After a stellar opening game that saw host Brazil rally from an early 1-0 deficit against a strong-looking Croatian squad (we’ll just ignore the fact that Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura completely botched a call, awarding Brazil the penalty kick that put the home side in front for good), the opening weekend of the World Cup presents some mouth-watering matchups.
So if you don’t have time to sit in front of the TV to watch multiple games per day throughout the weekend, here’s a quick highlight of what not to miss Friday through Sunday (plus Monday’s match we’ve all been looking forward to).
Friday, June 13
Match: Spain (0-0) v. the Netherlands (0-0)
Time: 1 p.m.
Why you can’t miss it: If this isn’t the best first-round matchup then only one other can top it (see Saturday’s can’t-miss game). But it’s tough to top a rematch of the 2010 final, yet that’s what World Cup 2014 has handed to us on a most-appetizing platter. The only drawback of this game is that Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal has made no secret that he’ll line the Dutch up in a defensive formation similar to the one that made the 2010 final an ugly affair.
This year’s cast will have five defenders.
But maybe van Gaal will open things up to test an aging Spanish squad that is looking to prove it’s still the world’s best team. (The Spaniards have won the last two European Championships and the last World Cup.)
Whichever team wins this game will be on the fast track to winning Group B. And winning this group (which includes Australia and Chile) is extremely important. The group runner-up will most likely face Brazil in the first round of the knockout stages. The winner of the group goes to the opposite side of the bracket and won’t have to worry about the hosts until the finals.
Saturday, June 14
Match: England (0-0) v. Italy (0-0)
Time: 4 p.m.
Why you can’t miss it: England against Italy in a group opener, are you kidding me? I think I’m more excited about this game than any other group game, period.
It’s two of the world’s biggest names in soccer going head to head in a challenging group where no one can afford to lose. Uruguay and Costa Rica are also in the group, and Uruguay also have big expectations to advance.
Italy has a phenomenal squad. They will miss midfielder Riccardo Montolivo, but the Azzurri have plenty to fill the void with. The offense is good enough that world-renowned striker Mario Balotelli might find himself on the bench because his form hasn’t been up to par lately.
England haven’t won a World Cup since hosting in 1966. Yet every four years the furor in Great Britain rises to a crescendo as to why this World Cup is the one the Three Lions could win. And this year is no different, though a young squad has a lot to live up to and must blend with an aging group of talented players.
Clear your schedule (there are a total of four games on Saturday), sit back and enjoy. Even if the game ends 0-0, it’s going to be fantastic.
Sunday, June 15
Match: Argentina (0-0) v. Bosnia and Herzegovina (0-0)
Time: 4 p.m.
Why you can’t miss it: In an attempt to be completely open, when I’m not pulling for the US, I’m pulling for Argentina. I love me some Argentina football. And this team is loaded. The question is, can they mesh. In friendlies leading up to the World Cup, La Albiceleste won two games by a combined 5-0. Now they open group play against the toughest competitor in a pretty easy group.
Bosnia and Herzegovina aren’t pushovers, but they also aren’t Argentina. You have to imagine B&H will pack in the defense and hope for a 0-0 draw or to somehow score on a counterattack. It’ll be your classic matchup of the powerful offense vs. the stubborn defense. Watch for B&H to pack in nine men defensively to clog up the defensive end and hope to keep Argentina scoreless for 80 minutes. Then the last 10, B&H will try and open it up to nick a goal late.
Monday, June 16
Match: USA (0-0) v. Ghana (0-0)
Time: 4 p.m.
Why you can’t miss it: Yes, it’s not the weekend. Who cares. We just want to give you a heads up of when the US opener is. Mark it in your calendar. Set it in your phone. The Americans’ chances of getting out of the group rest on this game. We’ll have plenty more to preview this matchup in the coming days. We’re just reminding you not to forget.