Premier League, especially this season, with the help and guidance of Jose Mourinho.

    According to WhoScored, in his debut season, Hazard scored nine times and added 11 assists. Then under Mourinho, with more responsibility on his shoulders, the Belgian scored 14 goals with seven assists. He definitely showed more maturity, as well as an ability to take over a game and impose his will when they needed it most.

    WhoScored picks out dribbling, passing, finishing and key passes as his main characteristics, and you would be mad to argue with them. However, Hazard's excellent play in club football has yet to be replicated for his country.

    During the 44 caps, he has only found the back of the net six times. Also, his all-round play and contributions have been nowhere near as effective as when he plays for Chelsea, or even Lille when he was younger.

    Hoping to finally get the best out of his young talisman, manager Marc Wilmots has given Hazard a free license to attack, reports Owen Gibson from The Guardian.

    He is one of the players who can be among the five best in the world. He has everything he needs and now it is up to him to release the handbrake and go,” he said. “He is 23 years old and playing his first tournament. We will see how he goes. He has everything he needs.

    With the handbrake off, it is up to Hazard to put his foot on the gas and delight the Brazilians with an excellent performance against Algeria.

Riyad Mahrez, Algeria

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    In January, French-born winger Riyad Mahrez swapped the west coast of France with the Midlands of England, completing a move that took him from Ligue 2 side Le Havre to Championship contenders Leicester City.

    Now only six months later, the 23-year-old is set to complete a magnificent season by making his debut at the FIFA World Cup for Algeria.

    Since moving to Leicester, Mahrez has managed to settle quickly, and as Maher Mezahi of The Telegraph reports, he quickly won a place in Nigel Pearson's first team.

    A main player in Leicester's ascension has been January acquisition Riyad Mahrez. Since arriving from Le Havre, the Algerian winger has displaced the dependable Lloyd Dyer and made the right flank his own. His contribution of three goals and four assists has not gone unnoticed.

    Mahrez declared interest in playing for Algeria back in November; the winger also possesses French and Moroccan citizenship but chose the Desert Foxes, perhaps with the World Cup in mind.

    He ended his first club season in England by helping Leicester City seal promotion back to the Premier League, and the Foxes fans have been delighted with his direct style, combined by his beautiful balance and skill on the ball.

    In just 12 starts (with seven substitutions), Mahrez attempted 51 shots, 34 key passes and 30 successful dribbles, according to WhoScored.

    Now, he has a chance to shine for his country, and he will be hoping to continue the unpredictable trend at this World Cup by shocking Belgium on Tuesday.

    Whether he is given a start by Vahid Halilhodzic or makes an impact off the bench, Mahrez will cause the Belgian back line a whole host of problems. The European side are not very comfortable in the full-back position, and Mahrez could be their worst nightmare.

Ramires, Brazil

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    An injury to Zenit St. Petersburg striker Hulk is set to give a starting place in the Brazil team to Chelsea midfielder Ramires on Tuesday.

    Hulk exited Sunday's training session after just 15 minutes when he felt something in his leg and left the field, according to The Associated Press. After sitting on the bench with a look of dismay, he then retired to the locker room. He now faces a race to be fit for Tuesday's Group A match against Mexico, but it could also give Luiz Felipe Scolari the chance to make a slight tactical change to the side that beat Croatia 3-1 on Thursday.

    Brazil's back four looked vulnerable down both channels, as the full-backs failed to get any protection from their attacking team-mates. Scolari could move to playing a 4-3-3 formation, with Ramires coming in to play on the right side of the midfield trio.

    The move would give more protection to right-back Dani Alves, allowing the Barcelona defender to play a more attacking role without leaving a huge hole at the back. The Chelsea player would also bring vibrancy and drive from midfield and could give the Brazil attack more balance against the Mexicans.

    Speaking before the tournament began, Ramires knows just how important this tournament is to the people of Brazil, reports Andres Garavaglia via Sky Sports.

    I think the question of winning is everywhere. Every game that Brazil is going to play, we have the pressure to win it.

    Because of this we’re all quite anxious, all of the players. But they’re all experienced and they have worked through difficult times in their careers before.

    If Scolari gives Ramires the chance to strengthen the Brazil midfield, it is clear that the Chelsea man will give his all to make sure his country doesn't falter so early in the competition. A win over Mexico would all but confirm the hosts' place in the last 16.

Miguel Layun, Mexico

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    On the second day of the World Cup, Mexico got off to a fine start by beating Cameroon 1-0 in Natal. It could have been a more convincing victory for Miguel Herrera's men, but they had two controversial goals disallowed in the first half.

