The 2014 World Cup started with a bang Thursday, as host country Brazil survived a stiff test from Croatia with a misleading 3-1 victory.
Yes, Brazil won by two goals, but the final one came on a counter in stoppage time after Croatia had fans on the edge of their seats with a number of potential game-tying challenges. Brazil was also the beneficiaries of a controversial penalty call to set up their second goal on a penalty kick.
In fact, the atmosphere was more inspiring than Brazil’s play on the pitch, as Michael DeCourcy of Sporting News and David Amber noted:
As Brazil's players jog onto the pitch for warm-ups, the audience reaction is more like screaming than cheering. Like at a pop music concert— Michael DeCourcy (@tsnmike) June 12, 2014
Fans across the world are anxiously anticipating their own home country’s first match. With that in mind, here is a look at the initial fixtures for every single team in the tournament.
|Brazil vs. Croatia (Brazil wins 3-1)||Thursday, June 12|
|Mexico vs. Cameroon||Friday, June 13|
|Spain vs. Netherlands||Friday, June 13|
|Chile vs. Australia||Friday, June 13|
|Colombia vs. Greece||Saturday, June 14|
|Ivory Coast vs. Japan||Saturday, June 14|
|Uruguay vs. Costa Rica||Saturday, June 14|
|England vs. Italy||Saturday, June 14|
|Switzerland vs. Ecuador||Sunday, June 15|
|France vs. Honduras||Sunday, June 15|
|Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina||Sunday, June 15|
|Iran vs. Nigeria||Monday, June 16|
|Germany vs. Portugal||Monday, June 16|
|United States vs. Ghana||Monday, June 16|
|Belgium vs. Algeria||Tuesday, June 17|
|Russia vs. South Korea||Tuesday, June 17|
Early Games To Watch
England vs. Italy
As played out as the England penalty kick jokes may be, the reality is that they have experienced heartbreak in World Cups past.
This year’s squad may not have the talent to advance deep enough to be completely crushed on an emotional level, but superstar Wayne Rooney certainly has the ability to carry a team. What’s more, he appears much more interested in team glory rather than his own individual merits, as his comments via Henry Winter of The Telegraph indicate:
I’m not a player who needs that like Cristiano Ronaldo. He has to have that and you admire him for having that. I’m more about winning things as a team. You can see how he is. He wants his moments.
If Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Jack Wilshere play up to their potential, perhaps this team will experience some of those accolades.
Italy has a game-changer of its own to counter in the form of Mario Balotelli, who led his squad to the 2012 European Championship final. Some of the potential firepower this team could have had was lost when Giuseppe Rossi was cut and Riccardo Montolivo broke his leg, but they still should challenge England.
Spain vs. Netherlands
It is nothing but an absolute treat for soccer fans to watch a rematch of the 2010 World Cup Final right off the bat.
Of course, if this game is as physical as that one was, the referees will not feel the same way. Spain and Netherlands combined for a borderline-ridiculous 14 yellow cards in that championship match, and the brute-force defense kept the game scoreless well into extra time.
Spain finally broke through with the winning goal, but Netherlands put up a noteworthy fight.
Netherlands brings their famed trio of Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben to the table against Spain again, and one of those three will tally the first goal of this match. From there though, Spain’s depth and overall skill level will take over the contest.
There is a reason that Spain, which has won the past two European Championships in addition to the most recent World Cup, is seen as one of the favorites. The combination of star power and depth will be too much for Netherlands (and much of the rest of the world) to handle, and Spain will emerge with a 2-1 victory.
Germany vs. Portugal
Germany will battle Portugal and their own injuries in this initial fixture, as a number of their front-line players are less than 100 percent.
Still, there is plenty of talent for Germany to emerge from this loaded group that also includes the United States and Ghana, but this battle with Portugal figures to be the most difficult one of the first three for the No. 2-ranked team in the FIFA world rankings.
The main reason for that is Cristiano Ronaldo, who carries this Portugal squad in much the same way that LeBron James carried the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Much like those Cavs teams, there are better squads across the game, but Ronaldo’s incredible skill is enough to have his team on the short list of contenders at this World Cup. He can take over individual games with his outside runs and elite speed and has Portugal ranked No. 4 in those FIFA rankings.
However, this team struggled when Ronaldo missed some of the final tune-ups with injury and probably won’t find itself playing too deep in the elimination stages of the World Cup. A victory over superpower Germany would change that mindset though.
Follow me on Twitter: