The World Cup takes center stage every four years. It's a spectacle that combines the hype of the Super Bowl with the drama of the Champions League final to create a month-long showcase that captures the attention of sports fans around the globe.
Since the matches are usually close across the board—only North Korea had a goal differential worse than minus-three in group play four years ago—every team enters the tournament with hopes of reaching the knockout rounds. And from there, anything seems possible.
The action begins with host nation Brazil taking on Mexico. One month and 64 matches later, a champion will be crowned. Let's check out all of the important information for the event followed by a look at the marquee matches of the group stage.
2014 World Cup Viewing Info
When: Thursday, June 12 – Sunday, July 13
Watch: ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 (full schedule via ESPN MediaZone)
Top Group-Stage Matches to Watch
Spain vs. Netherlands (June 13)
Andres Iniesta scored in the 116th minute as Spain edged the Netherlands 1-0 in extra time to win the World Cup four years ago. Now, the two sides begin what they hope is another deep run with a rematch to open play in Group B.
La Furia Roja are once again among the favorites. The same can't be said for the Oranje, who are now among the second tier of contenders. Spain manager Vicente del Bosque certainly isn't taking the match lightly, however, as illustrated in comments passed along by Alfredo Rodriguez of UEFA.com.
"Let's see if we are capable of beating the Netherlands again; they have certainly changed since that World Cup final," he said. "I have always said that Dutch football has always been very powerful, and it will be a difficult group."
The group also includes Chile, which opens play with an easier matchup against Australia. The last thing Spain and the Netherlands want to do is fall three points behind right away. That should led to another high-intensity clash between the sides.
England vs. Italy (June 14)
England and Italy are two squads with plenty of attention and pressure on their shoulders as they arrive in Brazil from Europe. The question is whether either side is capable of a deep run or whether the expectations have gotten a bit out of control.
The Three Lions and the Azzurri are in a tricky Group D alongside a battle-tested Uruguay side and a Costa Rica squad capable of playing a frustrating defensive style. That's probably why former England international Rodney Marsh believes a loss would spell doom:
Neither side has a clear advantage going into the match. It should make for an intriguing, tightly contested battle that's still up in the air heading into the final minutes. And the result could very well determine which side ends up advancing.
Germany vs. Portugal (June 16)
This match, which features two of the top five teams in the FIFA rankings, presents an interesting contrast. The German squad is perhaps the most complete group in the tournament. On the other hand, Portugal's chances rely heavily on the greatness of a single player, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Once again, it's an opening match that could have a lasting impact on the entire group. The United States and Ghana are both capable of stealing a spot in the knockout stages. So while Germany and Portugal both want to win, the fear of a loss may be greater, leading to a more conservative approach.
Either way, getting a chance to see so many world-class players on the pitch at the same time is a rare treat. There should be some highlight-reel moments for both sides, and that's exactly what fans are looking for at the World Cup.
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