Celtic's Bhoys in Brazil

CELTIC'S contingent in Brazil are ready to Hoop it up when the samba soccer kicks off tomorrow.

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Efe Ambrose and Emilio Izaguirre have their eyes on the prize with Nigeria at the World Cup
Efe Ambrose and Emilio Izaguirre have their eyes on the prize with Nigeria at the World Cup

Efe Ambrose, Emilio Izaguirre and Fraser Forster will fly the flag in South America at World Cup 2014.

Old Bhoy, Georgios Samaras, will also be strutting his stuff with Greece when they face Colombia, Ivory Coast and Japan in Group C.

But, of course, Sami will not be returning to Parkhead to recount his experiences as his contract with the club has now come to an end.

Tom Rogic had hoped he would be at the long-awaited football extravaganza in what is considered to be the cradle of the beautiful game.

But the young Aussie did not make the final cut, and, like the rest of us, will be watching events from afar as his countrymen take on Spain, Holland and Chile in Group B.

Of course, much more attention - and TV coverage - will be focused on Group D, where Forster's England face Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica.

The big man accepts he will be looking on from the sidelines as Joe Hart is Roy Hodgson's confirmed No.1 keeper.

But Forster - who came on for the closing 15 minutes of England's final warm-up against Izzy's Honduras in Miami at the weekend - will still garner massive experience from being part of the squad.

And his ultra-professional approach to everything he does will ensure he will be ready if called upon.

Even though the England team hotel and training centre overlook some of the nicest beaches in Rio, the 25- year-old is certainly not there for a holiday.

There is an unusually- pragmatic approach to the challenge facing England, who, despite the expectation built into the DNA of their supporters, have actually only made it to one more major final than Scotland, when they played every game at Wembley in 1966.

Forster is literally just happy to be here as it is confirmation how far he has travelled in his club career.

He said: "To get the call to play at a World Cup in Brazil is something you dream about as a kid."

Fantasising about actually lifting the famous trophy is something Forster is resisting. But he does insist that, starting with their match against Italy in steamy Manaus on Saturday, they must be imbued with a positive attitude.

"Every team will go out to prove something, and there won't be an easy game," he said.

"But we will go into each match believing we can win it."

Getting off to a positive start is essential in the three-match sections. England have been over the course often enough to understand this.

Like them, Nigeria have also become experienced World Cup finalists - this is their fifth in a row - and have the added advantage of having played in these conditions when they competed in last summer's Confederations Cup.

The current African Cup of Nations holders are on something of a high, having indulged in a series of warm-up games - including one against Scotland - and carrying the hopes of their continent.

In Group F, Ambrose - or Efetobore Ambrose Emuobo, as he will be listed on the team sheets - will be up against some familiar faces, including Argentina's Lionel Messi.

He knows what damage the little magician can wreak, having faced him regularly when Celtic and Barcelona have clashed in the Champions League.

Typically, Ambrose appears unfazed and said: "It is the same player, whether for club or country.

"But Nigeria have a lot of good defenders who can stop Messi, and any other striker in the world."

That's a big call, and perhaps it is as well the Super Eagles kick off their group games on Monday with a match against Iran the day after Argentina take on finals debutants, Bosnia- Herzegovina, Edin Dzeko et al.

As ever, Ambrose is banking on help from on high, and said: "By God's grace, we will do well and take it game by game."

For the past two decades, Africa has been predicted to produce a World Cup winner.

But, having failed when the competition was held on their own soil four years ago, it seems a long shot this time around.

Ambrose remains buoyant and said: "In football, everything is possible, and it's time for Africa to step up.

"You need desire, heart and willpower - and we have all three with Nigeria."

Izaguirre hopes Honduras are equally-well resourced with the qualities required to make a mark in this competition.

They took only one point and failed to find the net in South Africa 2010 - where Izzy was spotted by Celtic.

They face another tough test in Group E where they are up against France, Ecuador and Switzerland, the team they held to a goalless draw four years ago.

But Honduras showed with wins over the US and Mexico in their qualification battle that they are no pushovers - as England will testify after their bruising draw in Miami.

Izaguirre is one of their key men, and is ready for their opening match against France on Sunday.

He said: "The most exciting thing about the World Cup is just qualifying for it as it made people all over Honduras so happy.

"When we went to South Africa, we had no experience of playing in a big tournament.

"Now we have that so, hopefully, we can have a good World Cup.

"It's a tough group with some very good teams.

"It won't be easy for us as Ecuador are a very good South American team and France and Switzerland are top European teams.

"But we will try our best to get to the next stage."

Football

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