World waiting on new champs to lift crown

Stuart O'Keefe. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey midfielder will relish facing former club

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With only hours to go before the World Cup kicks off in Brazil, it is understandable that the nation has caught a serious case of football fever.

And here on The News’ sports desk, we are no different, with conversations spanning from England’s best starting line-up and how Roy’s boys will fare on South American soil to the nations we believe are dark horses.

Ivory Coast's Yaya Toure

Ivory Coast's Yaya Toure

So, in anticipation of the world’s biggest sporting event, The News’ sports writers Neil Allen, Jordan Cross, Mark McMahon and Jeff Marshman have expressed their contrasting opinions on all the key issues.

Find out who would drop Wayne Rooney, who thinks Bosnia are a good outside bet at 200/1 and why the omens aren’t good for England in their final group game against Costa Rica.

MARK MCMAHON

FAVOURITE WORLD CUP MEMORY: There’s quite a few that stick in my mind – David Platt’s spectacular hooked goal against Belgium at Italia 90, Billy Hamilton’s strike for Northern Ireland against hosts Spain in 1982, and John Aldridge’s rant at the fourth official as he waited to come on as a substitute during the Republic of Ireland’s defeat to Holland at USA 94.

My favourite, though, has to be Ray Houghton’s fantastically-executed lob for the Republic against Italy at Giants Stadium, New York, in 94.

No-one gave the Irish any hope, especially with Roberto Baggio in the Italy team.

But wee Ray did the business to kick-start the biggest party in Ireland.

His celebration wasn’t too bad, either!

WHO’S YOUR PREDICTION FOR THIS YEAR: Would obviously love to see England win, or a European nation, but can’t see how you can look beyond hosts Brazil or Argentina.

Some of the players both those nations have left out of their finals squads is unbelievable and just shows the strength and depth they have at their disposal.

Kaka, Phillippe Coutinho, and Robinho didn’t even make the Brazil 23, while Carlos Tevez and Javier Pastore have been left at home by the Argies.

Brazil are understandably the favourites, but I’m going for Argentina to claim a historic win on enemy territory.

Messi hasn’t been in the best of form this season but with the likes of Higuain, Aguero, Lavezzi, Di Maria at their disposal also, they’ll be too strong for anyone else.

STAR OF THE TOURNAMENT: Understandably, there’s a wealth of talent to chose from - Neymar, Messi, Ronaldo, Suarez, Hazard. But I’m going to go for the Ivory Coast’s Yaya Toure.

In my opinion, he’s the best midfielder in the world by a mile.

And with national pride at stake, he’ll be well up for it.

ENGLAND LINE-UP: Hart, Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines, Gerrard, Henderson, Sterling, Lallana, Barkley, Sturridge. Yes, no Rooney!

HOW ENGLAND WILL DO: I like the squad Roy Hodgson has picked, with plenty of young talent drafted in.

However, I do think they have a tough group to navigate out of, with Uruguay my favourites to top Group D.

Think England will definitely finish second in the group above an uninspiring Italy and Costa Rica, but then that sets up a potential match-up with Ivory Coast in round two.

As mentioned above, Yaya Toure is my tip to be the star of the tournament and I just think he can inspire a Cote d’Ivoire victory.

DARK HORSES: It’s a toss-up between Uruguay and Belgium.

GAME MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO: England v Uruguay. Should be a cracker, with so much at stake.

NEIL ALLEN

FAVOURITE WORLD CUP MEMORY: Can only be Benjamin Massing with his thunderous challenge on Claudio Caniggia in Italia 1990.

Not so much a tackle, more a brutal assault from the Cameroon defender who lost his right boot in the car smash.

One Argentine even cowardly attempted to stamp on his stocking foot in the chaotic aftermath, before Massing picked up a second yellow card and left the field clutching his boot.

It was the opening match of the World Cup, pitting Cameroon against the reigning world champions – and Argentina lost.

A wonderful World Cup which also included Toto Schillaci, Roger Milla, Carlos Valderrama’s hair, Rene Higuita’s dribbles out of the box, Gazza, David Platt’s volley and Nessun Dorma.

WHO’S YOUR PREDICTION FOR THIS YEAR: Has to be Brazil, have home nation advantage and also adjusted to the climate when other countries will inevitably struggle.

Possess an excellent squad also, although Argentina will be a threat.

STAR OF THE TOURNAMENT: Cristiano Ronaldo. Did you know Papa Bouba Diop has scored more goals in the World Cup finals than him – that has to change!

ENGLAND LINE-UP: Hart, Johnson, Jagielka, Cahill, Baines, Gerrard, Henderson, Lallana, Rooney, Sterling, Sturridge.

Really excited about England’s attacking options but Wayne Rooney has to start. For once at a tournament he is fit, he is versatile and how on earth can you leave out a player who is heading to be England and Manchester United’s all-time record goalscorer?

