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14 World Cup Group Stage Games You Need To Watch (And Why)

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WORLD CUP BRAZIL
Participants take part in the opening ceremony of the 2014 FIFA World Cup at the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo on June 12, 2014, prior to the opening Group A football match between Brazil and Croatia. AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS-XAVIER MARIT (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS-XAVIER MARIT/AFP/Getty Images) | FRANCOIS-XAVIER MARIT via Getty Images

The World Cup is here, finally. Are you ready?

With 32 teams from across the globe coming together in Brazil to vie for the most coveted trophy in sports, the 2014 World Cup will be an event unlike any other. International superstars like Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi will be looking to create legacy-defining moments of brilliance to earn a place among the game's all-time legends like Pele and Maradona. Traditional football powers like Italy, Germany and Uruguay will aim to rekindle past glories while tenacious underdogs from Algeria, Japan and the United States attempt to shock teams in the sport's premier tier. Meanwhile, defending 2010 champion Spain will aim to dazzle fans and opponents alike with its mesmerizing tika-taka style.

From the opening match between the hosts and Croatia through the final on July 13, the world will be celebrating every goal, lamenting every controversial referee's decision, jeering every dive and hanging on every moment on -- and off -- the fields in Brazil. Whether you're a lifelong footie fanatic or a casual fan just looking to join in the quadrennial fun, here are more than a dozen matches in the Group Stage that you should watch as well as some background information to help you understand the stakes:

  • June 17: Brazil vs. Mexico
    AP
    Why To Watch: After nearly missing the World Cup during a tumultuous qualifying campaign that included multiple disappointments and coaches, Mexico reached Brazil (with a little help from its rivals in the U.S.). With a chance to rewrite its story, the talented but disjointed Mexican team will get a crack at the hosts in its second match in Group A. Brazil will be favored and have the support of the crowd but Chicharito and Mexico have proven to be full of surprises, good and bad. After Miguel Herrera took over as coach, El Tri roared past New Zealand 9-3 in a two-leg playoff to clinch one of 32 spots at the World Cup.

    TIME: 3 p.m. ET
    TV: ESPN
  • June 18: Spain vs. Chile
    Getty Images
    Why To Watch: Pele believes in Chile. The legendary Brazilian expects the talented Chilean side to make a deep run in the World Cup despite being lumped into a group withs Spain and the Netherlands. Boasting a strong record during the buildup to the World Cup that included a draw with Spain and a win over England at Wembley, Chile should not be in awe of the defending World Cup champions.

    TIME: 3 p.m. ET
    TV: ESPN
  • June 19: Uruguay vs. England
    AP
    Why To Watch: Uruguay's Luis Suarez solidified himself as one of the world's foremost attacking threats during a stellar 2013-2014 campaign for Liverpoool. In this Group D matchup, several of Suarez' Liverpool teammates will have to contend with him. Uruguay, a two-time World Cup champion, made a thrilling run to the semifinals in 2010 while England has only twice advanced beyond the quarterfinals.

    TIME: 3 p.m. ET
    TV: ESPN
  • June 22: United States vs. Portugal
    Getty Images
    Why To Watch: New York jets coach Rex Ryan admits he doesn't know much about the world's football. But he might know enough to understand what the suspect American defense is up against when it faces Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal.
    "I understand they got a guy that's pretty decent," Ryan said when Portugal trained at the Jets' facility, via NJ.com. "If all you got is one name, you're pretty good, I think. Then somebody said he made $28 million on his contract alone and I was, like, 'What?' Golly. So Seth [Ryan's son] is now kicking a soccer ball and not a football."

    TIME: 6 p.m. ET
    TV: ESPN
  • June 23: Cameroon vs. Brazil
    Getty Images
    Why To Watch: While every game involving Brazil is appointment television, this matchup against the darlings of the 1990 World Cup has the potential to be especially entertaining. With veteran striker Samuel Eto'o captaining a Cameroon side that also includes Barcelona midfielder Alex Song, Les Lions Indomptables could have the mix of toughness and finishing prowess to pull off another upset. Add in 18-year-old Fabrice Olinga and this could be a match to remember.

    TIME: 4 p.m. ET
    TV: ESPN
  • June 24: Italy vs. Uruguay
    Getty Images
    Why To Watch: With England playing Costa Rica in the other Group D match at the same time, these two traditional World Cup powers may be playing for one spot in the next round. Italy will need to contend with Uruguay's potent attacking tandem of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. At the other end of the field, fiery Italian forward Mario Balotelli will be looking to make his mark in Brazil.

    TIME: 12 p.m. ET
    TV: ESPN
  • June 24: Greece vs. Ivory Coast
    Getty Images
    Why To Watch: Greece may not have much star power but it showed at Euro 2004 that it can shock the world with discipline and defense. Giving Greek fans hope of another stunner is the presence of Orestis Karnezis in goal. While playing with Granada in La Liga this season, Karnezis stymied Barcelona with a stunning display of saves (and a few lucky bounces) in crucial game at the end of the season. In this key Group C clash, Karnezis will be tested by striker Didier Drogba and the Ivory Coast's so-called "Golden Generation." Tipped as the sleeping giant of African soccer, the Ivory Coast's window for a deep run may be closing as key players age.

