The World Cup is in full swing. Below is a guide on what to see, the major storylines, who to root for and what to expect this week from Brazil:
U.S. SOCCER NEEDS A NEW HERO
(Photo Credit: Julio Cortez/AP Photo)
Bill Clinton was in the White House and Yugoslavia was still a country - they were the U.S. team's opponent
- the last time the Americans played a World Cup game
without Landon Donovan. Sixteen years and 156 appearances later, Donovan will be back watching from home as the United States begins its 2014 campaign against Ghana tonight (6 p.m. ET on ESPN) in Natal, Brazil.
In his absence, the U.S. team will be looking for a hero. Striker Jozy Altidore
is the man most likely to help U.S. fans turn the page on Donovan and embrace head coach Jurgen Klinsmann's sometimes baffling management style. A physically imposing center forward, questions remain about Altidore's temperament and technique. He'll never have a better opportunity to put those doubts to rest.
(One more to watch: Midfielder Graham Zusi
. The 27-year-old is, by soccer's unforgiving standards, on the back end of his prime years. But Zusi has flourished under Klinsmann and is hoping to emerge in Brazil as the U.S. team's prime playmaker.)
(Photo Credit: Christophe Ena/AP Photo)
There are headed goals … and there are HEADERS!
Robin van Persie's much-celebrated finish in Holland's swift dismissal of Spain has rightly won our hearts. Ivory Coast, set alight by super sub Didier Drogba, used their heads twice in two minutes
to overcome Japan, and Switzerland and Ecuador exchanged nods
to set the stage for this World Cup's most dramatic finale.
Football purists tend to look down on teams who play in the air, but they're doing it with style in Brazil, so heads up, or you might miss out on this summer's trendiest scoring stroke.
(Note: Keep an eye on Own Goal
, too. Through eleven matches, "OG" has scored three times. No one else has more than two.)
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CRISTIANO RONALDO'S KNEE
(Photo Credit: Paulo Duarte/AP Photo)
The Portuguese star has a well-earned reputation for letting gravity get the best of him
, but his knee injury - diagnosed, we're told, as "tendinosis" - is real. Though unlikely to miss any important minutes, Ronaldo at anything less than full speed could spell doom for Portugal, who lack a discernible Plan B. Trust that the Germans, in the Group G opener, and then the United States on Sunday will do their very best to confirm his fitness with a series of early, full-blooded tackles.
IS BELGIUM FOR REAL?
(Photo Credit: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Another World Cup, another "Golden Generation." England's stars of the 2000s,
like the Portuguese a decade earlier,
sagged under the weight of those lofty expectations. Now, it's Belgium's turn.
The Red Devils enter their first major tournament in 12 years with major expectations. Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne, Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele, and Vincent Kompany - to name a few - have all established themselves as top players in the English Premier League. Goalkeeper Thibault Courtois was a few minutes away from winning the Spanish and Champions League titles with Atletico Madrid.
But there's nothing like the World Cup. And there's no one on this team with a minute of experience on the global stage. Their first opponent, Algeria, will aim to frustrate. If the Belgians can stick together, they might stick around Brazil a long time.
THE LUIS SUAREZ DERBY: URUGUAY AND ENGLAND ON THE BRINK
(Photo Credit: Bernat Armangue/AP Photo)
Uruguay looked toothless
without Luis Suarez. The swashbuckling England squad impressed, but were ultimately outclassed by Italy
. The World Cup is an unforgiving competition and so, after years of anticipation, both teams are 90 minutes away from (near) certain elimination.
Suarez, who stars for Liverpool in the English Premier League, is expected to start this one. As many as five of his club teammates will line up on the other side. But as the English surely know - Wayne Rooney, in particular
- those relationships won't mean much come kick-off Thursday in São Paulo.
THE END OF THE WORLD FOR SPAIN?
(Photo Credit: Bernat Armangue/AP Photo)
Hardly. Reports of Spain's demise have been greatly exaggerated. The dynamic Dutch poleaxed the defending champs (the first ever team win European Championships on either side of their World Cup title) in the opener, but a victory in their Wednesday match with attack-minded Chile puts Spain back in line to advance out of the group stage and into the knockout round, where they have not conceded a goal in a major tournament since 2006.
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