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Lionel Messi set to make tournament debut
by Paul Kennedy, by Mike Woitalla, June 14th, 2014 5:10PM

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TAGS:  argentina, france, world cup 2014

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[WORLD CUP PREVIEW: Sunday] Fans will get a first look at the new France team brimming with new optimism as it gets set to open Sunday against Honduras, loaded with familiar names to MLS fans. The Group E opener pits No. 1 seed Switzerland against Ecuador in Brasilia. To cap off the weekend, Lionel Messi and Argentina take to the field against Bosnia-Herzegovina, which should be one of the best games of the first set of group openers.

Switzerland-Ecuador

Group E
Sunday, June 15 | Brasilia: Estadio Nacional | Referee: Ravshan Irmatov (Uzbekistan).
TV: ABC, Univision/UDN noon ET.

Switzerland's top eight seeding was maligned, but the Nati has wins over Brazil and Germany in the last two years to show that it is a very capable team.

The Swiss are loaded with players from the former Yugoslavia, led by Bayern Munich reserve Xherdan Shaqiri and rising star Josep Drmic up front.

Ecuador is playing in the memory of star forward Christian Benitez, who died of heart failure in Qatar in July 2013. It struggled at times in South American qualifying, but it showed against England in their 2-2 tie in Miami, it can be a very dangerous attacking team on the ground and in the air.

SA World Cup Previews:
Paul Kennedy: Group E



France-Honduras

Group E
Sunday, June 15 | Porto Alegre: Estadio Beíra-Rio | Referee: Sandro Ricci (Brazil).
TV: ABC, Univision/UDN 3 p.m. ET.

France will get its first chance to erase the memory of the player mutiny at the 2010 World Cup that stained the image of the Bleus, 1998 World Cup winners and runners-up only four years before in South Africa.

France has a new coach, Didier Deschamps, and largely a new team. Just four starters were on the 2010 team, most notably Patrice Evra, who led the strike as then-captain. The key to France is its new midfield: Blaise Matuidi, Yohan Cabaye and young Juventus star Paul Pogba. Encouraging performances in the build-up to the World Cup have added to the positive feel about the new France.

Honduras returns for the second straight tournament with a team familiar to MLS fans. The Catrachos have eight current or former MLS players in the squad. Their most influential player may be Roger Espinoza, who followed his father, a construction worker, to Denver at the age of 12 and rose the ladder of American soccer from high school to college and became a star, first in MLS with Sporting Kansas City, and now in England with Wigan.

Argentina-Bosnia-Herzegovina

Group F
Sunday, June 15 | Manaus: Arena Amazonia | Referee: Joel Aguilar (El Salvador).
TV: ESPN, Univision/UDN 6 p.m. ET

The World Cup makes its first stop at Maracana when Lionel Messi leads Argentina -- aiming for a third World Cup title, and first since 1986 -- against debutant Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Bosnia-Herzegovina has some firepower. Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic scored 18 of the team's 30 goals in the 10-game qualifying run. Dzeko has scored in nearly half of the 108 English Premier League games he's played for Manchester City, with which he lifted last season's title. Ibisevic, who attended high school in St. Louis and became the 2002 Soccer America Freshman of the Year at Saint Louis University, scored 10 goals last season for VfB Stuttgart.

Defense is coach Safet Susic's concern and while 21-year-old Muhamed Besic of Hungarian club Ferencvaros is expected to keep an eye on Messi, the Albiceleste attack could be overwhelmed by Sergio Aguero, who scored 17 goals in 23 EPL games for Man City, and Gonzalo Higuain, scorer of nine goals in qualifying and coming off a 17-goal season with Napoli. They'll be serviced by Real Madrid winger Angel de Maria.

SA World Cup Previews:
Mike Woitalla: Group F

Monday ...

June 16 in Salvador
Group G: Germany vs. Portugal
ESPN, Univision/UDN noon ET
June 16 in Curitiba
Group F: Iran vs. Nigeria
ESPN, Univision/UDN 3 p.m. ET
June 16 in Natal
Group G: Ghana vs. USA
ESPN, Univision/UDN 6 p.m. ET


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