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15 minutes to get ready for the World Cup

  • 15minutestogetreadyfortheWorldCup
  • 14 May 2014

The greatest competition in football is here in a few weeks. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil promises to be a feast of footballing excitement for fans around the world. So, who are the players to watch? Which teams are in with a chance? We've asked Riath Al-Samarrai, football writer for the Daily Mail to give us his top tips.

15 minutes – that's all it takes to get between Heathrow and central London on our high speed train services. It got us thinking… what else can you do in 15 minutes? This issue: get ready for the World Cup.

Following England…

If, like me, you’re watching England in the hope of glory then you’ve not been paying enough attention over the past 48 years. They have certainly been given a tough draw in Brazil. They open their Group D campaign on June 10 against four-time winners Italy in the Amazon city of Manaus, where atmospheric conditions will be very challenging. However, this isn’t a vintage Italian team, even though they qualified comfortably for the finals. The greater threat could come from Uruguay, who England play in Sao Paulo five days later. With Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani leading their line, they have one of the very best attacks in the competition and are my favourites to win the group. Costa Rica are England’s opponents for the final group game in Belo Horizonte on June 24. They are, in theory, the weakest team in the group. Everton’s Bryan Oviedo will likely miss out after breaking his leg, but watch out for Joel Campbell. The 21-year-old forward is on loan at Olympiacos from Arsenal and looks a good player. My prediction is England will finish the group in third.

Pick a favourite…

Spain are the reigning champions and have won the past two European Championships. Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta have proved at Barcelona that they are the best in the midfield business and Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa has had a great season. Chelsea are willing to spend big to sign him this season. Argentina, meanwhile, have Lionel Messi – the greatest player of all time, in my view. But how do you look past Brazil, the home team and five-time winners? My money is on the magnificent hosts to handle the pressure, with Neymar proving what the hype is all about.

World Cup, ┬ęPress Association

World Cup, ©Press Association

Understand the key sub-plots…

Cristiano Ronaldo v Messi: Watching how these two giants plot their way through the tournament will be compelling. Ronaldo is limited by what is a weak Portugal side. But these are the best two players in the world by a long stretch and their rivalry is already something special.

Messi v history: In the arguments over the greatest ever players, performances at the World Cup are always highlighted. Messi failed to shine sufficiently in South Africa, meaning the World Cup is the one stage on which he has not dazzled. If he does not win the World Cup, he will always have a weakness in comparisons with Diego Maradona and Pele. Argentina have the luxury of an easy group, which ought to help.

Klose v the Real Ronaldo: The Brazilian Ronaldo, now retired, is rightly celebrated as one of the all-time great strikers. But his record haul of 15 World Cup goals is under severe threat from an unglamorous German – Miroslav Klose, who has 14.

Diego Costa v the Brazilian nation: A truly wonderful striker with a controversial route to the World Cup. He was born in Brazil but has elected to play for Spain. It has been the subject of serious debate in both countries.

Neymar v expectation: Neymar is the face and hope of Brazilian football. He has had a decent first season at Barcelona, but now is the right time and stage for him to show he deserves the hype.

What to watch…

There are some tasty fixtures in the group stages. Brazil v Mexico on June 17 could be brilliant, while Spain-Holland in the opening match of Group B is a clash of powerhouses. Interestingly, it is also a re-run of the 2010 final, when Holland cynically tried to kick Spain off the pitch. England versus Uruguay will also be entertaining as a clash of styles, with the drama of group qualification at stake.

Who to watch…

Belgium. It would take a brave man to bet on anyone other than Brazil, Spain or Argentina to win overall, but the Belgian team is a good outside bet. Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany and Romelu Lukaku have been three of the best performers in the Premier League this season. Then factor in Thibaut Courtois, who has proven himself in Spain as one of the game’s best goalkeepers. They blitzed their qualification pool and are favourites to win Group H, from where they will likely face Portugal or Germany in the last 16.

If you have deep pockets…

You can get to Manaus in the jungle for England’s first game against Italy on June 14, but the flight will cost close to £800 one-way and take in excess of 20 hours with a stop in Lisbon. England’s second group stage game, against Uruguay on June 19, is in Sao Paolo and is more accessible. You can fly direct from Heathrow for roughly £650 one-way. Their third game, against Costa Rica on June 24, is in Belo Horizonte and a one-way flight from Heathrow will cost roughly £700. The bad news is that the tickets for England’s three group games have sold out through official channels.

Failing that…

The BBC will show England’s game against Italy, while ITV have the Uruguay and Costa Rica fixtures. Be warned though; time zones mean England’s opener does not kick off until 11pm UK time. The Uruguay fixture starts at 8pm and the Costa Rica tie kicks off at 5pm.

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