Teams have been preparing for the start of the 2014 World Cup since the end of the last one. This makes every match extremely important for squads to accomplish their goal.
With each team only getting three matches in the group stage to earn a spot in the round of 16, any poor result could be devastating. Even the top contenders have to be at their best in every match to avoid missing out on necessary points that will help the team advance.
There will be a number of exciting contests to watch throughout the first phase of the World Cup, but here is a look at the toughest matches for each top contender in Brazil.
|2014 World Cup Groups|
|Group A||Group B||Group C||Group D|
|Group E||Group F||Group G||Group H|
|Honduras||Nigeria||United States||South Korea|
Brazil vs. Croatia
The first match of the tournament might end up being one of the best.
Brazil will look to electrify their home fans with an exciting attack full of talented young players like Neymar and Oscar. This adds to one of the best defenses in the world with experienced players who have had success in Champions League and other high levels of competition.
However, Croatia come into this battle with plenty of confidence and without pressure. Midfielder Luka Modric explained to Fox Sports why he is actually looking forward to the battle against Brazil: "It’s going to be the easiest game for us. There is no pressure in that game, we just need to enjoy it. We don’t have any pressure at all. We can only win from this game."
Modric is a big reason the European squad has a chance to make a run this summer. He was a major factor in Real Madrid's run to a UCL title this season and is part of a talented midfield with his national team.
The fact that Mario Mandzukic will be banned from the match after picking up a red card in qualifying will be huge, but Croatia still have enough talent to make this a difficult battle.
Brazil have to make sure they do not let the situation get the better of them as the young team tries to start off a run to a championship.
Spain vs. Chile
The reigning World Cup winners are expected to once again contend for the World Cup title. The midfield that features Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Xavi, Xabi Alonso and others will be back and brimming with the confidence of past success.
Things will be difficult right away for Spain with an opening match against the Netherlands in what will be a rematch of the 2010 final. However, the stars from the Dutch squad are seemingly past their prime while the younger players are not yet ready for the big time.
Instead, it seems the bigger challenge for Spain in Group B will be Chile.
Former Italian star Alessandro Del Piero explains that Chile are one of South America's overlooked teams, via Tancredi Palmeri of beIN Sports:
ESPN's Max Bretos considers the team at least a sleeper in Brazil:
With young talent all over the pitch, Chile can provide a serious challenge to Spain's attempt to repeat as World Cup champions.
Germany vs. Portugal
There are few teams with as much talent across the board as Germany. Even with various injuries, Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, Miroslav Klose and others will find ways to score, while Philipp Lahm will help prevent any good opportunities on the opposing end.
Add in arguably the best goalkeeper in the world in Manuel Neuer, and Germany will be incredibly difficult to beat.
Of course, if anyone is going to pose a challenge it will be Cristiano Ronaldo. The reigning Ballon d'Or winner has shown the ability to single-handedly carry his squad to victory with his knack for scoring from almost anywhere on the offensive end of the pitch.
Fortunately, he will not have to win by himself as Portugal have an experienced defense with quick midfielders capable of making plays with or without the ball. Ronaldo will simply be there to finish near the net when he gets a chance.
Germany have to make sure to stop the talented player while also attacking on offense. Otherwise, the squad could end up struggling right away in Brazil.
