5 things: What to watch for Sunday at the World Cup

Story highlights

  • Argentina's Lionel Messi will take the field for the first time in Brazil
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina will start play in its first World Cup
  • Action starts in Rio de Janeiro -- host of the World Cup finals, the 2016 Olympics

You might expect Sunday to be a day of rest in a predominantly Roman Catholic country like Brazil.

But the World Cup offers as good a reason as it gets to make an exception.

There will be three contests -- in Brasilia, Porte Alegre and Rio de Janeiro -- on what will be the fourth day of the prestigious football tournament. Each of them pits a team from Europe against one from Latin America.

Here's a look at a few things to watch for:

Spotlight on Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi is one of a kind.

Meet soccer's most bankable star
Meet soccer's most bankable star


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Supporting your World Cup team in style
Supporting your World Cup team in style


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Supporting your World Cup team in style 03:34

At 26 years old, all he's done is win four consecutive FIFA Ballons d'Or, given annually to football's best player. And he's done it on one of the best club teams, Barcelona, in the world.

But on the sport's biggest stage, Messi has yet to deliver.

On Sunday, when his Argentine team faces Bosnia and Herzegovina, Messi will get another chance at a World Cup title. Many see this tournament as his best opportunity yet, given that he is in his prime and the event is being held in his native South America.

France copes without Franck

Going into this year's World Cup, many tapped France as a favorite. The biggest reason: Franck Ribery.

He was the best player on the world's best club team, Bayern Munich in 2013 -- when it won the Bundesliga and even more prestigious Champions League. As such, there was good reason to think Ribery could help lead his native France to the promised land.

Until, that is, the 31-year-old was ruled out of the World Cup due to back issues. So does that mean France is out of contention?

We might get a good gauge on that answer Sunday, when Les Bleus open Group E play with a matchup against Honduras.

Are you ready, Rio?

Rio de Janiero is two years away from welcoming the world, as the host of the 2016 Summer Olympics.

What better way to warm up than with the Olympics' closest competition for the world's biggest sporting event?

World Cup play kicks off in Rio on Sunday, with the Messi-led Argentinian squad facing off with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

That means thousands of Cariocas (a reference to Rio residents) will pack into the iconic Maracana stadium; the even luckier ones, someone might argue, could be on the city's world-famous beaches, like Ipanema and Copacabana.

Whatever excitement there is Sunday, though, should pale in comparison to what unfolds on Sunday, July 13, in the same stadium.

That's when the World Cup final takes place.

And -- if Brazilians' prayers are answers -- the host team will be there, slugging it out for the championship.

Latin American teams are rolling

Europe boasts being the birthplace of football.

But this year, Latin America has not only hosted the World Cup, it's virtually owned it -- with Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Costa Rica having won their tournament openers.

The only Latin team that didn't win was Uruguay. That's because it got beat by Costa Rica. Plus, it can always take solace in the fact it won its last World Cup in Brazil, albeit 64 years ago.

Latin American teams will get three more chances to continue their run Sunday: starting with Ecuador against Switzerland, then with Honduras taking on France, and, lastly, with the Argentina matchup.

A new country, a real chance

Twenty-five years ago, Bosnia and Herzegovina didn't exist. In the years after its 1991 declaration of independence from Yugoslavia, it was more or less a war zone.

Peace came later in the 1990s, paved by the Dayton Agreement. So did some normalcy. And, with that, so did football -- including a fledgling national team that seemed to get better as the years went by.

Bosnia and Herzegovina narrowly missed out on a 2010 World Cup berth. This time, it will try to get out of a group that includes Argentina, Nigeria and Iran.

Slated as 21st in the FIFA world rankings -- just behind Mexico and ahead of other World Cup contenders like Algeria, Ivory Coast and Ecuador -- Bosnia is looking to make history not just by showing up, but by advancing.

As coach Safet Susic said -- according to the broadcaster B92, as reported by Bleacher Report: "We are not going to Brazil simply as tourists or to take notes. We want to succeed."