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World Cup Groups A-D: Key Players To Watch

Taiu Kunimoto |
June 12, 2014 | 8:18 a.m. PDT

Executive Producer

With only hours away from the opening of the World Cup 2014, all 32 teams have arrived to their training camps in Brazil to execute their final preparation for the world’s biggest sporting event. Although one country may have higher hope to raise the trophy than another, one thing does not change—the players’ hunger to win games. Here are the nations’ most influential players who may have their team’s destiny in hand.

Group A

Brazil: #10 Neymar, Jr.

The 22-year-old Brazilian is no doubt the biggest star on the Brazilian squad. Despite arriving at Camp Nou for €57.1m last summer, Neymar has performed below par. On the national team, granted with more possession time, Neymar seemed regain the energy in his play during the pre-World Cup friendlies, scoring an impeccable free kick and delivering an imaginative heel-pass against Panama. Also with the entire country behind Neymar’s back, it’s his time to win the Cup and tell the world that he is in fact the next Pele, or maybe even better.

Eto'o hopes to show that age hasn't caught up with him yet in Rio. (Getty Images)
Eto'o hopes to show that age hasn't caught up with him yet in Rio. (Getty Images)
Cameroon: #9 Samuel Eto’o

Despite the claim that he is suffering from ‘aging,’ Samuel Eto’o is still the nation’s biggest superstar. He may have lost his speed, but he still has the experience to position himself at the right spot and become defenders’ worst nightmare. Eto’o’s goal against Germany to tie the game at 2-2 is a proof that he still has what it takes to carry the team further into the competition.

Croatia: #7 Ivan Rakitic

From a youthful ball of energy in Schalke 04 to captaining Sevilla to win the UEFA Europa League, Rakitic has grown, from a hot prospect to the team’s most-relied-on midfielder. During the tournament he will pair with Luka Modric to take control of the center circle. Croatia will look to them to deliver lethal passes to Bayern’s Mario Mandzukic to fire up the Vatreni offense. Netting 12 goals last season, Rakitic can put an unexpected dagger into the opposing goal if they are giving away too much space.

Mexico: #10 Giovani Dos Santos

Returning back to La Liga two years ago, Dos Santos slowly regained the level of play from his glorious past. Now playing for Villareal, the striker scored 11 goals last season. Although the number may seem unimpressive for a striker, Dos Santos’ most dangerous weapon is his ability to create spaces and assist his teammates. His runs and dribbles from the left flank will help Chicarito find the net eventually.

Group B

Australia: #4 Tim Cahill

Unlike his role in the club team New York Red Bulls, Cahill will have to take more responsibilities on the offensive end for Australia. However, having scored three goals in the last three international friendlies, the veteran attacker is the most dependable attacking player of the team’s 23-man roster. Cahill’s influence goes beyond the pitch, inspiring younger players and binding the team spirit. With bittersweet memories from the last two World Cups in his chest, Cahill is looking to cause a few upsets in the group of death.

Chile: #7 Alexis Sanchez

Sanchez had his best season with Barcelona last season. He scored 19 goals for Barca which made him the Top 4 goal scorer in La Liga. With the team’s attacking engine Auturo Vital’s fitness under question due to his slow recovery from his injury, the squad will look to Sanchez for his explosive pace and shot, which can change the game in a matter of seconds. Just like how he led the team to victory after a two goal deficit against Egypt, Sanchez’s performance will be the key to Chile’s progression into the tournament round.

The Netherlands: #9 Robin Van Persie

After a not-so-productive season with the Red Devils last year, Van Persie will be eager to prove his worth to the current Dutch national team manager Van Gaal (who is also the newly appointed Manchester United manager) and that he still has what it takes to perform at the highest level. Given the right service from Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, and a little fine tuning in his accuracy, Van Persie is the kind of player that a defender can never leave unmarked.

Can Xavi lead Spain to yet another title? (Lluis Gene/Getty Images)
Can Xavi lead Spain to yet another title? (Lluis Gene/Getty Images)
Spain: #8 Xavi

Participating in his fourth World Cup, Xavi will once again orchestrate the Spanish offense from the midfield. His broad vision, pinpoint passing and great knowledge of the game allow Xavi to be one of the best players, not only in Spain, but the in the history of Spanish football. The defending champions will put heavy demand on the 34-year old Catalonian to execute perfect deliveries to the underperforming Spaniard strikers.