|2014 World Cup Group Schedule|
|June 12||Brazil vs. Croatia||A||4 p.m.||ESPN||Sao Paulo|
|June 13||Mexico vs. Cameroon||A||12 p.m.||ESPN2||Natal|
|June 13||Spain vs. Netherlands||B||3 p.m.||ESPN||Salvador|
|June 13||Chile vs. Australia||B||6 p.m.||ESPN2||Cuiaba|
|June 14||Colombia vs. Greece||C||12 p.m.||ABC||Belo Horizonte|
|June 14||Uruguay vs. Costa Rica||D||3 p.m.||ABC||Fortaleza|
|June 14||Ivory Coast vs. Japan||C||6 p.m.||ESPN||Recife|
|June 14||England vs. Italy||D||6 p.m.||ESPN||Manaus|
|June 15||Switzerland vs. Ecuador||E||12 p.m.||ABC||Brasilia|
|June 15||France vs. Honduras||E||3 p.m.||ABC||Porto Alegre|
|June 15||Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina||F||6 p.m.||ESPN||Rio De Janeiro|
|June 16||Germany vs. Portugal||G||12 p.m.||ESPN||Salvador|
|June 16||Iran vs. Nigeria||F||3 p.m.||ESPN||Curitiba|
|June 16||Ghana vs. United States||G||6 p.m.||ESPN||Natal|
|June 17||Belgium vs. Algeria||H||12 p.m.||ESPN||Belo Horizonte|
|June 17||Brazil vs. Mexico||A||3 p.m.||ESPN||Fortaleza|
|June 17||Russia vs. South Korea||H||6 p.m.||ESPN||Cuiaba|
|June 18||Australia vs. Netherlands||B||12 p.m.||ESPN||Porto Alegre|
|June 18||Cameroon vs. Croatia||A||3 p.m.||ESPN||Manaus|
|June 18||Spain vs. Chile||B||6 p.m.||ESPN||Rio De Janeiro|
|June 19||Colombia vs. Ivory Coast||C||12 p.m.||ESPN||Brasilia|
|June 19||Uruguay vs. England||D||3 p.m.||ESPN||Sao Paulo|
|June 19||Greece vs. Japan||C||6 p.m.||ESPN||Natal|
|June 20||Costa Rica vs. Italy||D||12 p.m.||ESPN||Recife|
|June 20||Switzerland vs. France||E||3 p.m.||ESPN||Salvador|
|June 20||Ecuador vs. Honduras||E||6 p.m.||ESPN||Curitiba|
|June 21||Argentina vs. Iran||F||12 p.m.||ESPN||Belo Horizonte|
|June 21||Germany vs. Ghana||G||3 p.m.||ESPN||Fortaleza|
|June 21||Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Nigeria||F||6 p.m.||ESPN||Cuiaba|
|June 22||South Korea vs. Algeria||H||3 p.m.||ABC||Porto Alegre|
|June 22||United States vs. Portugal||G||6 p.m.||ESPN||Manaus|
|June 22||Belgium vs. Russia||H||12 p.m.||ABC||Rio De Janeiro|
|June 23||Australia vs. Spain||B||12 p.m.||ESPN2||Curitiba|
|June 23||Chile vs. Netherlands||B||12 p.m.||ESPN||Sao Paulo|
|June 23||Brazil vs. Cameroon||A||4 p.m.||ESPN2||Brasilia|
|June 23||Croatia vs. Mexico||A||4 p.m.||ESPN||Recife|
|June 24||Italy vs. Uruguay||D||12 p.m.||ESPN||Natal|
|June 24||Costa Rica vs. England||D||12 p.m.||ESPN2||Belo Horizonte|
|June 24||Japan vs. Colombia||C||4 p.m.||ESPN||Cuiaba|
|June 24||Greece vs. Ivory Coast||C||4 p.m.||ESPN2||Fortaleza|
|June 25||Nigeria vs. Argentina||F||12 p.m.||ESPN||Porto Alegre|
|June 25||Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Iran||F||12 p.m.||ESPN2||Salvador|
|June 25||Honduras vs. Switzerland||E||4 p.m.||ESPN2||Manaus|
|June 25||France vs. Ecuador||E||4 p.m.||ESPN||Rio De Janeiro|
|June 26||United States vs. Germany||G||12 p.m.||ESPN||Recife|
|June 26||Portugal vs. Ghana||G||12 p.m.||ESPN2||Brasilia|
|June 26||South Korea vs. Belgium||H||4 p.m.||ESPN||Sao Paulo|
|June 26||Algeria vs. Russia||H||4 p.m.||ESPN2||Curitiba|
|via FIFA.com and ESPNMediaZone.com|
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