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Top five group games to watch out for at 2014 World Cup

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With several “Groups of Death” lined up my a mouth-watering World Cup draw in Brazil on Friday, there will be some massive games played at the 2014 World Cup before the knockout stages even arrive.

Usually we have to wait until the last 16, quarterfinals or semis to see some of the worlds best sides lock horns, but due to the extremely strong tournament in South America, plenty will clash just to try and get out of their respective groups.

So, let’s take a quick look at the top five games the group stages have thrown up.

12 June: Brazil v Croatia

This game will kick off the tournament and is sure to be a special event after the opening ceremony takes place. Sao Paolo is the venue and Brazil’s most populous city will see the home nation take on Croatia in a showpiece event. The Croats usually do well when they make it to the World Cup, in their short history as a nation they’ve already made the semifinals once, so look out for them to cause an upset. It will be a big ask in front of a partisan crowd ready to party and celebrate a big win for the host nation. That is what they will expect, the pressure is huge for Brazilian stars such as Neymar, Oscar and Fred. But this match is all about the people of Brazil coming together to celebrate the World Cup.

13 June: Spain v Netherlands

A rematch of the 2010 World Cup final on the second day of the tournament next summer, doesn’t get much better than that does it? Last time out the final in South Africa turned into a bit of a bloodbath as Holland flew into meaty challenges and Spain finally prevailed thanks to Andreas Iniesta’s extra-time goal breaking Dutch hearts. These nations have gone at it for decades in the big tournaments and this will be no different as both “golden generations” may see this as their last chance to grab a World Cup title for the national team. Can Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie and co. taste revenge in Salvador?

14 June: England v Italy

Italy lost in the final of Euro 2012 and look a solid and organized side under Cesare Prandelli. On their route to the final in Poland and Ukraine they beat England in the quarterfinals on penalties, as Roy Hodgson took over from Fabio Cappelo just before the tournament began. England will be hoping to not welt in the heat as both teams travel North to Manaus deep in the Amazon rainforest. That could slow the game down and suit Italy as Mario Balotelli clashes with Wayne Rooney and the Three Lions.

16 June: Germany v Portugal

In Group G, one of the “Groups of Death” the USA will be hoping this ends in a draw as two massive European nations lock horns in the opening game. Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Mesut Ozil will be the talk of the town before the game, as Salvador will welcome two terrific soccer nations who are both ranked in the top five in the latest FIFA World Rankings and are expected to go deep in the tournament. Expect plenty of tough challenges, red cards and incidents, plus both teams are stacked with match-winners who can be the hero. You will not want to miss the match, especially as the USA have something riding on it.

source: Getty Images
Will the Italians triumph once again?

23 June: Chile v Spain

Perhaps not a massive rivalry like Germany v Portugal or England v Italy, this match will see two sides who play terrific brands of soccer go head-to-head in Rio de Janiero. Spain are the reigning World Champions and deserve the respect of everyone but if they don’t get a good result against the Netherlands in their opening group games, they’ll be up against it when they face South American outfit Chile. Alexis Sanchez, who plays his club soccer in Spain and is the key of Chile’s fantastic counter-attacking style, could damage Spain’s chances of a repeat, while Chile have been in and around the worlds top 10 for quite some time now. These two played in the group stages in South Africa in 2010 and it was perhaps my favorite game of the tournament to watch.

Klinsmann hints at Euro-heavy roster for World Cup qualifiers

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Danny Williams #14 of the United States looks on before an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
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If your favorite Major League Soccer players don’t make the cut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s next roster, don’t think you won’t see them in the red, white and blue this summer.

[ JPW: What’s the best XI for USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers? ]

Perhaps it’ll be different for the players who were a part of January camp — stars Lee Nguyen and Steve Birnbaum chief among them — but Klinsmann says the late start of the MLS season can affect fitness for the critical qualifiers home and away to Guatemala.

That means there’s a better chance to see in-form Championship midfielder Danny Williams (above) or Pachuca’s Omar Gonzalez then, say, Orlando City’s Brek Shea or Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman.

From USSoccer.com:

“We are basically looking all over the place. We monitor all the players in Europe. We monitor all the players in Mexico, and obviously we can’t wait until MLS starts as well. It’s really kind of crucial that we see everybody getting in the best shape possible, everybody getting into a rhythm and making statements.

“Then you say, ‘Is the roster you see at the end of March the same one as Copa America?’ Probably not. The end of March comes early for MLS players. The European players are in the full swing, and also Mexican players because they started already a month ago with Liga MX. So we’ll be monitoring everyone.”

We’ve already covered the obstacle that is the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL Olympic qualifying playoff occurring at the same time as the Guatemala matches, but this is still good news for players in England, Germany and other European locales seeking caps in March.

Klopp on struggling Benteke: “He wants to score and we need him to score”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Christian Benteke of Liverpool reacts as he foiled by goalkeeper Darren Randolph of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp had his appendix removed this weekend, but it’s doubtful he’s feeling as sore as his big Belgian striker.

