The draw for this summer’s World Cup threw together a number of high-profile contests and plenty that will attract huge viewing figures around the world. The group stage is set to be one of the best ever, with big teams battling it out with incredible regularity.
Here are four of the most appealing clashes that the group stage in Brazil should provide. Expect tension, drama and—above all—the highest quality of football from each one.
|Group C||Colombia||Greece||Ivory Coast||Japan|
|Group D||Uruguay||Costa Rica||England||Italy|
|Group H||Belgium||Algeria||Russia||South Korea|
Spain vs. Netherlands
A repeat of the previous World Cup final in the group stages is always going to be an appealing contest, and Spain vs. Netherlands is as attractive a fixture as can be imagined.
Their clash in South Africa was not exactly a classic, a single goal in extra time separating the teams. But their quality is undeniable and the potential for a stunning match is unquestioned.
Both teams cruised through their qualifying groups without losing a game, but both have suffered defeat since then. Spain lost to South Africa in Johannesburg, whilst Netherlands were beaten by France and only managed draws with Japan and Colombia. All these results came in friendlies, but even so it is not ideal preparation for the biggest tournament in the world.
The form of Netherlands is especially worrying, and with manager Louis van Gaal looking set to move to Manchester United, per The Daily Mail, they do not appear to be in a great place. The clash is the first in the tournament for both teams on just the second day of the competition. Spain are one of the best teams and will be one to watch.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque sounded positively thrilled when the draw was made, per ESPNFC.com: "What fortune! It is up to us to be very good from the first day. The Dutch will demand the best from us. From there, it could all depend on us and our mental preparation."
The Spaniards may have lost their opening match at the last World Cup, but they have not been defeated in a major tournament since. They should not lose to the Dutch.
England vs. Italy
England’s incredibly tough group begins with a game against 2006 World Champions Italy on June 14. It is a big-name clash, but neither team has been enjoying good results of late. England turned in tepid displays in home friendlies against Chile and Germany in November, performances that failed to instil confidence in their World Cup campaign.
Italy have not been at their best either, as they are without a win in their last five outings. Draws against Denmark and Armenia brought their qualification process to a close, then they played out stalemates with Germany and Nigeria in friendlies; a loss against Spain continued this winless run when the two sides met in March.
Per Marcus Christenson of The Guardian, Italy boss Cesare Prandelli has already attempted to dial the importance of this game down, which just goes to show how important it is:
I would have been worried, at least from a media point of view, if we had got an easy draw. But we have to have a good mind-set. The World Cup is a joy to be part of. Our objective? To get out of the group. The most difficult opponent? Costa Rica, because we don't know them.
Neither of these teams is likely to come into the World Cup all guns blazing, but it should be an intriguing tactical battle as both will be nervy at the start of the tournament. It should be a tight affair, and one goal could prove the difference, but with both needing a good start, the tension will make it unmissable.
Brazil vs. Mexico
One way or another, this match could well be a turning point for the host nation at the World Cup. Brazil could, and should, win with relative ease, and if they do it should give them the confidence to go on and challenge at the business end of the tournament. However, it is also a potential trap game, and if they slip up and the locals get on their back, then it could be the start of things going awry for the Verde-Amarela.
Mexico have an impressive recent record against Brazil, winning seven and drawing two of their last 14 meetings dating back to 1999. This is much better than most have managed against the five-time World Champions and proves they can perform in the biggest games. Add to this the victory for their under-23 side in the Olympic final in 2012, and you have something of a bogey team.
However, things have not been going to plan for the Mexican national team of late. They needed a play-off against New Zealand just to reach this tournament, and selection issues stemming from the management have seen their best players missing out of recent squads.
Brazil, in comparison, are in fine fettle. They won the Confederations Cup last year and are on a seven-match winning run at the time of writing. They should be going out and hammering a Mexico side that are in disarray, but if any side can upset them, it is the Mexicans.
If the hosts win well, it could be the basis of a winning campaign. But if they fall short, it could spell disaster.
Germany vs. Portugal
Group G gets underway with an enticing meeting between Germany and Portugal. Whichever team wins this will be in pole position to finish top of the group, so whilst a defeat is not a catastrophe in the opening contest, both will be going all out for the win.
As with every match he competes in, this match is all about Cristiano Ronaldo. He is his side’s talisman, and how far they progress at the World Cup is based on how he performs. Given how he has played against German sides of late, the Portuguese fans could be in for a treat.
Ronaldo’s Real Madrid side met Schalke, Borussia Dortmund and then Bayern Munich in the knockout phases of this year’s Champions League. In the five legs that Ronaldo played, he knocked in seven goals, including two in the fortress-like home of Bayern, the Allianz Arena.
The Germans will be favourites to win this contest, but with CR7 in the opposition ranks, absolutely anything could happen. He proved in the qualifying play-offs against Sweden that he can single-handily win matches for his team, and there is no reason he cannot do that against Germany.