HOW ENGLAND WILL DO: It’s a very tough group, no doubt about it, not being seeded despite winning their qualifying group unbeaten has been crucial.

I would be happy to just get out of it.

DARK HORSES: Chile have an excellent record over recent years, one of the finest among the South Americans, so could be a surprise package.

Belgium could also impress.

GAME MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO: England v Costa Rica. Let’s face it, we would love to see England win a World Cup match with a swagger and producing some delightful football.

If they can’t do it against Costa Rica they won’t be about to do it against anyone this summer.

JORDAN CROSS

FAVOURITE WORLD CUP MEMORY: Ten minutes to go in the Stadio delle Alpi in Turin and Gary Lineker takes in Paul Parker’s angled ball and blasts a left footer past Bodo Illgner.

There were two moments which taught this youngster about the agony and ecstasy of football: Highbury in 1992 and the World Cup semi-final two years previously.

Lineker will want to forget his toilet malfunction and floor shuffle against the Republic of Ireland earlier in the tournament, though. Google it...

WHO’S YOUR PREDICTION FOR THIS YEAR: It’s impossible to look beyond Brazil and Argentina on their home continent.

Will holders Spain be able to play pressing football for 90 minutes in the heat and humidity of South America. It’s doubtful.

The fact the Argentines can afford to leave Carlos Tevez out of the squad says it all about their attacking might.

But then they do have Martin Demichelis...

STAR OF THE TOURNAMENT: The platform is there for Neymar to light up the finals with his pace and arsenal of skills, but his Barcelona team-mate Alexis Sanchez is one to keep an eye on.

England fans may be worried about containing Luis Suarez in their second group game, but team-mate Edinson Cavani has the potential to have a big impact.

Italy followers are saying Torino’s wonderfully-named Ciro Immobile could be the Toto Schillachi of the 2014 World Cup, too.

ENGLAND LINE-UP: That could be taken two ways. How will they line up or how should they line up?

The former: Hart, Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines, Henderson, Gerrard, Lallana, Rooney, Milner, Sturridge.

The latter? Hart, Milner, Cahill, Terry, Baines, Gerrard, Barkley, Lallana, Rooney, Sterling, Sturridge.

HOW ENGLAND WILL DO: If Roy Hodgson’s men emerge from their group most people will be surprised.

The portents aren’t good for their final group clash against minnows Costa Rica.

The match takes place in Belo Horizonte - the same venue where an England side containing Jimmy Dickinson lost to USA’s team of amateurs in 1950.

DARK HORSES: Ecuador could surprise a few people. Bosnia, too.

GAME MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO: England’s second group game with Uruguay has the look of a do-or-die clash.

JEFF MARSHMAN

FAVOURITE WORLD CUP MEMORY: This is an easy one for me, as it is also my earliest real memory of football in general.

A teenage Michael Owen burst onto the global stage with his wonder goal against Argentina.

It was the France 1998 World Cup and I was only seven-years-old, but I still vividly remember screaming in delight as the young Liverpool striker – only 18 himself – sauntered through the Argies’ creaking rearguard before firing high into the roof of the net.

Sadly, the night – as is so often the case with the Three Lions at major competitions – ended in controversy, penalty heartache and ultimately tears.

WHO’S YOUR PREDICTION FOR THIS YEAR: Common sense would suggest I pick from the South American sides, as the four occasions the World Cup has been staged on the continent – that is where the winners have come from.

But it’s been some 36 years since Argentina last won on home soil in 1978 and with the majority of players now based in Europe and the advancements in sports science as they are, I am backing a change in the rule.

Germany can dictate the ball like Spain but are often at their most dangerous without it, owing to their ruthlessly efficient counter-attacks.

They’re also not all too bad at taking penalties, so my money is on Joachim Loew’s men.

STAR OF THE TOURNAMENT: France are in a weak group alongside Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras.

Expect talented young duo Paul Pogba and Rafael Varane to shine on the biggest stage.

ENGLAND LINE-UP: For the first game against Italy, I imagine Roy Hodgson will play the same team he started against Honduras: Hart; Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Gerrard, Henderson; Lallana, Rooney, Welbeck; Sturridge.

I’m happy enough with that but would like to see Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling given ample opportunity to show their ability from the bench.

HOW ENGLAND WILL DO: Optimistically, I think England will qualify through the group as runners-up and beat Ivory Coast in the last 16, before a quarter-final defeat against hosts Brazil.

DARK HORSES: Bosnia play an attacking brand of football, have a proven goalscorer in Edin Dzeko and a top keeper in Asmir Begovic.

The 200/1 outsiders should advance from Group F ahead of Iran and Nigeria with Argentina.

GAME MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO: Brazil v Croatia, tonight’s opening game/ceremony promises to be spectacular.