Christian Benteke had the opportunity to put himself in the good graces of Liverpool fans with a number of decent chances in Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to West Ham, but couldn’t get the job done.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

In one case, Benteke put himself in a prime spot only to lash his shot wide of the post. Instead, he’s now at 11 appearances without a goal (despite ripping nine shots against the Irons).

From the BBC:

“I don’t believe in the easy goal. He has to carry on like this. It’s not the nicest moment in his career but he has to work hard. He wants to score and we need him to score. We will work on it in the days, weeks and months.”

Klopp maintained that Liverpool was “the better team” on the night — counterpart Slaven Bilic disagreed — despite conceding a pair of very similar looking goals.

The game could’ve avoided extra time through Benteke’s boots and body, but he couldn’t find his finish again.

The 25-year-old has seen his goal production drop by nearly half since joining from Aston Villa in the summer, and it’s sure to return… just maybe not under Klopp.

Bilic: Cup win “will go into the history of West Ham’s greatest games”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Slaven Bilic manager of West Ham United signals during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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It’s safe to say Slaven Bilic loved West Ham United’s dramatic 2-1 win over Liverpool in Tuesday’s FA Cup fourth round replay.

Angelo Ogbonna headed home a winner in the 121st minute, and Bilic celebrated wildly before giving a postmatch briefing that can only be described as emotional.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

If you’re a supporter who wants your manager to respect the Cup competitions, you’re going to love these words from Bilic.

From the BBC:

“I can explain my feelings, and I can’t at the same time. It is great, for me a really great game of football. It was a classic FA Cup tie. It will go into the history of West Ham’s greatest games. Liverpool, last season at Upton Park, night kick-off, goal in the last minute. And we deserved it, I am very proud of the guys. They left their heart on the pitch.”

While Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp said the Reds were the better team in the loss, Bilic said his side produced a match capable of beating any team in England.

He’s mostly right. There were big chances for Liverpool, but West Ham deserved a PK amongst several calls that went against them. Blackburn’s next.

West Ham United 2-1 Liverpool: Ogbonna strikes after 120 minutes

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Jordon Ibe of Liverpool takes on Pedro Mba Obiang of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Angelo Ogbonna is now an FA Cup hero.

Two sides willing to move the ball and attack produced a fine FA Cup tie on Tuesday at the Boleyn Ground, with Ogbonna heading home the match-winner in the 121st minute of play for a 2-1 win.

Michail Antonio scored a first-half goal for West Ham before Philippe Coutinho equalized for the visiting Reds.

[ WATCH: Coutinho’s cheeky free kick ties the score ]

All told, West Ham heads to Ewood Park for a fifth-round date with Blackburn Rovers. Peterborough United hosts West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday to sort out the fourth round’s other replay.

Liverpool played a more second-string set than the home side.

Brilliance met brilliance in the 38th minute, as Dimitri Payet struck a gorgeous dipping free kick over the wall only to see Mignolet get the slightest touch to help the ball crank off the goal post. Cheikhou Kouyate failed to scissor kick the rebound, and Mignolet flew back into the picture to parry Antonio’s header.

Antonio would get his glory next, as Enner Valencia took Payet’s pass and dribbled through the left side of the 18 and toward the end line before crossing the ball. Antonio let the ball sink to hip height before volleying home. 1-0, 45′.

There were three goal posts struck in the first half.

[ MORE: American takeover at Everton update

[ MORE: Recapping Week 25 in the PL ]

Coutinho scored on a clever free kick from the edge of the 18, betting on the wall jumping and cheekily rolling his shot under it and past Hammers keeper Darren Randolph.

Christian Benteke started and nearly finished a 56th minute chance inside the box, but his shot was blocked.

West Ham should’ve been awarded a penalty when Tiago Ilori pulled down Valencia in the box. Roger East didn’t see it that way.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s Courtois says FA Cup or UEFA Champions League final a must ]

The match went to extra time after eight minutes of second-half stoppage time.

Mignolet made a solid flying stop on Mark Noble in the first frame of extra time. At the other end, Benteke struck a low chance wide of the right post. Moments later, Randolph came out to thwart Benteke on a breakaway.

If anyone needed a reminder of Daniel Sturridge‘s skill, the late sub let fly with a 108th minute bullet that missed the goal by inches.

Then Lucas Leiva gave up a free kick just as two minutes of extra time stoppage began, and Ogbonna struck.

LINEUPS

West Ham United: Randolph, O’Brien (Moses, 83′), Reid (Collins, 64′), Ogbonna, Cresswell, Kouyate (Carroll, 76′), Noble, Obiang, Antonio, Valencia, Payet.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Flanagan, Stewart, Tiago Ilori, Smith, Teixeira (Origi, 60′), Lucas, Chirivella (Milner, 102′), Ibe, Benteke, Coutinho (Sturridge, 60′).