Three big story lines for the 2014 World Cup

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A caveat: They’re all big story lines when it comes to the World Cup, and it’s hard to move your mind past karmic blowback for England and the United States draw in the 2010 edition (from E.A.S.Y. to terribly difficult). Yet the world at-large will be salivating at a number of prospects.

1) Surviving this Group of Death brings a clear path to glory

Make no mistake about it: Fans of Germany, Ghana and Portugal are just as bummed about their draw as United States supporters. Only two teams come out of this group which, as commenter tridecagon pointed out, has a combined FIFA rankings rating of 45 (by far the lowest in the tournament).

Yet those who advance get the opponents from the highest-rated group (H) before facing the second-highest and fourth-highest. Advancing past Group G brings you a match-up with one of Algeria, Belgium, Russia or Korea Republic. Win that and it’s on to one of: Switzerland, Ecuador, Honduras, France, Argentina, Nigeria, Iran or Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Group G teams can play their own governor.

2) England. Versus. Italy.

Nevermind the Soccernomics behind the English as a soccer power; The arguably over-performing Three Lions will see all bets off against rival Italy.

The Italians sent England packing from the 2012 Euro quarterfinals after a scoreless game went to kicks. Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney delivered, while the Ashleys, Cole and Young, could not beat Gigi Buffon.

That match is just the tip of the iceberg. England has won its international final berths by beating or drawing Italy in past qualifying matches, while the Italians also gave goalkeeper Peter Shilton nightmares in 1980 and 1985, not to mention the third place game at the 1990 World Cup. From Keegan/Brooking in 1977  to David Beckhams debut as England captain and beyond, this pairing has brought plenty of fun to international competition.

3) Can El Tri find three points twice?

Mexico looked borderline almighty in dispatching New Zealand after a CONCACAF qualifying campaign that was anything but tidy. Now they’ll face a group that features one free-wheeling power and two teams who can defend rather well.

Will El Tri perform well or be the dogs of the group? Neither scenario is hard to believe as the Mexicans will put their roaring offensive talent against host nation Brazil, but also try to break Cameroon and Croatia squads that certainly know how to shutdown firepower.

Iniesta joins Japanese club Vissel Kobe

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TOKYO (AP) Former Barcelona playmaker Andres Iniesta was introduced as the newest member of Japanese club Vissel Kobe on Thursday, a poorly kept secret that’s been rumored for weeks.

Iniesta appeared before a packed news conference at a central Tokyo hotel on Thursday along with Kobe’s billionaire owner, Hiroshi Mikitani.

[READ: Earnie Stewart being considered for U.S. Soccer post]

“I’m pleased to announce,” Mikitani said, “that Andres Iniesta will be signing up play with Vissel Kobe after his historic career at Barcelona.”

Iniesta signed his contract as Mikitani watched, and then spoke through an interpreter.

Terms of the contract were not disclosed, but Japanese media are reporting he will earn $30 million annually on a three-year deal.

“For me this is a very special day,” the Spaniard said. “This is an important challenge for me. My family is excited to come to Japan and we are very pleased. There were many offers. Other clubs showed interest. But I decided to sign with Vissel Kobe because the project presented to me was impressive.”

Mikitani is also the CEO of Barcelona sponsor Rakuten, a Japanese online retailer.

Iniesta held up the team’s red shirt with his famous No. 8 on the back, and his name written across the bottom.

Iniesta previously had said he would probably retire from international soccer after Spain plays at this year’s World Cup in Russia.

The 34-year-old Iniesta scored the winning goal for Spain in the 2010 World Cup final. He also was a key part of Spain’s two European Championships in 2008 and 2012.

He announced last month he would leave Barcelona after 16 seasons. His last match for the Spanish club was on Sunday against Real Sociedad at Camp Nou.

Vissel Kobe is in sixth place after 15 games in the J-League. It signed Lukas Podolski last year, but the German striker is out until the end of June with an injured calf.

Yaya Toure talks future, wants to play with Paul Pogba

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There is very little debate: Yaya Toure is his own special case.

The longtime Manchester City midfielder does what he wants, flies his own flag, has the worst agent in the game, and is pleased or dismayed in unusual ways.

[ UCL: What would Real 3-peat mean? ]

Toure, 35, has been linked with a move to NYCFC now that he’s leaving Man City, but the Ivorian still wants to play two more seasons for a Champions League or Europa League club.

And he wants to get together with Paul Pogba. You can see where this is going… (from The Manchester Evening News):

“Pogba is the same size, power – but different in the way he wants to go. Technically as well, the ability to score goals as well. It is a player I want to play with, to be honest, just to teach him some things.”

That must mean both are going to Paris Saint-Germain because… Yaya at Manchester United? No way, right? Right? Even with last year’s reports from his — again — terrible agent that it was an option, that still seems too villainous.

“I don’t rule big teams out. The big teams are very important for me. What they want to achieve, the way they want to go, for me is very important. … I want to go somewhere I can win and achieve. It’s going to be hard one day to play against City, but I have to do that. It is part of my job.”

Toure later said he was “no good in an office,” which had us thinking, well, what if they properly celebrated your birthday, Yaya?

WATCH: Miami United midfielder unleashes Open Cup laser

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Tomas Granitto, have yourself an extra plate at the postgame buffet.

The Miami United midfielder scored a gorgeous goal in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over fellow NPSL side Jacksonville Armada in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup’s third round.

[ MORE: 3 Key Battles for UCL Final ]

Complete with aesthetically-pleasing post-ping, the former El Salvador U-20 player laid into a 25-yard shot to open the scoring in Florida.

Granitto, 24, has played for Timbers 2, Swope Park Rangers, FC Edmonton, since leaving NCAA side Florida Gulf Coast.

Rondon wanted by Atleti, Inter Milan, and West Ham

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The big boys are looking to Salomon Rondon as a bargain striker.

Yes, $22 million is a bargain in the striker market these days.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

West Brom’s Venezuelan international, 28, stands 6’2″ and has a relegation release clause that is reportedly interesting Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid, and West Ham United.

Atleti and Inter are in the Champions League next season, but Rondon played for new West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini at Malaga, posting 25 league goals in two seasons.

He’s scored 24 goals in three Premier League seasons at West Brom, almost a quarter of the 104 produced by the Baggies.

He also picked up three assists this season as the target man for Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew, and Darren Moore (and was fouled more often than any other Baggie (Baggy?)).

Rondon and Marko Arnautovic next to each other would be a real handful for PL defenses. Then again, maybe he’ll stay loyal to West Brom and set the Championship scoring record next season.