By DAN KARELL
By now, you’ve heard the news.
Earlier today, the U.S. Men’s National Team was drawn into Group G of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, where they’ll face Germany, Ghana, and Portugal in what will be a major test for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and the entire squad.
But don’t fret. Even if you’re disappointed with the results of the draw in relation to the United States, there are still plenty of other top-notch matches to watch at next summer’s tournament. For starters, sticking in Group G, you have Germany and Ghana facing off, which could see the Boateng brothers playing against each other again, with Kevin-Prince lining up with Ghana and Jerome suiting up with Germany.
The opening match of the World Cup features Brazil against Croatia in Sao Paulo on what will surely be an emotional day for the entire country as the Seleçao host the World Cup for the first time since 1950. Also in the opening days of the tournament, viewers will be treated to a rematch of the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands in Group B.
Here are 10 World Cup Group Stage matches you won’t want to miss, in no particular order:
BRAZIL vs. CROATIA (June 12, Arena Corinthians, Sao Paulo)
The first of 64 World Cup matches will place on Thursday, June 12, at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, which just suffered a fatal construction accident that saw two workers killed and pushed back the finish time of the stadium until April.
Meanwhile for Brazil, it represents an emotional moment as they host the World Cup for the first time in 64 years, and with the protest movement that exploded this past summer at the Confederations Cup, you can bet that there will be plenty of attention on the Brazilian public to see how they react before, during, and after the game.
On the field, Brazil is likely to be the favorite but there’s hope in Croatia that former captain Nico Kovac can turn the nation’s fortunes around. Having Mario Mandzukic and Luka Modric doesn’t hurt either.
MEXICO vs. CAMEROON (June 13, Arena Das Dunas, Natal)
Plenty has been made of Mexico’s horrid Hexagonal campaign, nearly missing out on the World Cup if not for the help of the U.S. Men’s National Team.
Now with Miguel Herrera confirmed to coach the team through the World Cup and beyond, the questions will now be if Herrera can integrate his European-based players into his 5-3-2 system, as well as potentially convincing Carlos Vela to come back to El Tri.
Their first match of the World Cup comes against a talented Cameroon side, but more importantly, it’s currently scheduled to be played in the heat and humidity of the tropical Natal, in Northeast Brazil. It could feel somewhat similar to high noon at Estadio Azteca in the summer. It might be just what Mexico needs to start the tournament off right.
SPAIN vs. NETHERLANDS (June 13, Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador)
We only have to wait until the third match of the tournament to see a rematch of the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands.
While that match was played in the winter in Johannesburg, this one will have a bit of a different atmosphere in the steamy setting of Salvador in the northeast of Brazil. Both Spain and Holland walked right through qualifying with hardly any problems, but Spain was shown its limitations in the Confederations Cup final while the Netherlands was embarrassed at Euro 2012.
This match could also be the first official game for Brazilian-born forward Diego Costa, who announced his intention to file a one-time switch to Spain in October. It will be interesting to see the reception he’ll get from the Brazilian crowd.
ARGENTINA vs. BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA (June 15, Maracana, Rio de Janeiro)
The Maracana has seen it’s fair share of great games over the course of the stadium’s 64 year life, and this could be another.
Assuming everyone eligible is healthy for the match, this could be a goal-fest for the World Cup ages. Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain formed a lethal partnership in qualifying while Sergio Aguero can’t stop scoring in the English Premier League. For Bosnia though, with Miralem Pjanic pulling the strings for Vedad Ibisevic and and Edin Dzeko, the Dragons could be a dark horse to make it out of Group F.
FRANCE vs. HONDURAS (June 15, Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre)
This game doesn’t scream out “must-watch” in terms of players on the field, but it should be an interesting game to watch due to the recent history of the French national team.
Les Blues memorably imploded in the 2010 World Cup with Nicolas Anelka leading a revolt in the squad. In Euro 2012, France was knocked out by eventual champions Spain, and it took a 3-0 victory at home against Ukraine in the World Cup qualifying playoffs to even make it to Brazil.
So France’s first World Cup match will likely have a high amount of pressure placed on the players to get off to a good start and show the fans that the team is making progress.
GERMANY vs. GHANA (June 21, Estadio Castelao, Fortaleza)
This one’s already being touted as the battle of the Boatengs.
Jerome Boateng and his half-brother Kevin-Prince both came up through the ranks of Hertha Berlin and the German youth system, only for Kevin-Prince to decide to represent Ghana in international competitions just weeks ahead of the 2010 World Cup. Kevin-Prince not only played for Ghana then but scored against the USA and later played his brother and Germany in both team’s final group stage match.
Now, four years later, the two brothers are set to meet again in the second match for each team in the 2014 World Cup.
A sort of side storyline to this game is that Fortaleza has a sizable Afro-Brazilian population, and it will be interesting to see if the local fans end up supporting Ghana, or any of the other African nations for that matter.
BELGIUM vs. RUSSIA (June 22, Maracana, Rio de Janeiro)
Like France, Belgium’s match against Russia at the Maracana is a chance to prove that they truly belong in the world’s elite.
Marc Wilmots have an embarrassment of riches all across his lineup, from Thibaut Courtois and Simon Mignolet in goal to Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, and Kevin Mirallas on wings to Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke up top. The Red Devils steamrolled through qualifying but they’ll face an interesting opponent in Russia, coached by Fabio Capello.
NETHERLANDS vs. CHILE (June 23, Arena Corinthians, Sao Paulo)
By this point of the World Cup, both the Netherlands and Chile could be fighting for a place in the knockout stage, which should make this match a must-watch affair.
Neither side is exactly blessed with defenders but they are certainly blessed with more than enough wingers and forward options. Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben, and Wesley Sneijder vs. Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, and Matias Fernandez. This could be a fun one.
JAPAN vs. COLOMBIA (June 24, Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba)
The last two times that Colombia played at a World Cup, they couldn’t make it out of the group stage.
This time, with their impressive qualification campaign and the play of forward Radamel Falcao, expectations are high once again for the Cafeteros. This match against Japan could be a crucial one for both sides, and it’s going to be a great chance to see two teams who like to attack constantly go up against one another.
Japan drew with Holland and beat Belgium last month, showing that they can compete with anyone in the world and are ready to show how much they’ve improved in the last four years.
ITALY vs. URUGUAY (June 24, Arena Das Dunas, Natal)
This game might not have anything on the line in terms of making the knockout stages of the World Cup, but it should still be a fun one to witness.
In a rematch of the third-place game from the Confederations Cup, Cesare Prandelli and his squad will face off against the plucky Uruguayans in the hot and sweaty atmosphere likely to be present in Natal. What this game should provide is strong tackles, talented wingers, and the chance to see Diego Forlan for possibly the last time on the international stage.
What do you think of these selections? Which games outside of the USMNT ones are you most interested in?
Share your thoughts below.