The FIFA World Cup draws are done and the battle lines drawn.Thirty-twocountries from across the world are competing for the biggest prize in football. We take a look at the most exciting games in the first round of the world’s most watched tournament.
Fans are delighted at the prospect of this smashing encounter between old rivals Portugal and Spain. The historic rivalry between the two nations began for maritime glory but has since moved on to the football pitch. Ittook off when Portugal lost 3-1 to Spain in their first ever international friendly game on December 18, 1921. Current Euro champions Portugal and 2010 FIFA champions Spain are both star-studded teams which makes this encounter the highlight of first-round games.
The 1998 champions Les Bleus have always had mixed luck at the World Cup. They didn’t pass the group stage at the 2010 edition in South Africa, but bounced back to reach the quarterfinals in 2014. The Euro 2016 finalists go up against the extremely hard working Danes who know a thing or two about upsetting favourites. The Danes held the Germans to a draw in the qualifiers,which is no little feat. Both teams feature players who are part of top European clubs, so this will be a cracker of a game!
The Argentines are led by the talismanic Lionel Messi. The two-time champions usually make it to the quarterfinals in most editions. The Nigerians, aka the Super Eagles, played their first World Cup in 1994. They have qualified five times since and have been drawn in the same pool as the Argentines four times. The Nigerians have never beaten the South American legends at the World Cup, but have always given them a run for their money.
Christmas has come early for the English team. Having been drawn with Tunisia, Belgium and debutants Panama, there is noexcuse for the English team to not sail through to the second round. This group is essentially a duel between the English and the Belgians, most of who play in the English Premier League. The English team sometimes struggle in front of the goal and club rivalries tend to hamperteam performances. The Belgians, meanwhile, know the English game well, so don’t be surprised if they pull one over the Englishteam.
Poland is the world’s seventh best teamand the top-ranked team in the group.The Columbians had their golden age in the 1990s with players like Carlos Valderrama and Faustino Asprilla, but the current squad also has a few players worth their salt. Expect the Columbians to give the Poles a run for their money,given that they held the mighty Brazilians to a drawin the qualification run. The Columbians will be wary of Robert Lewandowski whoset a European record by scoring 16 goals in the qualifiers.
Reigning champions and current top-ranked team, Germany,has been drawn in what they would consider a favourable group. The Swedes have shown that they area formidable side. While the core of the German team playsat German clubs, the Swedes play all over Europe, which may lead to them not being a cohesive unit. The Germans will also have to be careful not to slip-up given that they may have to play Brazil in the next round if they fail to land the top spot in the group.
The Russians have never progressed beyond the group stages since 1990, while two-time champions Uruguay has almost always managed to squeak past to the second round. The Russians have the home advantage but the Uruguayans are more experienced.Most of Uruguay’s players ply their trade at various European clubs whilethe Russians mostly stick to their home clubs. Uruguayan flair meets Russian precision making this a game not to miss.
The five-time winners have little to fear in this match against the Swiss. Although Switzerland is ranked eighth in the world, the Brazilians should have no problems putting away the side with ease. The humiliating loss to Germany four years ago looms large over the South American giants whose name is synonymous with the world cup. Switzerland has a few world-class players who play in the English Premier League but taking on the Brazilians in a World Cup is a different ball game entirely.