Team previews provided by Jeevan (@JeevanSD_MMA)
England vs Italy
Kickoff 5pm CT
England - I was very happy when I saw the 23 man squad announced. I do wonder if we will miss the goal scoring ability of Defoe, but we have to trust Roy Hodgson. Henderson and Gerrard should start as the 2 deep central midfielders; they were great for Liverpool this season. It's good to see Daniel Sturridge performing for Liverpool, I'm glad that he has found a manager who trusts him to lead the line, he has the ability to be a real threat for England if he is trusted with that central role. The Southampton contingent in this squad is great, and it tells players that you don't have to be playing for a big team to get a call-up to the national squad. You have a young player like Shaw who will become a star, Lambert who had to work his way up the football league pyramid, and then Adam Lallana showed great loyalty by sticking with Southampton when they went down to League 1, and it's great to see him being rewarded. He had a great season for Southampton. Our defence isn't as strong as it was, but I think they will do well. I'm a big fan of Cahill and Baines, Jagielka is a very solid defender. I am expecting most of our opponents attacks to come down our right hand side, Glen Johnson's defending isn't where he excels, he would be much better in a wing-back position. I would like to see Jones or Smalling occupying that role against stronger teams. The attacking midfielder options are exciting. I love watching Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sterling play, and Ross Barkley has the potential to be a world-class player. I think most of us were worried that Roy Hodgson would go with experience, but the vast majority of the squad are here on form and age isn't an issue. I also hope that people don't put too much pressure on Wayne Rooney, he is our best player. We need to show him support. I hope the sports psychologist (Steve Peters) who England have with them can help Rooney. This could be his last World Cup (especially if you believe Paul Scholes, who thinks Rooney may have peaked), and he should be determined to prove his doubters wrong. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if we don't make it out of the group, it is a tough group. I would like to think that we have the players to get us out of this group, and I can see us reaching the quarter finals if we play to the best of our ability.
Italy - Which Balotelli will show up? The crazy player? The wonderful player who is capable of destroying teams? I am a big fan of Balotelli, he is a very entertaining character and has a very interesting background, and he's a very good footballer. The question is whether he is ready to take his game to the next level and fulfil his potential. I would like to see Italy go with another forward if Balotelli isn't at his best.I've only seen Immobile play once, but he looked very impressive. And add the fact that he scored 20+ goals in Serie A & then add that Klopp believes he can replace Lewa, I would like to see Immobile get minutes. They have a good defence (Chiellini and Barzagli are a great duo) and have Buffon protecting their goal. They will be expecting Pirlo to dominate games from deep, and you have to imagine that most teams will look to man-mark him. It will be interesting to see if Italy decide to give Verratti a bigger role or move Pirlo into an advanced role. To be fair, they could leave him in that position and he would still dominate most games. I believe Italy will win this group.
Cote d'Ivoire vs Japan
Kickoff 8pm CT
Ivory Coast - Yaya Toure is the best central midfielder in the world, in my opinion. I think he can get them out of this group. It's crazy to think that he made his name as a defensive midfielder. We could throw around descriptions such as "big, powerful and energetic" to describe Toure. I would rather talk about his intelligence and technical ability. I love watching Manchester City play, not for Silva or Aguero, but for Yaya Toure. He is the complete midfielder, the only thing he can't do is header (according to his MCFC mates). I have to say that I am pleased for Gervinho. He looks to be back to the form that got him a move to Arsenal, and I'm glad that he is enjoying his time with Roma .And we can say the same about Kalou, who has taken his game to the next level with a move to Lille. Drogba isn't the same player he was, but I still expect him to bully defenders, and they do have decent alternatives if he isn't performing. This is most likely Drogba and Yaya Toure's last World Cup, I think they will be determined to get through to the next stage. They need to make sure that Tiote and whoever occupies the slot next to him protect the defence, they look like they could concede a few goals, Kolo Toure and his CB partner will need that protection. I'll be keeping an eye on Aurier ( he has been linked with Arsenal), who has taken Eboue's role.
Japan - Japan are an interesting team. They have Kagawaand Honda as their star midfield players, and the two of them would be great additions to almost any squad in this tournament. This team relies on Honda, and it is understandable, his left foot is superb, as is his dead ball delivery. I'm also interested in seeing how Kiyotake performs when he comes on (assuming he will be a sub as Okazaki will most likely occupy his position). They have defenders with Bundesliga , Serie A and Premier League experience. The full backs take advantage of the space that the wide attacking midfielders leave when they move towards the centre.I can't see them getting to the next stage, they have some fantastic technical talent, but I don't think they will perform well.