We all know very little heading into the World Cup. I'm not talking about knowing little about the players, or a country's history at the event, or any other facts; I'm talking about what will happen.
We know what should happen, yes, but how often does "should happen" actually become "did happen?" Not very often, right?
But there are things you should know, regardless, like the event schedule or how to catch every game on your television. I'll provide that here.
And just for fun, let's power rank the most intriguing groups at this year's World Cup, too. From the Groups of Death to a group that is pretty yawn-inducing, I'll rank the groups for their entertainment value, competitive balance and unpredictability.
Note: All matches will be streamed live on WatchESPN.com or the WatchESPN app.
|World Cup Group Phase Schedule|
|Date||Time (ET)||Team 1||Team 2||Group||TV|
|Thursday, June 12||4 p.m.||Brazil||Croatia||A||ESPN|
|Friday, June 13||12 p.m.||Mexico||Cameroon||A||ESPN2|
|Friday, June 13||3 p.m.||Spain||Netherlands||B||ESPN|
|Friday, June 13||6 p.m.||Chile||Australia||B||ESPN2|
|Saturday, June 14||12 p.m.||Colombia||Greece||C||ABC|
|Saturday, June 14||3 p.m.||Uruguay||Costa Rica||D||ABC|
|Saturday, June 14||6 p.m.||England||Italy||D||ESPN|
|Saturday, June 14||9 p.m.||Ivory Coast||Japan||C||ESPN|
|Sunday, June 15||12 p.m.||Switzerland||Ecuador||E||ABC|
|Sunday, June 15||3 p.m.||France||Honduras||E||ABC|
|Sunday, June 15||6 p.m.||Argentina||Bosnia-Herzegovina||F||ESPN|
|Monday, June 16||12 p.m.||Germany||Portugal||G||ESPN|
|Monday, June 16||3 p.m.||Iran||Nigeria||F||ESPN|
|Monday, June 16||6 p.m.||Ghana||United States||G||ESPN|
|Tuesday, June 17||12 p.m.||Belgium||Algeria||H||ESPN|
|Tuesday, June 17||3 p.m.||Brazil||Mexico||A||ESPN|
|Tuesday, June 17||6 p.m.||Russia||South Korea||H||ESPN|
|Wednesday, June 18||12 p.m.||Australia||Netherlands||B||ESPN|
|Wednesday, June 18||3 p.m.||Spain||Chile||B||ESPN|
|Wednesday, June 18||6 p.m.||Cameroon||Croatia||A||ESPN|
|Thursday, June 19||12 p.m.||Colombia||Ivory Coast||C||ESPN|
|Thursday, June 19||3 p.m.||Uruguay||England||D||ESPN|
|Thursday, June 19||6 p.m.||Japan||Greece||C||ESPN|
|Friday, June 20||12 p.m.||Italy||Costa Rica||D||ESPN|
|Friday, June 20||3 p.m.||Switzerland||France||E||ESPN|
|Friday, June 20||6 p.m.||Honduras||Ecuador||E||ESPN|
|Saturday, June 21||12 p.m.||Argentina||Iran||F||ESPN|
|Saturday, June 21||3 p.m.||Germany||Ghana||G||ESPN|
|Saturday, June 21||6 p.m.||Nigeria||Bosnia-Herzegovina||F||ESPN|
|Sunday, June 22||12 p.m.||Belgium||Russia||H||ABC|
|Sunday, June 22||3 p.m.||South Korea||Algeria||H||ABC|
|Sunday, June 22||6 p.m.||United States||Portugal||G||ESPN|
|Monday, June 23||12 p.m.||Australia||Spain||B||ESPN2|
|Monday, June 23||12 p.m.||Netherlands||Chile||B||ESPN|
|Monday, June 23||4 p.m.||Croatia||Mexico||A||ESPN|
|Monday, June 23||4 p.m.||Cameroon||Brazil||A||ESPN2|
|Tuesday, June 24||12 p.m.||Italy||Uruguay||D||ESPN|
|Tuesday, June 24||12 p.m.||Costa Rica||England||D||ESPN2|
|Tuesday, June 24||4 p.m.||Japan||Colombia||C||ESPN|
|Tuesday, June 24||4 p.m.||Greece||Ivory Coast||C||ESPN2|
|Wednesday, June 25||12 p.m.||Nigeria||Argentina||F||ESPN|
|Wednesday, June 25||12 p.m.||Bosnia-Herzegovina||Iran||F||ESPN2|
|Wednesday, June 25||4 p.m.||Honduras||Switzerland||E||ESPN2|
|Wednesday, June 25||4 p.m.||Ecuador||France||E||ESPN|
|Thursday, June 26||12 p.m.||United States||Germany||G||ESPN|
|Thursday, June 26||12 p.m.||Portugal||Ghana||G||ESPN2|
|Thursday, June 26||4 p.m||South Korea||Belgium||H||ESPN|
|Thursday, June 26||4 p.m.||Algeria||Russia||H||ESPN2|
1. Group D: Uruguay, Italy, England, Costa Rica
There is one certainty in this group, and only one—Costa Rica won't be advancing. After that, well, good look figuring this group out.
If footy were only played with forwards, Uruguay would be a favorite to win the entire World Cup. Luis Suarez was arguably the best centre-forward in the world this season for Liverpool, while Edinson Cavani is a world-class talent (even if he plays second fiddle to Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Paris Saint-Germain).
