Brazil, the name is synonymous with excellence in international soccer. It also happens to be the host of the 2014 World Cup, and by the looks of the 32 teams that have qualified we all could be in for one heck of a tournament.
Why? Well, just one of the 32 national teams is making their first ever appearance. It means very few national teams will be intimidated by the stage and all the craziness that surrounds this event.
It also means the eight groups are populated with some very intriguing matchups. However, there are a few of those group games that stand out above the rest.
So, lets check out the Top 10 games of the group stage at this World Cup.
10. Spain vs. Chile (Wednesday, June 18 at 2:30p.m. ET; ESPN)
The World Cup has a funny way of helping teams on their own continents, and Spain has been struggling as of late on the international stage after doing the double of a World Cup and UEFA European championship. Brazil booted Spain 3-0 in the final of the 2013 Confederations Cup, a warm up tournament in the host country of the next year’s World Cup. Chile provides a good test for Spain, and the Spanish could wrap up a berth in the round of 16 with a win in their second match.
9. Brazil vs. Croatia (Thursday, June 12 at 3:30p.m. ET; ESPN)
All I can think of is Queen’s “Under Pressure” running on a constant loop through the heads of the Brazilian players. The country already expects the Samba Kings to win a World Cup every time it steps on the field, but this is the first time the country has hosted the tournament since 1950. That tournament ended with defeat to rival Uruguay in the final, and there will be a lot of pressure to erase those bad memories at home. Starting off with Croatia as the tournament opener should tell us a lot about Neymar and Co. Winning the opener is paramount, otherwise the pressure on the team may become too great to overcome.
8. Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina (Sunday, June 15 at 5:30p.m. ET; ESPN)
There is just one debutant in the 2014 World Cup, and Bosnia-Herzegovina is that team. Its reward is an opening round match against perhaps the most hated team in Brazil, Argentina. However, this game isn’t as big of a mismatch as one would expect. Instead, this could be the most entertaining group game of the World Cup. Both teams play with great attacking flare and feature some of the best names this World Cup has to offer. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) for Argentina versus Edin Džeko (EPL Champions Manchester City) for Bosnia-Herzegovina sounds like a must-see matchup to me. This opener could also be for the group winner in a group that isn’t too difficult to navigate (Iran and Nigeria are also in Group F).
7. USA vs. Ghana (Monday, June 16 at 5:30p.m. ET; ESPN)
While winning the so-called “group of death” will be every team’s goal, for the United States it all starts with erasing bad memories against Ghana. The Black Stars have managed to knock out Sam’s Army in each of the last two World Cups. The most famous win came in a 2-1 win in extra time during the round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. A draw in this match helps no one, so pressure will be on for both sides to get full points for a victory in this difficult group. The loser faces the tough task of having to get results against both Germany and Portugal.
6. Switzerland vs. France (Friday, June 20 at 2:30p.m. ET; ESPN)
France apparently has a flare for the dramatic, needing a three-goal victory over Ukraine just to be in this tournament. However, since then Les Bleus have looked much more like the former World Cup winners than the struggling bunch that they appeared in qualifying and in South Africa. The Swiss on the other hand blazed a good trail through World Cup qualifying and feature some of the biggest youth names in Europe. A win in this matchup could propel either squad to the top of the group after two games, but the loser may have issues with Ecuador and Honduras in the final group games.