World Cup Schedule 2014: Early Matches That Will Have Huge Impact on Group Stage

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistJune 8, 2014

PERUGIA, ITALY - JUNE 04:  Mario Balotelli of Italy in action during the international friendly match between Italy and Luxembourg on June 4, 2014 in Perugia, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

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. 

2014 World Cup Group Stage Fixtures
DateMatchGroupTime (ET)Venue
June 12Brazil vs. CroatiaA4 p.m.Sao Paulo
June 13Mexico vs. CameroonANoonNatal
June 13Spain vs. NetherlandsB3 p.m.Salvador
June 13Chile vs. AustraliaB6 p.m.Cuiaba
June 14Colombia vs. GreeceCNoonBelo Horizonte
June 14Uruguay vs. Costa RicaD3 p.m.Fortaleza
June 14Ivory Coast vs. JapanC6 p.m.Recife
June 14England vs. ItalyD6 p.m.Manaus
June 15Switzerland vs. EcuadorENoonBrasilia
June 15France vs. HondurasE3 p.m.Porto Alegre
June 15Argentina vs. Bosnia-HerzegovinaF6 p.m.Rio de Janeiro
June 16Germany vs. PortugalGNoonSalvador
June 16Iran vs. NigeriaF3 p.m.Curitiba
June 16Ghana vs. United StatesG6 p.m.Natal
June 17Belgium vs. AlgeriaHNoonBelo Horizonte
June 17Brazil vs. MexicoA3 p.m.Fortaleza
June 17Russia vs. South KoreaH6 p.m.Cuiaba
June 18Australia vs. NetherlandsBNoonPorto Alegre
June 18Cameroon vs. CroatiaA3 p.m.Manaus
June 18Spain vs. ChileB6 p.m.Rio de Janeiro
June 19Colombia vs. Ivory CoastCNoonBrasilia
June 19Uruguay vs. EnglandD3 p.m.Sao Paulo
June 19Greece vs. JapanC6 p.m.Natal
June 20Costa Rica vs. ItalyDNoonRecife
June 20Switzerland vs. FranceE3 p.m.Salvador
June 20Ecuador vs. HondurasE6 p.m.Curitiba
June 21Argentina vs. IranFNoonBelo Horizonte
June 21Germany vs. GhanaG3 p.m.Fortaleza
June 21Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. NigeriaF6 p.m.Cuiaba
June 22South Korea vs. AlgeriaHNoonPorto Alegre
June 22United States vs. PortugalG3 p.m.Manaus
June 22Belgium vs. RussiaHNoonRio de Janeiro
June 23Australia vs. SpainBNoonCuritiba
June 23Chile vs. NetherlandsBNoonSao Paulo
June 23Brazil vs. CameroonA4 p.m.Brasilia
June 23Croatia vs. MexicoA4 p.m.Recife
June 24Italy vs. UruguayDNoonNatal
June 24Costa Rica vs. EnglandDNoonBelo Horizonte
June 24Japan vs. ColombiaC4 p.m.Cuiaba
June 24Greece vs. Ivory CoastC4 p.m.Fortaleza
June 25Nigeria vs. ArgentinaFNoonPorto Alegre
June 25Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. IranFNoonSalvador
June 25Honduras vs. SwitzerlandE4 p.m.Manaus
June 25France vs. EcuadorE4 p.m.Rio de Janeiro
June 26United States vs. GermanyGNoonRecife
June 26Portugal vs. GhanaGNoonBrasilia
June 26South Korea vs. BelgiumH4 p.m.Sao Paulo
June 26Algeria vs. RussiaH4 p.m.Curitiba

Spain vs. Netherlands

Peter Dejong/Associated Press

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":

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:

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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