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The 2014 FIFA World Cup

Players to watch in Group E

BENZEMA-FRANCERIO DE JANEIRO, June 10, 2014 (AFP) – Five key players in World Cup Group E:

Karim Benzema – France

Born: 19/12/1987, Caps 63

The back injury to his close friend Franck Ribery places even more pressure on Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, the only other player with real international cachet, to lead the team both up front and by example.

A return of 19 goals in 63 appearances is poor by top international strikers standards.

He failed to shine at his last major championships, Euro 2012, but a productive season with Real, where he found Carlo Ancelotti’s less abrasive style of coaching more to his taste than predecessor Jose Mourinho’s, gives Didier Deschamps reason to believe he will shine in Brazil.

Blaise Matuidi – France

Born: 9/4/1987, Caps 22

Even though Paris Saint Germain’s former owners were reluctant to buy him according to former coach Antoine Kombouare, Blaise Matuidi has shown the 10 million euros they paid St Etienne in July 2011 has been a wise investment.

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He is another who flourished under Ancelotti’s coaching when the Italian replaced Kombouare in January 2012.

The son of Angolan immigrants, who fled a civil war and came to France via the Democratic Republic of Congo, his dynamic performances from midfield have been instrumental in PSG’s two league titles in two seasons and Deschamps will be looking to him to break up the fluidity of their opponents’ attacks.

Antonio Valencia – Ecuador

Born: 04/08/1985, Caps 60

VALENCIA-MATAA lot of pressure has been heaped on winger Antonio Valencia’s shoulders going into the finals.

Coach Reinaldo Rueda appointed him captain in the wake of his best friend Christian Benitez’s sudden death last year and if his under par performances for Manchester United last season was a reaction to the tragedy then his country will expect him to react more positively when he dons the national shirt.

One of the sole remaining players from the 2006 squad that reached the last 16, he showed he is on edge by reacting badly to Raheem Sterling’s clumsy tackle in the 2-2 friendly draw with England last week and got sent off.

Wilson Palacios – Honduras

Born: 29/07/1984, Caps 94

A close friend of Valencia’s from their days at Wigan Athletic together but unlike the winger Wilson Palacios’s big money move, to Tottenham Hotspur, for £12 million failed to really work out.

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A solid unspectacular midfield enforcer, who presently plies his trade with Stoke City, he has nevertheless been instrumental in the impoverished country reaching two successive World Cup finals.

Made World Cup finals history in 2010 when he and brothers Jerry and Johnny became the first sibling trio to be selected in a squad.

Jerry, a striker, has made it into the squad this time too and if there is one thing Wilson wishes to achieve it is that either him or his sibling score a goal as a tribute to another brother, Edwin, murdered in 2009.

“Everything we do is for our little brother in heaven,” he said.

Valon Behrami – Switzerland

Born: 19/04/1985, Caps 48

While there is a lot of burgeoning young talent in the Swiss side, Valon Behrami provides a steady presence and his ball winning skills are priceless, although don’t expect too many goals from him as he has just two for his adopted country.

Kosovo-born he was more interested in athletics as a youngster but switching sports proved a blessing and he’s flourished since returning to play in Italy in 2011, first with Fiorentina and then with Napoli.

This is his third World Cup finals, though he will hope for a happier experience than the one in 2010 where he was sent off early in the group game with Chile.

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