The Man Cave breaks the teams down one by one in series of handy articles so you have all the details without any of the hassle.
No matter what you do for the next few weeks, it’s going to be World Cup fever on overdrive as everyone turns their attention to Brazil, and we can’t help but get involved too. With that in mind, we’ve got a handy bluffers guide to each team, in alphabetical order, so you can jump in with a quick fact every now and then to sound like you know what’s going on in the conversation around you in the pub.
Where: Group H with Belgium Russia and South Korea.
Need to Know: They look like a considerably better side than the one that turned up in 2010 a little wet behind the ears, and they have a few more players at big clubs. Names you may well know if you watch Serie A and the Premier League, such as Nabil Bentaleb and Hassan Yebda. While Inter were below par this season, the experience of playing against tough defences will be of benefit to Saphir Taider and Ishak Belfodil, who was on loan at Livorno.
Islam Slimani was their top scorer in qualifiers, and with a group that is not entirely unfavourable, they could prove a bit of a surprise package.
One to watch: Sofiane Feghouli. He had a fantastic season at Valencia, and looks like a player with plenty of talent. Can play on the right or in the centre, and might be on the move to after the tournament. Liverpool apparently tried to sign him in 2013, and may renew their interest as they look to strengthen their squad this summer.
Where:Group F with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria
Need to Know: They have probably the best attacking line-up in the tournament, and they’re playing on their home continent so may well bring a huge amount of travelling support. Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain are about as good as you could ask for, but their real problem lies further back the pitch. Fernando Gago and Ever Banega, both players who could be asked to dictate the pace of the game from the middle of the park, moved back to the domestic league on home soil and away from Europe in order to get some game time, and this could prove a big step up in quality for them. When Gago and Messi work together however, it’s not only fantastic to watch but also near-impossible to stop, and Messi's improved performances for Argentina have coincided with the games where Gago has played.
Don’t expect them to play like Barcelona however, just because they have Messi, as they are a totally different side, and will more than likely play on the counter. The questions for them are at the back and in goals, where they have a few players who are a little bit shaky (Marcos Rojo) and players with little game time under their belts this season (Sergio Romero). Hoping to go far, but the instability of their foundations could cost them.
One to Watch: Real Madrid’s Angel Di Maria is a perhaps unheralded star of his club and national side. He has devastating pace, brilliant creativity and his performance in the Champions League final was outstanding. If he carries on that form, there’s no telling the damage he can cause.
Where:Group B with Spain, Holland and Chile
Need to Know:The draw was not kind to the Aussies, and they’ve more than likely booked their plane ticket home already for the last day of group games. With dark horses Chile in their group as well as two heavyweights in Spain and Holland, they’ve opted to go for a young team that can get plenty of experience at the highest level, and prepare for the Asia Cup in 2015, which they hope to win. New coach Ange Postecoglou has little to worry about in terms of job security having been appointed a short time ago, but if the side are hammered in every game, become demoralised and don’t manage to find their footballing identity, then that may be a different story.
Tim Cahill is still in the squad as is Mark Bresciano along with Mile Jedinak, who plays for Crystal Palace, and they are probably the only names that may be familiar to you. The rest of the team is young and raw, and most of them are based in Australia.
One to Watch: Tommy Oar has been branded, as have many young Australian stars, ’the next Harry Kewell’, and while the comparison does him no favours, it does show the regard in which the 22-year-old is held. He plays for Utrecht in Holland and is a regular feature for them, and could use the World Cup as a stage to show that maybe he is worthy of the comparison.
Where: Group H with Algeria, Russia and South Korea.
Need to Know:They are the underrated/overrated dark/light horses of the tournament, as Luke Moore of the Football Ramble once put it. They have a hugely talented team, but may be victims of the hype that the Premier League tends to give to all the players who are with clubs there. However, there is no doubting that Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard and Kevin Mirallas are top quality players. They are also blessed in the goalkeeping department in that they have arguably the form player there in the world at the moment, Thiabut Courtois, and a fantastic deputy in Simon Mignolet. On a negative note, they also have other players who are coming off the back of a poor season at club level, notably Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Verthongen, Maruane Fellaini and Moussa Dembele, who will hope that the World Cup turns out better than their league campaigns did.
Christian Benteke is a huge loss also, and although Romelu Lukaku can step in to fill the gap, it is a mistake to say that he is a straight swap, being a different player entirely. He is more direct and perhaps more intelligent in his movement, but doesn’t play as well as Benteke with his back to goal. Axel Witsel, based in Zenit will be the man who dictates play from in front of the back four, while Dries Mertens is also set to impress those who don’t watch Italian football.
One to Watch: We all know about Adnan Januzaj, so while he will be worth noting, it’s not a surprise if he plays well. Perhaps the player with the most to gain in this squad is Kevin De Bruyne, and while his spell at Chelsea wasn’t all that pleasant, he could show that he has the talent to break through to another level after this World Cup, if he can get some game time.