Now for the highlights: our pick of the group games

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The Independent Online

James Lawton

Chief Sports Writer

Ivory Coast v Portugal (Port Elizabeth, 15 June)

North Korea will no doubt echo the reaction of Scotland's Ally McCoist, and for better reasons, when he heard that his team were drawn against Germany, Uruguay and a dangerous Danish team in 1986. "I've heard of the Group of Death," said McCoist, "but this is the Group of Certain Death."

With favourites Brazil also in Group G, it means that the fight for survival starts early for the teams of Cristiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba. While teams such as England and Italy will believe that cruise control should carry them through to the first phase of sudden death, Portugal and the Ivory Coast have to come off their stools throwing serious punches. The result should be a compelling, instant test of Africa's chances of bringing down the old world. The World Cup starts here. The leaning must be to Drogba, football's best striker.

Ian Herbert

Deputy Football Correspondent

France v Mexico (Polokwane, 17 June)

Raymond Domenech might finally get found out when his French side face Mexico in Group A. The Mexicans qualified well after discarding Sven Goran Eriksson and employed a tougher nut in Javier Aguirre Onaindía and with their good technique they have a good record of reaching the second round.

They also look to be particularly tricky opponents at altitude and play the French at Polokwane, at 1,310m. If France have not taken enough from their awkward opening encounter against Uruguay, the pressure will be on them.

Their easiest game of the group stage, against South Africa, comes last. France are not to be written off in any tournament – who thought they would make the 2006 final? – but England will certainly be rooting for the Mexicans, who include Arsenal's Carlos Vela in their strike force. If the French progress far into the tournament England could meet them in the quarter finals.

Glenn Moore

Football Editor

Brazil v Ivory Coast (Jo'burg, 20 June)

Africa's strongest team against the world's favourites. A fascinating clash of styles. Didier Drogba against Kaka. And, being in the second set of matches it will matter with neither team certain of qualifying. Brazil should be nicely warmed up after thrashing North Korea while the Ivory Coast will either be flying or reeling after meeting Portugal. Both will be seeking to win. The match also has the stage it deserves. A Sunday evening kick-off, perfect for the global audience, and in the competition's largest stadium.

Neil Warnock

Football Columnist

Portugal v Brazil (Durban, 25 June)

I'm looking forward to this match because I think it will be the most open game of the group stages. Most of those games are like playing patience, with both teams sitting back and waiting for the other to try something. You feel you should be watching, then you start drifting off on the sofa. Brazil and Portugal are different, they don't know any way other than to go forward. I think it could be a draw, but it would definitely be a scoring draw.

Mark Fleming

Football Writer

Ghana v Germany (Jo'burg, 23 June)

This Europe v Africa contest could prove to be a vital game for English hopes. The second round will see the winners of Group C, hopefully England, play the runners-up in Group D, which could well prove to be whoever loses this contest.

Fifa's world rankings puts Germany at 6th and Ghana at 37th, just above Northern Ireland, but the Black Stars will provide stiff opposition. Midfield is their strength, with Sulley Muntari of Inter Milan, Bologna's Stephen Appiah and Michael Essien, who will be opposing his Chelsea team-mate Michael Ballack.

Two months ago Ghana became the first African nation to win the Under-20 World Cup in Egypt, and the senior side will travel to South Africa hoping they can match the exploits of the junior team, known as the Black Satellites. There is a chance they could produce an upset in this game, which could mean England meeting Germany on 26 June at the first knock-out stage.

Pete Jenson

European Football Writer

Chile v Spain (Pretoria, 25 June)

Spain's last group game against Chile could well decide who tops Group H and so avoids Brazil in the last 16. Spain have beaten Chile in six of the nations' seven encounters to date but this is a talented well-organised Chilean side who were the outstanding team in South American qualification, finishing behind Brazil.

In the finals for the first time in 12 years they will be favourites to be stronger than the Swiss and Honduras. Assuming Spain win their first two games that will pit Marcelo Bielsa's dark horses against Vicente Del Bosque's favourites in the last game knowing the team who wins the match will win the group and avoid Dunga's five-times tournament winners. Of course all this assumes Brazil will win the Group of Death – something Didider Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo might have something to say about. The good news for Spain is that if they and Brazil do both top their groups then they will avoid each other until the final.

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