    TIME: 4 p.m. ET
    TV: ESPN2
  • June 26: United States vs. Germany
    Getty Images
    Why To Watch: For the U.S. team and its fans, it could all come down to this game. With Portugal playing Ghana at the same time, the Americans will face Germany. Provided the Yanks can pick up points in their previous two games, a spot in the knockout stage could be on the line. The Germans arrive in Brazil as the No. 2 team in the world in the latest FIFA rankings. The best chance for the Americans may be that Germany has already secured a spot in the next round and doesn't need to fight for a result.

    TIME: 12 p.m. ET
    TV: ESPN
  • June 12: Brazil vs. Croatia
    Getty Images
    Why To Watch: In the opening match of the 2014 World Cup, the hosts will take on Croatia in Sao Paulo. Wearing the No. 10 shirt, Neymar will lead the Selecao against the team ranked No. 18 in the world in the latest FIFA rankings.

    Time: 4 p.m. ET
    TV: ESPN

    What Happened? Brazil survived a strong challenge from Croatia, 3-1. Croatia took an early lead on an own goal by Brazil defender Marcelo. Thanks to Neymar and a controversial penalty decision by the referee, the hosts rallied for the win.
  • June 13: Spain vs. Netherlands
    AP
    Why To Watch: In a rematch of the cagey final of the 2010 World Cup, defending champion Spain will again test itself against the Netherlands. With a load of stars from Barcelona and Real Madrid of La Liga, Spain, atop the latest FIFA rankings, will attempt to dazzle both fans and foes with its scintillating tiki-taka passing. The Dutch will counter with toughness and a talented trio of attackers in Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder.

    TIME: 3 p.m. ET
    TV: ESPN

    What Happened: Inspired by an amazing, acrobatic goal from Robin Van Persie, the Netherlands overcame an early 1-0 deficit and roared to a http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/13/netherlands-spain-world-cup-2014-goals_n_5493315.html?utm_hp_ref=sports over Spain.
  • June 14: England vs. Italy
    Getty Images
    Why To Watch: In a high-profile, high-stakes Group D matchup, England and Italy will tangle in the Amazon. With Group D also including formidable Uruguay, both teams will be desperate for a result in this opening pairing. Manchester United stalwart Wayne Rooney will lead England's attack corps against legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

    TIME: 6 p.m. ET
    TV: ESPN

    What Happened: The "Rumble in the Jungle" did not disappoint as these former World Cup champions traded goals in frenetic first half. In the second half, Italy striker Mario Balotelli delivered the knockout blow with a header in the 50th minute.
  • June 15: Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina
    Getty Images
    Why To Watch: Messi. Argentina doesn't have home-nation advantage and hasn't advanced beyond the World Cup quarterfinals since 1990. But Argentina does have Lionel Messi, the diminutive Barcelona dynamo who can further establish himself as one of the game's all-time greats with a strong showing in Brazil.

    TIME: 6 p.m. ET
    TV: ESPN

    What Happened: Argentina was gifted an early 1-0 lead after a free kick from Lionel Messi led to a Bosnia-Herzegovina own goal but was otherwise held in check during a cagey first half. In the 65th minute, Messi delivered an impressive goal to double the Argentina lead. Bosnia-Herzegovina would pull back a goal in the closing minutes but Argentina picked up the win and the full three points.
  • June 16: Portugal vs. Germany
    Getty Images
    Why To Watch: This Group Stage matchup of two teams ranked in the top five spots of the latest FIFA rankings pits Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal (4) against Germany (2). Having won the Champions League with Real Madrid in May and received the prestigious Ballon d'Or in January, Ronaldo will be looking to cap a career year with a legacy-defining performance in Brazil. To start, he'll be up against a German team stocked with stars who have played together on Bundesliga powers Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. With the United States and Ghana, not at the same level but not pushovers, also dropped into Group G, both teams will need to get off to good starts to advance as expected.

    TIME: 12 p.m. ET
    TV: ESPN

    What Happened: Germany is ready for the World Cup, extremely ready. Portugal may not have been. With Thomas Muller netting a hat trick, Germany overran Portugal in a 4-0 rout. A pair of first-half yellow cards for Pepe cost Portugal against Germany and will keep him out of the team's next match, against the United States.
  • June 16: United States vs. Ghana
    Getty Images
    Why To Watch: To have any hope of advancing out of the Group Stage, the United States likely needs to overcome its World Cup nemesis: Ghana. The Black Stars have dealt the U.S. Cup-ending defeats in 2010 and 2006. Both teams will be desperate to get off to a good start in Brazil with matches looming against European powers Germany and Portugal.

    TIME: 6 p.m. ET
    TV: ESPN

    What Happened: With Clint Dempsey scoring just 30 seconds into the match, the U.S. team got off to a dream start. Things got more difficult and painful from there. The Americans were hit with injuries in the first half and Ghana scored a stunning equalizer deep into the second half. The U.S. team seemed to barely be holding onto a draw when reserve defender John Brooks delivered a stunning match-winning goal off a corner kick in the 86th minute.
 
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