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World Cup 2014: European contenders

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World Cup 2014: European contenders


The Netherlands will be looking for revenge against defending champions Spain when the two sides meet in their opening World Cup fixture in Salvador on June 13.

The last time these teams met was in the 2010 showpiece match when Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta scored in the dying moments to hand la Roja their first FIFA World Cup Trophy.

Coach Vicente del Bosque will be sweating over the fitness of star striker Diego Costa who could be in for a heated reception in Brazil.

The Atletico forward, who’s still recovering from a hamstring injury, was born in Brazil but chose to play for Spain despite representing the World Cup hosts in two friendly matches.

Although Spain are favourites to top the group, Dutch fans will take heart from the fact that Arjen Robben’s team-mates had an exceptional World Cup qualifier, topping the group with nine wins and drawing the remaining one.

Four-time World Cup winners Italy will be looking to add a fifth star to their shirt when they travel to Brazil.

Giuseppe Rossi has been left out of the squad with Parma’s Antonio Cassano preferred to the injury-plagued Fiorentina striker.

Rossi, who has scored 16 league goals last season despite only starting two games in 2014, played 71 minutes of last week’s goalless draw against the Republic of Ireland but did not do enough to convince Cesare Prandelli that he was match fit.

Germany’s World Cup hopes suffered a severe blow last week when their midfielder Marco Reus was ruled out of the tournament with an ankle injury sustained in their final warm-up game.

Former Everton defender Shkodran Mustafi, who was part of Germany’s 30-man preliminary squad, was called up as a late replacement for the Borussia Dortmund player.

France’s bid to clinch a second World Cup also suffered a major setback when winger Franck Ribéry failed to overcome a back injury and was ruled out of the squad.

The Bayern Munich ace, who excelled during the qualifying campaign, scored 16 goals in 81 appearances for les Bleus. His injury means that Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema and Arsenal forward Olivier Giroud will likely play together in Brazil, with coach Didier Deschamps finding a way to accommodate them both by shifting Benzema onto the left flank.

England coach Roy Hodgson faces the difficult task of balancing his squad between established performers and exciting newcomers.

Hodgson, the first Englishman to lead the Three Lions into a World Cup since Glenn Hoddle in 1998, must decide whether to allow his young players to cut loose or to adopt a more conservative approach.

Blessed with an abundance of naturally gifted players, Belgium have been tipped by many as dark horses for this summer’s tournament.

Since failing to qualify for both the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championships, Marc Wilmots’ men have looked sharper and more confident on the pitch.

Elsewhere, Cristiano Ronaldo is in line for a morale-boosting return to the Portugal side for Tuesday’s friendly in the United States against the Republic of Ireland.

Although Paulo Bento’s men are widely regarded as outsiders to lift the trophy, la Seleção join a list of potential contenders capable of causing a few upsets in Brazil.

Croatia, Russia, Greece, Bosnia and Switzerland will all be looking to carry their good form into the main event.

Ottmar Hitzfeld’s men, bidding to reach their first quarter-final since hosting the tournament in 1954, went unbeaten in European World Cup qualifying while Bosnia-Herzegovina outclassed Mexico 1-0 in their final warm-up game in Chicago, giving their fans a major boost ahead of the tournament.

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