Whether your favorite team is considered a top contender or you are simply hoping to reach the knockout stage, everyone is excited for the start of the 2014 World Cup.
Things will kick off Thursday with Brazil taking on Croatia in the first game of the tournament. The hosts are one of the favorites to win a title this summer, but they will have a tough challenge from Spain, Germany and a bunch of other talented squads.
The good news for fans is that we will be able to see all of the national teams in action over the next week with the group stage finally coming to a conclusion on June 26. In that time, there will be some quality battles between elite opponents attempting to earn a spot in the next phase.
Here is a look at all of the fixtures for the group stage, with a breakdown of the best matches to watch in the coming weeks.
|June 12||Brazil vs. Croatia||A||4 p.m.||Sao Paulo|
|June 13||Mexico vs. Cameroon||A||12 p.m.||Natal|
|June 13||Spain vs. Netherlands||B||3 p.m.||Salvador|
|June 13||Chile vs. Australia||B||6 p.m.||Cuiaba|
|June 14||Colombia vs. Greece||C||12 p.m.||Belo Horizonte|
|June 14||Uruguay vs. Costa Rica||D||3 p.m.||Fortaleza|
|June 14||Ivory Coast vs. Japan||C||6 p.m.||Recife|
|June 14||England vs. Italy||D||6 p.m.||Manaus|
|June 15||Switzerland vs. Ecuador||E||12 p.m.||Brasilia|
|June 15||France vs. Honduras||E||3 p.m.||Porto Alegre|
|June 15||Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina||F||6 p.m.||Rio De Janeiro|
|June 16||Germany vs. Portugal||G||12 p.m.||Salvador|
|June 16||Iran vs. Nigeria||F||3 p.m.||Curitiba|
|June 16||Ghana vs. United States||G||6 p.m.||Natal|
|June 17||Belgium vs. Algeria||H||12 p.m.||Belo Horizonte|
|June 17||Brazil vs. Mexico||A||3 p.m.||Fortaleza|
|June 17||Russia vs. South Korea||H||6 p.m.||Cuiaba|
|June 18||Australia vs. Netherlands||B||12 p.m.||Porto Alegre|
|June 18||Cameroon vs. Croatia||A||3 p.m.||Manaus|
|June 18||Spain vs. Chile||B||6 p.m.||Rio De Janeiro|
|June 19||Colombia vs. Ivory Coast||C||12 p.m.||Brasilia|
|June 19||Uruguay vs. England||D||3 p.m.||Sao Paulo|
|June 19||Greece vs. Japan||C||6 p.m.||Natal|
|June 20||Costa Rica vs. Italy||D||12 p.m.||Recife|
|June 20||Switzerland vs. France||E||3 p.m.||Salvador|
|June 20||Ecuador vs. Honduras||E||6 p.m.||Curitiba|
|June 21||Argentina vs. Iran||F||12 p.m.||Belo Horizonte|
|June 21||Germany vs. Ghana||G||3 p.m.||Fortaleza|
|June 21||Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Nigeria||F||6 p.m.||Cuiaba|
|June 22||South Korea vs. Algeria||H||12 p.m.||Porto Alegre|
|June 22||United States vs. Portugal||G||3 p.m.||Manaus|
|June 22||Belgium vs. Russia||H||12 p.m.||Rio De Janeiro|
|June 23||Australia vs. Spain||B||12 p.m.||Curitiba|
|June 23||Chile vs. Netherlands||B||12 p.m.||Sao Paulo|
|June 23||Brazil vs. Cameroon||A||4 p.m.||Brasilia|
|June 23||Croatia vs. Mexico||A||4 p.m.||Recife|
|June 24||Italy vs. Uruguay||D||12 p.m.||Natal|
|June 24||Costa Rica vs. England||D||12 p.m.||Belo Horizonte|
|June 24||Japan vs. Colombia||C||4 p.m.||Cuiaba|
|June 24||Greece vs. Ivory Coast||C||4 p.m.||Fortaleza|
|June 25||Nigeria vs. Argentina||F||12 p.m.||Porto Alegre|
|June 25||Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Iran||F||12 p.m.||Salvador|
|June 25||Honduras vs. Switzerland||E||4 p.m.||Manaus|
|June 25||France vs. Ecuador||E||4 p.m.||Rio De Janeiro|
|June 26||United States vs. Germany||G||12 p.m.||Recife|
|June 26||Portugal vs. Ghana||G||12 p.m.||Brasilia|
|June 26||South Korea vs. Belgium||H||4 p.m.||Sao Paulo|
|June 26||Algeria vs. Russia||H||4 p.m.||Curitiba|
|Group A||Group B||Group C||Group D|
|Group E||Group F||Group G||Group H|
|Honduras||Nigeria||United States||South Korea|
Spain vs. Netherlands
One of the first matches of the 2014 World Cup is the same as the last match of the 2010 World Cup. Spain clinched the title four years ago when Andres Iniesta scored in extra time to beat the Netherlands in the finals.
