Just one match in, it's already clear we are in store for a scintillating World Cup.
It was unfortunate that Brazil vs. Croatia was ultimately stooped in controversy after the hosts were wrongly awarded a match-deciding penalty, but the deserving team came away with three points nonetheless, and it was still a thrilling back-and-forth match for the most part.
Should we get 63 more like the opener—just less penalties, please—it's going to be a magical month of soccer.
|Group A||Local Time||Time (ET)||Time (BST)|
|Brazil vs. Croatia (Brazil wins 3-1)||Thursday, June 12||4 p.m.||4 p.m.||9 p.m.|
|Mexico vs. Cameroon||Friday, June 13||1 p.m.||Noon||5 p.m.|
|Spain vs. Netherlands||Friday, June 13||4 p.m.||3 p.m.||8 p.m.|
|Chile vs. Australia||Friday, June 13||6 p.m.||6 p.m.||11 p.m.|
|Colombia vs. Greece||Saturday, June 14||1 p.m.||Noon||5 p.m.|
|Ivory Coast vs. Japan||Saturday, June 14||10 p.m.||9 p.m.||2 a.m. (June 15)|
|Uruguay vs. Costa Rica||Saturday, June 14||4 p.m.||3 p.m.||8 p.m.|
|England vs. Italy||Saturday, June 14||6 p.m.||6 p.m.||11 p.m.|
|Switzerland vs. Ecuador||Sunday, June 15||1 p.m.||Noon||5 p.m.|
|France vs. Honduras||Sunday, June 15||4 p.m.||3 p.m.||8 p.m.|
|Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina||Sunday, June 15||7 p.m.||6 p.m.||11 p.m.|
|Iran vs. Nigeria||Monday, June 16||4 p.m.||3 p.m.||8 p.m.|
|Germany vs. Portugal||Monday, June 16||1 p.m.||Noon||5 p.m.|
|United States vs. Ghana||Monday, June 16||7 p.m.||6 p.m.||11 p.m.|
|Belgium vs. Algeria||Tuesday, June 17||1 p.m.||Noon||5 p.m.|
|Russia vs. South Korea||Tuesday, June 17||6 p.m.||6 p.m.||11 p.m.|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||0||0||0||0||0||0|
Match you're most looking forward to on Friday?
A rematch of the last World Cup final, Spain vs. Netherlands stands as the obvious headliner of Friday's fixtures.
Disappointing showing at the 2013 Confederations Cup aside, La Roja remain as arguably the most talented side in the world.
With a midfield of Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets and Xavi, they can hold possession for as long as they want. As ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox noted, just watching Spain knock the ball around in training is mesmerizing:
This footage of a Spain training session is great https://t.co/uK6TT7YrJW Even just watching it's tough to keep up with the passing moves...— Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking) June 12, 2014
They are also strong in defense, with a reliable center-back pairing in Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique, along with the ever-dangerous Jordi Alba, who provides width, pace and another option in attack from the left.
Finding a true out-and-out striker may be Vicente del Bosque's biggest worry, but when your biggest worry is picking between Diego Costa, Fernando Torres and David Villa (or going with a false nine like Cesc Fabregas), it's hard to complain.
Throw in world-class players like Juan Mata, Koke and Santi Cazorla providing depth off the bench should Del Bosque need to change things up, and a repeat title is undoubtedly obtainable, even with Brazil, Argentina and Germany all serving as major obstacles.
On the other side, this Netherlands group may not be as good as the 2010 version—or at least as experienced—but Oranje have the pieces to beat Spain. Most notably, Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder, who make up one of the best attacking trios in the world.
Del Bosque, via ESPN's Dermot Corrigan, put it simply:
Holland have in charge a real football man, who I respect a lot. He conserves a lot of the essence of Dutch football, particularly with the players up front. The team has changed a lot in four years. But they are a team with a 'school' and a tradition. They always play well in World Cups.
The Netherlands have a load of international inexperience on defense and in the central midfield, but a move to a defensive, counter-attacking style could give Spain some problems. While it's not exactly the "Dutch way," it maximizes their potential to grab a point or three.
Either way, it's an incredibly intriguing matchup, and as Bleacher Report's Cian Fahey argued, it has been hard not to look ahead in anticipation of this matchup:
To be fair, tomorrow's game is when the tournament really gets going. Spain - Netherlands...oh my.— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) June 12, 2014
Of course, that's hardly all Friday has to offer. Mexico takes on Cameroon in a must-win match for El Tri, while Chile, arguably the most enthralling attacking team in the world, will press forward for 90 minutes and be a must-watch against Australia.