Belgium vs Algeria
Belgium - It's incredible that they didn't qualify for the last two World Cups. This should be a pretty simple group for Belgium, though Russia might put up a fight. They have one of the best goalkeepers around in Courtois, an outstanding goalkeeper. Chelseawould be foolish to let him go. They have an issue with their full-back positions, but I think Verthongen and Alderweireld will do a reasonable job in those roles, and their defensive minds should help that backline. I'm a huge fan of Vincent Kompany, and I hope he has a great partnership with Vermaelen. This defence would obviously be focused on protecting their goal, so wingers and attacking midfielders will need to make sure that they are creating chances. I can't wait to see how Janzaj performs; he looks like he will become a world-class midfielder in the future. And is a very good addition to the Belgium squad. I have to admit that I was surprised that Nainggolan didn't make the 23. DeBruyne will also add quality to the starting 11. Axel Witsel will be the anchor of the midfielder, and then expect someone like Fellaini or Dembele to play alongside him. Eden Hazard has been mesmerizing this season,now he needs to do it for his national team. I loved watching him play for Chelsea. He's dangerous when he has the ball, and I love the fact that he wants to beat the defender. I was a bit sceptical about the price tag that came with him when Chelsea signed him, but he was brilliant for Chelsea this season. The injury to ChristianBenteke is unfortunate, they are lucky that they have Lukaku leading the line. I remember looking at Belgium a few years back, and thinking that they could be a great team if they found a top level striker. Benteke breaking through was great for them, and the same for Lukaku. Lukaku has really grown over the last 2 seasons, and I think his time at WBA and Everton shows how important loans can be for player development. It will be interesting to see what happens with him after the WC. It will also be interesting to see how teams defend against him. He has the ability to run into space if teams push up, and also has the physical attributes to cope with a defence that pushes back into the box. And Kevin Mirallas is a great player to have available.
Algeria - They have decent players occupying midfield roles (Taider, Bentaleb, Brahimi) . I don't see the Algerians having a good summer, they should be happy if they manage to get a draw or two. They have a decent attack, but their defence has far too many holes in it for them to get ahead of Russia. I don't know too much about star striker Islam Slimani except for the fact that he plays for Sporting Lisbon. Their star player is playmaker Sofiane Feghouli. The Valencia midfielder will either operate in the hole or on the right wing, and Algeria will be hoping that he can use his pace and creativity to create some chances for Slimani. I guess I could see Algeria qualifying for the next round if Russia have a terrible time in Brazil and that the Algerian defenders stay strong.
Brazil vs Mexico
Brazil - This Brazil squad isn't as exciting as the squads that had Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka etc. I wasn't sure how well they would do before last year's Confederations Cup, I was very surprised. The attacking trio of Neymar, Fred and Hulk is great. Fred isn't a world-class striker, but he does his part for the team and had a great time during the 2013 Confederations Cup. Hulk, I always wonder how good he could have been if he had a manager like Wenger or Ferguson coaching him, and it is incredible how he can still defeat defenders even though they know that he is always going to cut inside. He really is a monster on that right wing, and I can see him having a very good World Cup. Neymar, he is their star, their poster-boy. I love watching him play. He should have more freedom than he does at Barcelona, and I just hope that the pressure helps him and doesn't hinder him. Julio Cesar in goal, he desperately needed that loan spell at Toronto to help him with match fitness. Marcelo and Dani Alves are great full back options. Thiago Silva is an incredible centre-back, I'd like to see Dante partner him, but I imagine David Luiz (his new PSG teammate?) will have that role. Brazil will need Oscar and Paulinho in form and creating chances, and possibly scoring a few.
Mexico - I still can't believe that Vela decided to stay away from the Mexico squad. Playing in the World Cup is the goal for most players. I hope he made the right call for himself. Onto the squad, Peralta and Hernandez are essential to this squad, and Dos Santos is to a lesser extent. MLS fans know all about Marquez, (do I need to say anything else?). I was impressed with the U23 squad they sent to London 2012 ( Herrera looked like a quality player - at least I think it was him ), I thought they would turn into a real force, but the qualifying campaign wasn't great. Strikers need goals to get confidence, and you need games to get goals. Hernandez hasn't played as much as he would have liked this season, and it will be interesting to see how he performs, especially as a good World Cup will encourage big clubs to bid for him. Does the manager drop him in favour of someone who played and was in-form?
Russia vs South Korea
Russia - Russia are the second strongest team in this group, but I could see them messing it up due to numerous issues.Fabio Capello's experience will be essential to this Russian squad. The only team in the World Cup with a squad made up entirely of players who play in their domestic league. They will benefit from the CSKA Moscow connection between the keeper (Akinfeev is world-class) and two centre backs. I am a fan of Aleksandr Kokorin, Capello rates the versatile youngster very highly. It will be interesting to see where Capello plays him, I suspect he will be out on the left wing, though it is possible that he will be used as their main striker. I've always liked Dzagoev, he was excellent at Euro 2012, but he's not been that impressive in the games I've seen him play since then, hopefully he has a good tournament.
South Korea - I was very impressed with their U23 squad at the 2012 Olympics. They showed great technical ability. Their defence isn't good enough to help them progress. And it doesn't help that Ki Sung-Yeung (Swansea player) is usually pushed back into a deep midfield role. He isn't a defensive midfielder, and he can't have the same impact in that position.He showed how good he can be during his loan spell at Sunderland. A very tidy player who is comfortable on the ball in most positions . I was impressed when I first saw Lee Chung-yong play for Bolton, that was a long time ago. I don't think he's the type of player that shines in the Championship. I've seen players struggle in the Championship but excel in the Premier League. He should be using this tournament as an opportunity to sell himself to clubs. I liked what I saw of Kim Bo-kyung at Cardiff, he looked like a very good player. I am very interested in seeing how Ji Dong-Won performs, it didn't work out for him at Sunderland, but Jurgen Klopp has seen enough in him to sign him. And then there is Son Heung-Min, the youngster is highly rated in Germany and in South Korea. It will be intriguing to see how he handles a big tournament. I am looking forward to seeing what Park Chu-Young can offer on the international stage, his time at Arsenal has been a real mystery. I'm a fan of the few South Korean players I know, but they just aren't good enough as a unit. Their defence will let them down.
And because it bears re-watching, America reacts to dramatic game winning goal by John Brooks