The World Cup starts today! Here’s a pick of the group matches from today until June 27.
Face it, some World Cup games are just plain unmissable. First of all, it’s a given that you shouldn’t miss the opening match involving the hosts (come on, it’s the first game of a World cup after all), and any of the knockout games from the last sixteen all the way to the final is required viewing for any football fan as well.
But what about the group matches? With so many matches to watch each night from tonight until June 27, it can be a bit of a task to watch every single game.
So, here’s a handy list of 10 matches that should be worth watching in the preliminary group rounds. We’ve tried to include games from every group (except Group E, because try as we might, we just couldn’t muster any excitement for a group with France, Honduras, Ecuador and Switzerland), and tried to select the matches in terms of the importance, rivalries and for the sheer talent on display.
We’ve also left out certain games from the final round of matches – including Italy vs. Uruguay, Nigeria vs. Argentina, Portugal vs. Ghana – because although these are matches between very strong teams, some of these matches may either be inconsequential by the time they are played.
Brazil vs. Croatia (Group A)
4am, June 13 (Fri)
Come on, it’s the opening match of the World Cup! And it’s Brazil! As if you really need another reason to watch this ...
Spain vs. Netherlands (Group B)
3am, June 14 (Sat)
A clash of two giants of European football. Defending champions Spain has a reputation for starting slowly during tournaments (they lost their opening match to Switzerland in the 2010 tournament), and with the mercurial Robin Van Persie leading the line, The Netherlands are still a force to be reckoned with.
England vs. Italy (Group D)
6am, June 15 (Sun)
A crucial match in a very tight group, the English will be out for revenge after being knocked out by Italy in the Euro 2012. Will England’s Raheem Sterling run rings around the Italian defence, or will veteran midfield maestro Andre Pirlo manage to inspire Italy to victory once again?
Germany vs. Portugal (Group G)
Midnight, June 17 (Tues)
Another critical match in a tough group that also includes the United States and Ghana. Portugal will be hoping that their talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo, will be fit enough to play, as he is probably their best hope of beating the swashbuckling Germans.
Uruguay vs. England (Group D)
3am, June 20 (Fri)
A must-watch match, especially if you’re a Liverpool fan, because chances are there are going to be at least five Reds on the pitch, as England’s Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge face off against the club’s top scorer, Luis Suarez and defender Sebastián Coates.
Germany vs. Ghana (Group G)
Midnight, June 22 (Sun)
Depending on results in the first round of matches, this will be a crucial match for Germany, but they won’t find it easy against Ghana, who reached the quarter-finals of the last World Cup and crashed out in penalties to Uruguay in a match that saw Luis Suarez getting sent off for a deliberate, goal-saving handball and Asamoah Gyan missing the resultant penalty kick.
Croatia vs. Mexico (Group A)
4am, June 24 (Tues)
Although home team Brazil are expected to breeze through the group stages, it is too close to call between the rest of Group A. With Cameroon playing Brazil in their final match, Croatia and Mexico have to go all out in this match to secure their spot in the last 16.
Japan vs. Colombia (Group C)
4am, June 25 (Wed)
Chosen for the sheer unpredictability of this group. Japan and Colombia are the favourites to go through, though with Greece and Ivory Coast playing each other at the same time, things could change within the course of a single match.
Nigeria vs. Argentina (Group F)
Midnight, June 26 (Thurs)
On paper, these two teams are the strongest in Group F (the other two teams are Iran and Bosnia and Herzegovina), so there is every chance that both teams might already be through to the quarterfinals by the time they play each other, so the only thing to fight for might be to top the table so they can avoid playing the winners of Group E.
Korea Republic vs. Belgium (Group H)
4am, June 27 (Fri)
The most intriguing of the Group H matches. With Russia playing African minnows Algeria in their last match, both Korea and Belgium may be fighting for a place in the last sixteen.