Maracana Stadium: Best World Cup 2014 Fixtures Scheduled for Iconic Ground

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistJune 12, 2014

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - SEPTEMBER 10:  Andres Iniesta of Spain and Arturo Vidal of Chile in action during the Spain v Chile international friendly at Stade de Geneve on September 10, 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

The Maracana is the most iconic football stadium in Brazil. It is also the site of one of the most infamous chapters in the nation's sporting history, the 2-1 defeat by Uruguay in the 1950 FIFA World Cup final.

That match left a scar on the psyche of Brazil, but the nation rebounded in style to claim five World Cup trophies since the Maracana was silenced.

As the showpiece venue of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the Maracana will host four matches in the group stage, with three in particular standing out.

Here are the games set to take place at the Maracana during the group stages:

Group Stage Matches at the Maracana
FArgentinaBosnia and HerzegovinaJun. 1511:00 p.m. (BST) 6:00 p.m. ET
BSpainChileJun. 1811:00 p.m. (BST) 6:00 p.m. ET
HBelgiumRussiaJun. 2211:00 p.m. (BST) 6:00 p.m. ET
EEcuadorFranceJun. 259:00 p.m. (BST) 4:00 p.m. ET

All four games are intriguing, particularly Spain's clash with Chile. The timing of France's meeting with Ecuador could also make that game crucial, although the French will hope to have sealed qualification by then.

Here's a closer look at the key games from the four fixtures at the Maracana:


Spain vs. Chile

Undoubtedly the highlight, current champions Spain could well be matched style point for style point by Chile. Both teams rely on a classy, possession-based game.

Spain's fidelity to tiki-taka football is firmly established. After all, it has taken them to victory at two European Championships and the last World Cup.

Chile, however, are not found lacking when it comes to moving the ball with pace and imagination. BBC Sport South American football writer Tim Vickery has highlighted Chile's penchant for expressive, attractive football:

The seeds were planted by Marcelo Bielsa, who took the team to the last World Cup. His distinctive recipe is high-tempo attacking football, pressing the opponents high up the pitch and using plenty of width.

When Bielsa took the team to South Africa 2010, Chile had not won a World Cup match for 48 years. And aside from the 1962 campaign, when they hosted the competition and came third, their previous victory had been in 1950. It was not so hard for the Bielsa team to do better. Capturing the hearts of the neutrals with their swashbuckling style was a bonus.

Current coach Jorge Sampaoli has maintained the style developed four years ago. His squad boasts intelligence and skill in attack, courtesy of La Liga forwards Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas.

Further back there is energy and physical power in the form of Juventus wing-back Mauricio Isla. Sampaoli's side will certainly bring the best out of Spain.

And given that the Netherlands also occupy this group, the outcome of Spain vs. Chile is likely to be crucial.


Belgium vs. Russia

Belgium's Group H encounter with Russia should provide fascinating viewing. Like Chile, the Belgians are widely expected to make their mark in Brazil.

The Belgium squad is littered with prominent talent from the Premier League. Players such as Manchester City centre-back Vincent Kompany and Chelsea winger Eden Hazard will look to stamp their authority on Group H.

But if Belgian hopes are going to be quashed, it will be the Russians who do it. Fabio Capello's team represent the biggest threat to Belgium's anticipated dominance of the group.

Russia won't be as free-flowing as they've been in recent tournaments. But the squad still contains clever midfielders such as Alan Dzagoev and Igor Denisov.

The main issue will be whether ageing striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov can trouble Kompany and the Belgium defence.


Argentina vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina

This match may well prove to be a procession to victory for Argentina, but the performance of Brazil's fiercest footballing rivals at the home of the national game, will garner a lot of attention.

While the host nation are the tournament favourites, Argentina are second per Odds Shark. It's a justifiable billing, given the ample talent the Argentines possess in attack.

Their fabled quartet of Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria must already be giving World Cup defenders nightmares.

The foursome will be expected to prove they can play to their reputations and obvious quality against a Bosnia and Herzegovina squad likely to have trouble escaping the group.

Even in an initial group match, which is a traditionally cagey affair, anything less than a comprehensive Argentina win will be deemed a disappointment. If Messi and company thrive under that pressure, the results will make for spectacular viewing.

If they buckle, the ferocity of criticism from the press will be equally noteworthy.


Once these four matches are consigned to history, the Maracana will host a last-16 tie, followed by one quarter-final, per The Stadium Guide. Then the stadium will re-open its doors for the final on Sunday, July 13.

Brazil will be widely expected to walk out at the Maracana on that day and seize a perfect opportunity to forever vanquish the bitter memories of 1950. But don't be surprised if Argentina are also present, determined to inflict another wound on Brazil's sporting psyche.