Rare treat as giants meet in early stages of the tournament

2014-06-13 00:00

THE 2014 Fifa World Cup is under way. Office pools are now fully operational as football lovers have backed the teams that they think will go the distance and lift the trophy on July 13 in Rio de Janeiro.

You don’t have to look much further than tonight’s 9 pm kick-off to find two such title contenders.

In a repeat of the 2010 final, champions Spain take on runners-up the Netherlands in Salvador.

It is a rare treat to come across a match of such magnitude in the early stages of a World Cup, and the prospect of either side starting their campaign with a loss will be daunting.

On paper, you have to back the Spanish. Littered with superstars, La Liga and Champions League winners, Spain enter the tournament as the top ranked team in the world and as both the World Cup and European Championship title holders. Should they triumph at Brazil 2014, they will have won an astounding four consecutive major tournaments.

The Dutch, on the other hand, have slipped down to 15th in Fifa’s rankings. They have been largely unfancied in the build-up to the competition due to the notion that they are an ageing squad.

The likes of Arjen Robben, Dirk Kuyt, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder will once again spearhead the Dutch attack, but whether or not they can repeat their 2010 run remains questionable.

So much so, that some bookmakers have them at 33/1 to win in Brazil.

Today will also see Africa’s first participation when Cameroon take on Mexico in the early kick-off.

The west coasters boast Samuel Eto’o, Barcelona’s Alex Song and left back Benoit Assou-Ekotto as their well-known European players, but they are in a tough group that includes Brazil and Croatia.

With Mexico and Croatia tipped as the sides likely to battle it out for second place in Group A, Cameroon can throw the race for a knock-out place wide open with a victory today.

Mexico were also made to tackle African opposition in their opening fixture in 2010, when they scraped a 1-1 draw against South Africa but ultimately battled through to the knock-out stages. They are a side that is always competitive in World Cups, yet they have never made it to the quarter-final stage.

At midnight, Chile take on Group B underdogs Australia. The South Americans must finish ahead of either the Netherlands or Spain to progress, and tonight will be considered the easiest of their three group games. Ranked one place ahead of the Dutch, the Chileans are backing themselves to be big players in this World Cup.

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