ALSO SEE: A College Guide To The World Cup: 7 Ways To Pick Your Team

Group C

Columbia: #10 James Rodriguez

Columbia never lacks talent on offense. Rodriguez, 22, is without a doubt, the best of the best. While the Columbian fans lament Falcao’s World Cup absence, they should still feel hopeful that they have Rodriguez’s shoulder to lean on. He will be Columbia’s most important player on the pitch who can create opportunity from scratch with the lethal passes from his left foot.

Will Drogba hoist another trophy in July? (Getty Images)
Will Drogba hoist another trophy in July? (Getty Images)
Ivory Coast: #11 Didier Drogba

Yes, he is old and yes, there may have been some concern about his groin; however, the former Chelsea striker blew doubts out of the water when he took part in all three goals Ivory Coast scored in their pre-World Cup friendlies, scoring twice and setting up once. Drogba is the type of player that will punish his opponents the moment they lose focus. At the age of 36, he will challenge the World Cup as a captain for the third time. This time more than ever, he is hungry for something more than elimination in the group stage.

Japan: #4 Keisuke Honda

Following a disappointing season in Series A, Milan’s No. 10 is seeking to prove to the world that he is not an overhyped player. Unlike in AC Milan, where his favorite position is dominated by Kaka’, Honda can play freely with the Japanese squad as the second striker. Now playing in the position where he finds most comfortable, the Japanese star contributed two goals and one assist over the last three international friendlies for his mother country. Honda is finding his condition back, which means upsets are coming for the opponents—remember South Africa.

Greece: #10 Giorgos Karagounis

It is impossible to talk about Greek football history without mentioning Karagounis. As the nation’s best player to have ever lived, Karagounis was part of the Greek team in the last World Cup and the last three European championships—one of which includes the team that took all of Europe by surprise, winning the Euro 2004. He may no longer have the fitness and pace of the past, but the 37-year-old Greek legend seeks to relive his glory days in Brazil.

Group D

Costa Rica: #9 Joel Campbell

On loan from Arsenal to Olympiakos, Campbell is a highly regarded prospect whose talent is appreciated, not only by Arsene Wenger, but also by the manager of the Costa Rican squad Jorge Luis Pinto. The World Cup will be his first major challenge in his career, which may determine his future. Costa Rica has a shot to win against complacent opponents in this group of death if Campbell manifests what the manager sees in him.

England: #4 Steven Gerrard

The little Scouser boy who lost his cousin in the Hillsborough disaster 25 years ago has now grown to be the indomitable captain of Liverpool and the Three Lions. Having the Premiere League title literally 'slip away' from him, Gerrard is ever determined to clinch some victories for the national team side. He will be the instigator of the English offense and the first line of defense against the opponent’s attack. Gerrard’s condition will alter the fate of his English team.

Pirlo still has enough left in the tank to take Italy to another title. (Getty Images)
Pirlo still has enough left in the tank to take Italy to another title. (Getty Images)
Italy: #21 Andrea Pirlo

There is no word to describe the magnificence of Pirlo’s footwork. He will be Italy’s commander in chief—responsible of controlling the team’s tempo. Similar to his success with Juventus, in Gli Azzurri, his ability to detect the weakest link in the opposing defense helped Italy to win the World Cup in 2006 and become the runner-up in Euro 2012. Yet, due to his old age, Pirlo may no longer have much impact defensively. Plus, with the absence of Montolivio due to injury, his presence on the pitch, if not treated correctly, can be a double edge sword.

Uruguay: #9 Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez, who tallied 31 goals in 33 appearances for Liverpool, will be the most impeccable player for the Uruguayan side. His ability to bury goals and slice through opposing defense with his astounding technique and agility will be the key for Uruguay to be reconsidered the World Cup Champion again since 1950 in Brazil. Although his knee injury is concerning, we saw in South Africa four years ago that Suarez will find a way to help the team under any circumstances using whatever it takes to win the game—including using his hands to block the game deciding goal.

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