It's not, however, and Uruguay has far more questions in the midfield and defense than they do in the attack.
Italy might have the opposite problem. They are loaded in the midfield and pretty solid in defense (at least up the middle), but they'll likely have to rely on the enigmatic Mario Balotelli at forward. At his best, he's a match winner and unstoppable force. At his worst, he's watching on the sideline because he's been handed a red card or taken out of the match for listless play.
And then there is England, a bit of an unknown quantity. Who will pair with Steven Gerrard in the center of midfield: Jack Wilshere or Jordan Henderson? Who will start on the wings? Will Wayne Rooney remind everyone he's an elite talent? Can Daniel Sturridge continue to score goals in bunches as he did this season for Liverpool?
Depending on the answers, England could be a dangerous team or a flop. Like much of Group D, it is the unknowns that make this collection of teams so intriguing. Watching the top-three teams battle for two spots in the knockout phase will be a treat.
2. Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, United States
Many people will argue that this is the true Group of Death—and certainly, all four teams could advance to the next round—but this still feels like a group where the top-two teams, Germany and Portugal, are likely to advance.
And that's why it drops to No. 2 on the ratings.
Not to insult either Ghana or the United States, of course. I wouldn't dare insult my home country, lest I chase away readers and friends alike. Ghana has a strong midfield and athletic players on the attack. The United States has a young squad and a weak defense, but they also have players in Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey who can change a game with a moment of pure class.
But Germany has arguably the most talented roster in this World Cup, while Cristiano Ronaldo and Joao Moutinho lead a scrappy yet technically sound Portugal roster. Anything could happen in this group, but Germany and Portugal advancing seems most likely.
3. Group B: Spain, Chile, Netherlands, Australia
Spain will advance. They're too technically savvy, too experienced and too darn talented to bow out early. Tiki-taka may be losing its grip on the strategical throne it has occupied for years, but Spain's execution of the style will still get them through this group.
Australia, meanwhile, will be lucky if they score a goal in this group. Thanks for playing, Aussies.
And then there are Chile and the Netherlands. The former combine star power (Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez) with a deep, versatile squad capable of playing multiple systems. The latter are loaded with attacking studs (Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar), though the midfield and defense are much weaker.
Chile has become a popular pick to advance out of this group with the soccer hipsters, while the Dutch would like to remind everyone that they played in the 2010 World Cup final. This isn't the same team, though, and the Dutch will need an offensive onslaught if they are to advance.
That they are more than capable of providing that onslaught is another reason why this group is so fascinating.
4. Group C: Colombia, Ivory Coast, Japan, Greece
All four teams could win this group (yes, even Greece), especially now that Radamel Falcao won't feature for Colombia.
There are a ton of stars and players to watch (James Rodriguez, Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba, Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, to name a few).
Colombia plays an aggressive, no-holds-barred offensive style. The Ivory Coast has fast, dangerous attackers. Japan plays in a technically pleasing system. And Greece offers the ultimate contrast, as they keep players behind the ball, are defensively disciplined and have an incredibly difficult time actually scoring themselves.
Some of the more entertaining football very well could end up coming out of Group C.
5. Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon
This is arguably the most underrated group in this tournament (even I might be guilty of underrating it), mostly because people assume Brazil will steamroll their way through the other three teams. And they might do just that.
But Croatia have arguably the best player in this group, Real Madrid's Luka Modric, even if Neymar enthusiasts are now marching toward my apartment with torches and pitchforks. El Tri seem to have put away the ghosts of a brutal World Cup qualifying campaign behind them and look ready to provide a threat. And Cameroon have a solid if unspectacular side, led by Samuel Eto'o and Alex Song.
All four of these teams could advance, and one of the more intriguing things to watch will be which of the three join Brazil in the knockout phase.
6. Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Nigeria, Iran
Behind Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria, Argentina might score more goals than the other three teams in this group combined. I'm not actually joking, folks—this Argentina attack is scary.
While Argentina should dominate, Iran will really struggle. They just don't have the talent to compete with these teams.
That will make the battle for second between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Nigeria really fascinating. If Nigeria are at their best, they'll be a tough out, but Bosnia-Herzegovina will feature two really in-form players, Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic.
It's a toss up, and one that should be fun to watch.
7. Group H: Belgium, Russia, South Korea, Algeria
This really feels like a two-team group, as Belgium and Russia should advance. Really, the most intriguing aspect of this group will be whether or not the much-hyped, uber-talented Belgians can live up to their top billing.
But it would be surprising if Belgium and Russia failed to advance or if there was much drama in the process.
8. Group E: France, Switzerland, Ecuador, Honduras
France will win this group unless they decide to have a mutiny out on the pitch—which we really wouldn't put past them, now would we?—and after that, the offerings are pretty drab.
Switzerland earned an inflated FIFA ranking and Pot 1 position in the World Cup draw, but that was based on a really easy European qualifying campaign. Ecuador is unbeatable in Ecuador and pretty poor everywhere else. And while there are two quality teams from Concacaf, Honduras isn't one of them.
This will be a pretty boring group. France will cruise, and Switzerland and Ecuador will likely fight for the second spot. Just don't expect that fight to be particularly enthralling.