World Cup games to stay up (or get up) for

Brazil v Croatia, June 13 (6am)

The opening game of the tournament can set a template for the rest of the competition, and home fans will be fervently hoping the host nation can get off to a flyer. Brazil is the favourite to go all the way, for obvious reasons. It normally has enough players to field three competitive teams. The world will be watching to see the impact Neymar can have; he is the face of the tournament. The Croatians are no mugs but it is hard to seen anything other than an opening night win for Brazil.

England face tough games against Italy and Uruguay. Photo: AFP

England face tough games against Italy and Uruguay. Photo: AFP

Spain v The Netherlands, June 14 (5am)

A match of great interest to Australians, for obvious reasons, but also for the world at large as the Dutch can gain revenge on their conquerors in the last World Cup fi nal. Spain won that decider more comfortably than the 1-0 scoreline suggests. Spain has subsequently won the European Championship again, while club sides Real Madrid and Sevilla dominated Europe’s Champions League and Europa League this year. Holland under Louis van Gaal is rebuilding. Spain is ageing, but still a potent force. Australia v Chile June 14 On paper, Australia should be no match for Chile. It is in a rebuilding phase and its opponent is at its peak, apart from the absence of striker Arturo Vidal. Considering the overall strength of the group, Chile knows anything less than three points in its opening match will almost certainly prove its undoing. That may be just what the Socceroos need. There is no pressure on them, all they have to do is perform.

England v Italy, June 15 (8am)

Clash of two of Europe’s heavyweights – and the loser will be under the pressure to qualify for the knockout stage. That, and the steamy conditions, mean the smart money would be on a draw. England is likely to field a new-look side under Roy Hodgson, who has picked inexperienced internationals like the Southampton duo Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert, Liverpool starlet Raheem Sterling and Everton young gun Ross Barkley. Their presence, even off the bench, ensures a livelier-looking England than we are used to. Italy has won nine of the 24 meetings between the sides, England eight with seven drawn. England has, however, scored more goals – 30 to 27.

Brazil kick off the tournament against Croatia. Photo: Getty Images

Brazil kick off the tournament against Croatia. Photo: Getty Images

Argentina v Bosnia-Herzegovina, June 16 (8am)

There is something poetic about Argentina playing its opening group stage at the Maracana, home of its arch-rival. Given the venue also hosts the fi nal, La Albiceleste would dearly love to stamp their authority onfootball’s most iconic venue. They squandered a golden opportunity four years ago but have the most potent attack anywhere: Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero. For Bosnia, this is the first time it has qualified for a major tournament as an independent nation. It’s not the strongest group and with star striker Edin Džeko in top form, it may not be here for a holiday.

Germany v Portugal, June 17 (2am)

If this World Cup was played in Europe, Germany would be favourite. There is no more well-rounded team than Die Nationalmannschaft, who combine elite quality in every position with a matured mid-20s age range. Yet playing in South America won’t be comfortable for Joachim Low’s side, especially against a team who speaks the local lingo and will feel perfectly at home. Portugal always punches hard in major tournaments and with Cristiano Ronaldo determined to make an impact, tripping up the Germans would mark the dream start.

Australia v Netherlands, June 19 (2am)

Mathematicians worked out the Socceroos had the toughest draw of all, and with the 2010 World Cup fi nalist following on from Chile, things get even harder for Australia. Dutch strikers Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie lead a formidable attacking force against an Australian defence full of World Cup rookies with less than 40 caps between them. A goal would be good, a point extraordinary.

Colombia v Ivory Coast, June 20 (2am)

Six months ago, Colombia looked a genuine title chance, despite not having qualifi ed for a World Cup since 1998. Then star striker Radamel Falcao did his knee, with midfielder Edwin Valencia and defender Luis Perea also withdrawing. However, this is still a brilliant side. Ivory Coast boasts successful foreign exports like captain Didier Drogba and the world’s best midfi elder, Yaya Toure.

Uruguay v England, June 20 (5am)

A match that will certainly be dominated by Luis Suarez, the only doubt is whether it will be his magic or madness that will steal the headlines. The temperamental yet talented Uruguayan striker knows the English defence inside and out and he will likely be up to his old tricks to get his country a vital win. He’s no stranger to looking to the dark arts of football to win a game and the Liverpool striker will feel a point to prove against England.

Australia v Spain, June 24 (2am)

Talk about saving the worst for last. Apart from winning the 2008 European Championships, 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euros, Spain has been pretty quiet on the international stage. Add to that the fact that players the calibre of Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas were deemed surplus to requirements and you have some idea of the mountain the Socceroos will be asked to climb. Good luck.

USA v Germany, June 27 (2am)

 Australia may have got the rough end of the pineapple in the draw, but spare a thought for the USA, which didn’t fare much better. Perennial powerhouse Germany, 2010 quarter-finalist Ghana and the Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal complete the tournament’s other Group of Death. 


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