World Cup 2014: 20 reasons to get into the Samba spirit
Sunday 08 December 2013
Brazil look set for a breakthrough
The hosts have three awkward games, but no awesomely difficult ones. As in 2002, that could be ideal in allowing Brazil to develop form – and for Neymar quickly to take command in a tournament where he faces much expectation.
Robben granted another opportunity for redemption
The Dutch winger missed the two biggest chances of the 2010 final but, as with the 2013 Champions League, he can put it right against Spain in that first group match. It would fully round off his career.
Be Patient, Ivory Coast
Didier Drogba and Yaya Touré may have lost some team-mates from the golden generation, but they have at last lost a tendency to be placed in the Group of Death too. The 2014 draw is much kinder than 2006 and 2010 and may finally give them the chance to grace the later stages.
Three sure things
Germany are also one of three sides at the tournament, along with Ghana and the Netherlands, to have always qualified from their group. By contrast, none of Iran, Algeria, Honduras, Greece or Ivory Coast have reached the second round.
Neymar may be allowed to take command in a tournament where he faces much expectation
Spain must immediately find their feet
The amount of games Xavi and Andres Iniesta have played since 2008 for club and country has never been more of an issue, with the defending champions looking increasingly fatigued. Slowly working their way in will not be an option. Even one slip against the Netherlands or Chile could see a daunting second-round fixture with Brazil.
An acid test for Germany
The final winning mentality of Jogi Löw's team has been questioned and Group G poses the issue again in a variety of ways. Germany must face a demanding schedule, one of the two best players in the world and an old hero in the USA's manager, Jürgen Klinsmann. Pass those and they could be ready for anything.
Time for the real Suarez
You can already see the two potential stories. Luis Suarez is well capable of either getting himself involved in the kind of incident that further sours his fractious relationship with England, or illustrate the talent that has made his play so admired by eliminating them. Of course, the Liverpool striker may well do both.
Final repeats have never seen repeated results
The defending champions should be cautious. Each time a previous World Cup final has been replayed at the next tournament, the runner-up has improved the result. West Germany beat England and Argentina four years after the defeats of 1966 and 1986, but were eliminated from 1978 after a draw with the Netherlands.
Lose first game and forget first place
In the history of the tournament, only Spain 2010, Mexico 1994 and the controversial West Germany 1982 side have finished top of their group after losing their first match.
It's not all about your next game
Of course, the most fancied sides will be looking further than the first step. The draw could well bring some big names together in the second round, with Brazil potentially facing one of Spain or the Netherlands, and Belgium set up for Germany or Portugal.
The Real Madrid superstar can reinforce his credentials to be the world’s greatest player
Cristiano Ronaldo's greatest challenge
The Real Madrid superstar can reinforce his credentials to be the world's greatest player. He had to drag Portugal through the play-offs against Sweden and now must lift an under-performing side out of the most difficult group in the competition. It would be quite a statement if he pulled it off.
Italy aren't really slow starters
For all the traction the issue may gain in the build-up to the first match, England should just concentrate on the current realities. It is a myth. Of 17 previous opening games, Italy have won nine and drawn four.
But really make sure you don't lose that opening match
It isn't just a cliché. England, the Netherlands and others with a difficult first game may have to get used to things getting more complicated. Only 14 per cent of sides to have lost an opening fixture have got through. By contrast, 80 per cent of those to have won it have reached round two.
The French tide turns
Given how dismal their situation looked after the first leg of the play-off with Ukraine, and how difficult the last six years have been, it's remarkable to think how open it now looks for Didier Deschamps's team. This draw offers an excellent chance of a good run for the 1998 champions.
Debutants have a ball
What's more, Bosnia and Herzegovina would strengthen another trend: European sides frequently qualify from the group stage in their first appearance at a World Cup, with 10 of 14 having done so since 1958.
Perfect group rarely leads to perfect finish
A total of 21 sides have won all three opening games but only three have gone on to win the tournament: Brazil 1970, France 1998 and Brazil 2002.
Baptism of fireworks
Bosnia and Herzegovina are the only side making their finals debut and, as regards a first tournament experience, it has fallen kindly. Their maiden match against Argentina will properly stoke the atmosphere, and potentially charge them for winnable games against Iran and Nigeria. Edin Dzeko and Co can go further than just making it to Brazil.
Dark horses can gallop quickly
Belgium are seen as a genuine outside bet, but won't look on their group with trepidation. A squad featuring Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku should cruise into first place past Algeria, Korea and Fabio Capello's Russia.
Group of Death may give life
The draw has been difficult for Germany but it may hone them in the long run. There is evidence that, if the Group of Death doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger; 15 previous such pools have produced five runners-up and 15 winners, the latest of which was Italy 2006.
The Barcelona playmaker is expected to finally make a World Cup his own
Leo Messi's moment
At around the same point in his career as Diego Maradona was in 1986, the Barcelona playmaker is expected to finally make a World Cup his own. He did not score in 2010 but a forgiving draw in a South American tournament will not allow excuses. This is Messi's platform.
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