MATCHDAY PREVIEW –The last of the favourites yet to feature will enter the FIFA World Cup™ fray on Monday as Germany kick off their bid. Finalists seven times and winners in 1954, 1974 and 1990, Die *Nationalelf* are chasing their first major title in 18 years since triumphing at UEFA EURO 1996. Joachim Low's men are desperate to end that wait, but they face a stiff test in their opening fixture, with Cristiano Ronaldo hoping to lead Portugal to a maiden international trophy. The Iberians are also keen to pay homage to Eusebio, who died earlier this year, by at least equalling the third-place spot sealed by the legendary striker and Co in 1966.
Elsewhere, Iran will begin their fourth World Cup against Nigeria, featuring for the fifth time, with both teams looking for their first victory in the tournament since 1998, when Team Melli edged USA 2-1 and the Super Eagles saw off Bulgaria 1-0. Meanwhile, in the second game in Group G, the Stars and Stripes will be reunited with Ghana for a third consecutive World Cup, the Black Stars having won the previous two meetings 2-1.
Germany-Portugal (Group G), Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador, 13.00 (local time)
Iran-Nigeria (Group F), Arena da Baixada, Curitiba, 16.00 (local time)
Ghana-USA (Group G), Estadio das Dunas, Natal, 19.00 (local time)
Did you know?
Centurions: Germany will be contesting their 100th World Cup game when they start their 18th finals tilt – making them the first team to reach treble figures. The three-time champions boast a record of 60 wins, 19 draws and 20 defeats, along with a goal difference of +89 thanks to 206 goals scored and 117 conceded. Four members of Low's current squad are already centurions, of course, having racked up over 100 caps – led by veteran striker Miroslav Klose, who has made 132 appearances and already plundered 14 World Cup strikes in three separate editions. Not bad going at all.
Ruthless: Despite Cristiano Ronaldo's evident respect for Portugal's past icons, the Real Madrid forward has developed a habit of outstripping those bygone heroes one by one. Eusebio's 41 international goals? Bested long ago. Pedro Pauleta's record 47 strikes for A Selecção das Quinas? Likewise left in the dust. Out in front on 51 efforts, Ronaldo has now set his sights on another retired Lusitanian legend in Luis Figo. The former Inter Milan schemer played 127 times for Portugal, but, with 111 caps to his name at 28 years of age, Ronaldo will surely not have to wait long to set another new benchmark.
Qualifying king: Iran may not be able to draw upon a deep well of World Cup experience, but they do possess a record of their own courtesy of Ali Daei. The inimitable striker helped himself to 35 qualifying goals between 1994 and 2006, making him the most prolific player in the history of World Cup preliminaries. That haul was no fluke either, Daei retired with 109 strikes from his 149 international outings – an Iranian record. The goal-hungry marksman departed the scene in 2007, however, leaving Team Melli hoping a worthy successor will emerge at Brazil 2014.
Check it out
Monday's eagerly anticipated encounters are as good an excuse as any to take another look at some of the gems to be found on FIFA.com. Did you see Cristiano Ronaldo's tears as he received the 2013 FIFA Ballon d'Or in the company of his son? Have you heard Kwesi Appiah's thoughts on how far Ghana can progress? Do you know the full story behind Gerd Muller's 14 World Cup goals, a figure Miroslav Klose hopes to beat in Brazil? And have you read the outlook of USA goalkeeper Tim Howard? All these videos and interviews lie just a click away.
On this day
Gijon's Estadio El Molinon was the backdrop for a moment of pure World Cup mythology on 16 June 1982. Getting to grips with their first ever finals campaign, Algeria made light of searing heat to overcome powerhouse opponents West Germany 2-1 thanks to efforts from national legends Rabah Madjer and Lakhdar Belloumi. Beaten by Austria in their following game, Algeria recovered well to then defeat Chile 3-2, only to fall narrowly short of a place in the second round on goal difference. As for West Germany, they strode all the way to the Final, where they lost out to Italy.
Play and win
Fans of Panini sticker albums will have no trouble empathising with the passion of Costa Rica forward Joel Campbell, who bought 100 packets of stickers hoping to find one of himself – not to mention the grandson of Dilma Rousseff, who got help from none other than Brazilian President to complete his precious collection. If you too are a Panini fanatic, do not fear: you still have time to round out your online album.