Spain manager Vicente del Bosque explained his feelings toward the opening battle, via Alfredo Rodriguez of UEFA.com:
It is fate that we play them again in our first match, the same as the final of the last World Cup. ... Let's see if we are capable of beating the Netherlands again; they have certainly changed since that World Cup final. I have always said that Dutch football has always been very powerful, and it will be a difficult group.
Netherlands is led by Robin van Persie, who had a down year along with the rest of Manchester United. However, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder will help lead a veteran squad capable of playing with anyone.
That being said, Spain likely has the best midfield in the world with simply incredible depth. Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Pedro and others will do their best to hold onto possession and prevent any opponent from getting legitimate opportunities on the attack.
Spain has the advantage heading into this match, but this Netherlands squad can put itself in great shape by earning a positive result in this early contest.
Germany vs. Portugal
Americans are hoping to escape Group G, but Germany and Portugal remain the class of the group, with both squads coming into the World Cup ranked in the top five of the FIFA rankings.
When you think about the Portuguese squad, one name comes to mind: Cristiano Ronaldo. The reigning Ballon d'Or winner is coming off a Champions League title with Real Madrid, something that is certain to give him even more confidence going forward.
While there are talented players elsewhere on the pitch, Germany will have to make sure it stops Ronaldo before worrying about anything else. The superstar certainly showed his ability in the qualifying two-legged play-off against Sweden when he scored each of the team's four goals to ensure a ticket to Brazil.
On the other hand, Germany has a much deeper roster full of world-class talent. It seems like everyone on the roster played for a UCL squad in some country.
The problem is injuries, as Manuel Neuer, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira and others are less than 100 percent. Raphael Honigstein of ESPN FC notes that this could lead to an early exit:
Still, it will be tough for any squad to compete with Germany even with various injuries. Portugal has a chance, and it will be an important contest for the rest of Group G play.
Uruguay vs. Italy
Although England continues to have high hopes heading into the World Cup, Group D does not seem like it will be friendly to the Three Lions. According to Jeff Borzello of CBS Sports, every analyst at the company predicted Italy and Uruguay to advance, with England getting third or fourth in the group:
This means the group will likely come down to those other two teams. The good news is the match between the two should be one of the best in the tournament.
When healthy, Uruguay has one of the best attacks in the world between Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. These two players have been outstanding over the past two years for their respective clubs and have shown the ability to score on their own better than almost anyone in the sport.
On the other hand, the Italians are known for their defense, which led them to the finals of Euro 2012. Add in the scoring ability of Mario Balotelli and Andrea Pirlo, and this squad has the chance to beat anyone.
The question is which inconsistent side can come through with its best effort in the World Cup. Based on what we have seen in the past, it would not be surprising to see either team make a run to the semifinals or lose in the group stage.
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