While every match at the 2014 World Cup is important, some of them will play a bigger role in the tournament than others.
Brazil will have a tough opening match against Croatia, but it seems like a near certainty that the hosts will advance to the knockout stage regardless. Top squads like Colombia and Belgium also should start their weeks with wins.
However, a few other teams hoping to make a deep run will come up against top competition right out of the gate. These matches taking place in the first week of action will end up being huge for the rest of the tournament.
|June 12||Brazil vs. Croatia||A||4 p.m.||Sao Paulo|
|June 13||Mexico vs. Cameroon||A||Noon||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||Noon||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||Noon||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||Noon||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||Noon||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||Noon||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||Noon||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||Noon||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||Noon||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||Noon||Porto Alegre|
|June 22||United States vs. Portugal||G||3 p.m.||Manaus|
|June 22||Belgium vs. Russia||H||Noon||Rio de Janeiro|
|June 23||Australia vs. Spain||B||Noon||Curitiba|
|June 23||Chile vs. Netherlands||B||Noon||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||Noon||Natal|
|June 24||Costa Rica vs. England||D||Noon||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||Noon||Porto Alegre|
|June 25||Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Iran||F||Noon||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||Noon||Recife|
|June 26||Portugal vs. Ghana||G||Noon||Brasilia|
|June 26||South Korea vs. Belgium||H||4 p.m.||Sao Paulo|
|June 26||Algeria vs. Russia||H||4 p.m.||Curitiba|
Spain vs. Netherlands
It is hard to get any tougher of an opening contest than a rematch of the previous World Cup Final. Four years ago, Spain needed extra time to earn a 1-0 win over the Netherlands to earn the title. Now the Dutch want their redemption.
Michael Ballack of ESPN FC provides a look at what makes this team so dangerous:
The Dutch have always been famous for their attractive, high-scoring football. When they have a good game, it looks fluid. The ball is spread around the pitch really well, and that leads to a lot of chances. It's good to watch, and that's exactly what I like.
On the other hand, many of the talented players on the roster are getting up there in age like Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder. At the same time, the younger stars might not quite be ready to handle the pressure.
Spain also have to deal with an aging roster, but the overwhelming depth will help the squad navigate through the group stage. Between Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, Xabi Alonso, Pedro, Sergio Busquets and more, there will always be world-class players in the midfield ready to make an impact.
This will likely give Spain the edge late in what is certain to be a close battle throughout.
Of course, with Chile looming in the group, it will be key for either team to earn points in this match.
England vs. Italy
While Americans have discussed the difficulty within their group, England, Italy and Uruguay create quite a challenge for one another. As Dan Levy of Bleacher Report notes, this is the real "Group of Death":
So..Group D with Uruguay, Costa Rica, England and Italy is the real group of death, right? #GoGoUSA— Dan Levy (@DanLevyThinks) June 4, 2014
In reality, though, the two spots will come down to the top three teams, as Costa Rica likely do not have the depth of talent to stick with any of them. This is good news for Uruguay, who should be able to start their run in Brazil with three points.
Obviously, this puts the pressure on England and Italy to come through and earn points as well.
These two teams have been among the best in the world for decades, and there is enough experience on both sides to make sure they are not scared of the situation. Of course, one of the younger players on Italy has no fear at all of England. Mario Balotelli told Chisanga Malata of the Daily Star:
I don’t look at England as a team that can win the World Cup. They have some good players, but they are no real rivals for Italy.
I am not saying that Italy are favourites, but we have the mentality and experienced players to surprise people — I don’t think England have that.
Although this quote is likely material to motivate England, it is not far from the truth. Italy are known for their great defensive ability and will cause serious problems for an offense that lacks any true individual threat up front.
On the other end of the pitch, Balotelli, Andrea Pirlo and others can create offense and do what it takes to score a game-winner.
Germany vs. Portugal
Portugal's chances in this tournament are heavily tied to the health of Cristiano Ronaldo. The reigning Ballon d'Or winner had been struggling with patellar tendinitis, but he has recently returned to training, according to ESPN.
While Portugal have an experienced defense and talented players all over the pitch, Ronaldo is the true star of the team and the one who makes them such a dangerous foe. If he is unable to play or is even limited, it will make it much easier to slow them down.
On the other hand, Germany are dealing with injuries as well. Players like Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger have been limited, but their injuries are all minor compared to that of Marco Reus, who will miss the World Cup with torn ligaments.
He discussed the devastation of the injury, via Bleacher Report UK:
'Heartbroken' Marco Reus has spoken out about missing the World Cup. pic.twitter.com/bUVsvtRjbn— Bleacher Report UK (@br_uk) June 7, 2014
The good news is that Germany still have offensive players who are capable of scoring at any time, including Thomas Muller, Mario Gotze and Miroslav Klose. This will help put the pressure on Portugal, and Germany will do their best to come away with a win.
Considering there will be no easy wins in a group including the United States and Ghana, every point will be important at this stage.
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