The best 32 national teams in the world have descended upon Brazil and the 2014 World Cup is set to begin play.
The host country Brazil will start things off against Croatia in Saturday's opener. Then two weeks of group-stage play begin between the countries as they decide who stays alive to represent the 16 in the knockout stage. Some contenders will breeze into the latter stages, while others will fizzle out early.
Let's break down the complete list of fixtures in group play and how to catch the action.
|2014 World Cup Group Stage Fixtures|
|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|
|2014 World Cup Groups|
|Group A||Group B||Group C||Group D|
|Cameroon||Chile||Ivory Coast||Costa Rica|
|Group E||Group F||Group G||Group H|
All 2014 World Cup matches can be streamed live on WatchESPN.
Intriguing Group-Stage Fixtures
Spain vs. Netherlands
In a jaw-dropping twist of fate, 2010 World Cup finalists Spain and Netherlands will battle on the second day of the 2014 World Cup group stage.
The Spanish outlasted the Dutch in 2010 thanks to Andres Iniesta's game-winner in extra time. It resulted in them hoisting the World Cup trophy. Two years later, they built on their success with a 2012 European Championship victory.
Netherlands still has most of the gang together with Robin van Persie seemingly fit and Arjen Robben playing his best football, but it will take massive performances from the midfield and players like Wesley Sneijder to keep Spain from dominating possession throughout.
Spain's attack could be depleted as dangerous striker Diego Costa has a hamstring tear and the 15-day recovery could keep him out of Brazil, per the Associated Press via Sports Illustrated. If the Atletico Madrid striker can't go, a player pegged to be a part of the first team will need to be replaced.
Spain won't be the only team in this one without a key player, except the Dutch already know. Key veteran midfielder Rafael van der Vaart has been ruled out of Brazil with a calf injury, per Daily Mail's John Drayton. His absence will only hinder the Netherlands' performance in the midfield.
Regardless of injury, both squads will have 2010 on their minds—Spain trying to make it happen again and the Dutch trying to prevent history from repeating itself.
Brazil vs. Croatia
After years of anticipation and expectations that have likely felt like decades for many of Brazil's players, they will finally have a chance to put all of their preparation on display against Croatia in Saturday's opener.
It's not quite a cupcake match to start out with, however, as Croatia are ranked 20th in the FIFA world rankings and are expected by many to beat out Mexico and advance out of Group A along with Brazil.
Croatia have a great blend of star talent and chemistry that allow them to compete against any opponent. With Luka Modric manning the midfield, they attack their opponents and generate plenty of traffic into the attacking third.
However, they will be without a key player in that midfield as Niko Kranjcar—Modric's partner—has been ruled out after injuring his hamstring in Queens Park Rangers' late Premier League-clinching run, per The Sunday Times' Duncan Castles:
Croatia might be no match for a team of Brazil's caliber with or without Kranjcar. Neymar is coming into his own as a leader, and there are so many players around him—Oscar, Bernard, Paulinho, Marcelo, Fred, Hulk and more—that are capable of making an impact on the game in a big way.
On top of the sheer mismatch in talent, Brazil will be playing at home in front of a crowd that has been waiting for this moment for years. It will be a crazy environment—one that Croatia will be very fortunate to escape from with any points at all.
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