    To combat the pace and width of their opponents, Herrera set up his men in a 5-3-2 formation, with the two wing-backs given the freedom to maraud as far forward as possible, pushing the Cameroon wingers back down the pitch. Left-back Miguel Layun took the instructions and did exactly what was asked of him.

    Straight from the kick-off, he advanced high up the left side. He took up some excellent positions early in the game, getting on the ball in some dangerous positions and causing the Cameroon back line a whole host of concerns.

    FIFA.com's official stats show he delivered three crosses into the box in the first half and covered 10.4 kilometres during the match. During the whole game, he received the ball 27 times in the opposition half.

    This could be key to Mexico's chances on Tuesday. With Dani Alves always advancing down the Brazil right, there could be a huge gap for Layun to capitalise onif he can be brave and stop Alves pushing him back the other way.

    Tom Marshall of Goal.com describes the threat that Layun possesses: "The two-footed player is fast, deceptively strong, reasonably technical and can cut inside from the left flank and shoot with his right foot from distance with devastating effect. He also doesn't stop flying up and down the flank."

    It will be a risk, but if timed properly, Layun could be the key in opening up the Brazilian defence. Croatian left-back Sime Vrsaljko had a good game going forward in the opening game. Croatia's goal came from the right side of the Brazilian defence, and Herrera should pinpoint that as a potential weakness.

Alan Dzagoev, Russia

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    Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

    No one is quite sure what to expect from Russia at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Under coach Fabio Capello, you know they will be well organised, but if they are to progress out of Group H, they will need the skills and creative influence of CSKA Moscow midfielder Alan Dzagoev.

    The match against South Korea happens to fall upon his 24th birthday, and three points for his country will be the only present he could hope for. After impressing two years ago at the 2012 European Championship, he gained a lot of admirers from both England and Spain, but a move never materialised.

    His three goals at Euro 2012 set the tournament alight, but since the end of the competition, he has only scored one international goal, which came against the Ivory Coast in 2012. Failure to score in Brazil will see Dzagoev go a full two years without netting for his country.

    Ollie Baines of Here Is The City explains where the Dzagoev threat will come from.

    Russia manager Fabio Capello, formerly in charge of the England national team, have set up and edified an efficient side with a good work ethic. Dzagoev will provide a constant threat down the right-hand side, as his tricky yet hard-working nature will ensure that Russia provide some purpose on the wing.

    It's safe to say the pressure is definitely on Dzagoev going into the opening match for Russia, and that is something Capello will hope he can handle and harness into strength. According to Soccerway.com, Dzagoev scored twice for CSKA in the final four games of the season, as they pipped Zenit to the title by one point—with that, he showed he can perform when it really matters.

    Perhaps this show of form at the end of the season can help Dzagoev forget the last 18 months of international football and guide Russia through the group stages this summer.

Ki Sung-yueng, South Korea

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    Lee Jin-man/Associated Press

    South Korea are definitely the outsiders to make an impact in Group H. The Asian side have only tasted victory once in their last five friendlies; their last warm-up match against Ghana saw them put to the sword in a 4-0 defeat. Not ideal preparations for coach Hong Myung-bo.

    Success in Brazil will hinge on the performances of Swansea City midfielder Ki Sung-yueng. The 25-year-old spent his best parts of last season on loan at Premier League side Sunderland, and his performances were a huge factor in Gus Poyet's side climbing away from what seemed certain relegation.

    Ki is a classy and technically gifted midfielder. He has a magnificent range of passes, and his balance, vision and ability to control the game will be crucial for a South Korea side that are largely expected to fight for the honour of not finishing bottom of their group this summer.

    The former Celtic midfielder has had his problems at international level after a Facebook status regarding the previous coach went public, but Ki has done his best to atone for his mistakes, reports John Duerden on The Telegraph.

    Summoned to face Brazil, he came home, ginger locks dyed back to respectful black. He said sorry upon arrival at Incheon International Airport and promised to say sorry to Choi in person.

    It seemed to work. Against the World Cup hosts, the jeers were almost unheard but the cheers at the end were real after a fine performance. More have followed with Sunderland and if Ki stays as classy off the pitch as he has been on it then the nation will be roaring him on in June against Belgium, Algeria and Russia.

    According to WhoScored, no one in the current Sunderland side averaged a higher pass completion percentage or made more passes per game. This is the sort of dominance that South Korea will need in Brazil. If they can keep the ball and play a high-possession game, their fitness levels and organisations will be hard to break down. Only then will they have a chance of escaping Group H.