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Dublin: 10 °C Thursday 17 April, 2014

Six 2014 World Cup group games we’re looking forward to most

There’s only 188 days to go, folks.

1. Brazil v Croatia, 12 June (9pm)

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Neymar will carry the hopes of Credit: Lee Jin-man/AP/Press Association Images

The opening game of any major tournament is always highly-anticipated but when it’s Brazil who are hosts there is sure to be an added degree of excitement. The five-time winners face Croatia to get the 2014 World Cup up and running with manager Luiz Filipe Scolari under an enormous amount of pressure to deliver by leading them to glory for a second time.

It will be 64 years since the competition was last played in the South American country when 82,000 people crammed into the Maracana to watch them see off Mexico 4-0 in the curtain-raiser before they eventually lost out to Uruguay in the final.

2. Spain v The Netherlands, 13 June (8pm)

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Andres Iniesta scores the winner against Holland in the 2010 final. Credit: AP/Press Association Images

In what will be a replay of the 2010 final, holders Spain take on The Netherlands at Salvador’s Arena Fonte Nova. Three years ago, the sides played out a 0-0 draw in Johannesburg before Johnny Heitinga was sent off and Andres Iniesta clinched a winner in extra-time.

The big question is whether La Roja’s all-conquering side can continue their dominance on the world stage by winning back-to-back World Cups. Former Barcelona manager Louis van Gaal possesses a talented squad who finished nine points above their nearest rivals in qualifying and they will be out for revenge before going on to play Australia and Chile.

3. England v Italy, 14 June (2am)

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Daniele De Rossi tackles Wayne Rooney. Credit: Tony Marshall/EMPICS Sport

Sure, the prospect of Luis Suarez’s Uruguay taking on England already has the British media salivating but we’re far more keen to see how they fare in their first Group D fixture against the Azzurri.

Roy Hodgson, who spent time in Serie A as manager of Inter Milan, has been handed a difficult draw with Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica making up the group. With a distinctly average squad on his hands, he will hope to avoid defeat against an Italian side which is functional without being spectacular if they are to have any chance of finishing in the top two.

The game is scheduled to kick-off in Manaus at 2am Irish time on Saturday, 14 June which adds to the novelty watching it in this part of the world.

4. Argentina v Bosnia-Herzegovina, 15 June (11pm)

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Credit: Jorge Saenz/AP/Press Association Images

At 26, many believe it is time for Lionel Messi to make his mark at a major international tournament having dominated club in Europe with Barcelona for so long. What better way to do so than by leading your country to a first World Cup in 28 years at the home of your great South American rivals?

While they been blessed with star-studded squads in the past, Argentina have often flattered to deceive at the World Cup but will see this as their perfect chance to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Diego Maradona and Jorge Valdano.

Bosnia and Herzegovina make their World Cup debut next summer after topping Group G and while they went down 2-0 to Argentina in a friendly last month, this will be a whole different story.

5. Germany v Portugal, 16 June (5pm)

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Credit: Martin Meissner/AP/Press Association Images

There were doubts that Cristiano Ronaldo would even feature at this World Cup after Portugal finished behind Russia in qualifying. The Iberians came through the play-offs at the expense of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sweden, however, and have been rewarded with what is arguably the ‘Group of Death’ alongside Germany, Ghana and the United States.

Portugal generally up their game for tournaments after stumbling through qualification but that said, even Ronaldo may not be enough to unhinge the supremely-gifted Germans.

6.Colombia v Ivory Coast, 19 June (5pm)

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Radamel Falcao is Colombia’s talisman. Credit: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP/Press Association Images

There are high hopes for Colombia in Brazil after they finished as runners-up just two points behind Argentina in CONMEBOL. Up to fourth in the FIFA rankings, manager Jose Pekerman won’t fear anyone in Group C with the likes of Monaco pair Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez in their ranks.

After an opener with Greece, they face African heavyweights the Ivory Coast who will want to make up for early elimination in South Africa three years ago. The Elephants have never quite lived up to the hype with stars such as Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure and this could be their last shot.

Which matches are you most excited by? Honourable mention goes to ‘dark horses’ Belgium but we’re hoping to see them in the knockout stages

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