The World Cup can be a little bit much for the average Amerian soccer fan. Sure a little footie is great, but the non-stop soccer fest that is the World Cup is overwhelming for casual fans of the game who would rather not debate Theo Walcott's omission from England's World Cup squad or waste time worrying about US defender Oguchi Oneywu's balky left knee.
Best then to leave the television off, because the good people at ESPN are broadcasting all 64 World Cup games, including snoozers like New Zealand vs. Slovakia and Honduras vs. Switzerland. There are 48 Group Stage games leading up to the Knockout Rounds and all of them can't be blockbusters like England vs. USA. So for the casual fans out there, we'll do the hard work and tell you the five games you can't miss.
Forget about soccer, for a moment, and please embrace the spectacle. The World Cup is headed to Africa for the first time in its 80-year history, and nobody really knows what to expect from the hosting Rainbow Nation. The tournament kicks off at Johannesburg's Soccer City Stadium, a mere stone's-throw away from the famous Soweto Township. Expect pomp and circumstance on a scale not seen since the 2008 Beijing Olympics. When it's all said and done, there's a game to be played, too. South Africa comes into the tournament playing well, and Bafana Bafana will want to make their country proud and avoid the dishonorable distinction of becoming the first host-country to fail to advance from the Group Stage.
The last time England met the Yanks in the World Cup, in 1950, the US pulled off one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history and beat the Brits 1-0. It's been a long and winding road for the Yanks ever since, but beating their old colonial antagonists would go a long way towards convincing the world that America can play The Beautiful Game. It will be a physical affair, with hard tackles and plenty of pushing. The US team is led by group of footballers who play in England, including goalie Tim Howard, midfielders Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, and forward Jozy Altidore, so unlike 1950, there will be no catching England off-guard. Can The Special Relationship survive soccer madness?
Call it the Michael Ballack memorial match. Germany's longtime captain will miss the World Cup due to an injury inflicted by a rash challenge from Kevin-Prince Boateng, a German-born midfielder who has chosen to play for, wait for it, Ghana. Cue dramatic music. Ballack is perhaps the most overlooked international footballer on the planet, having led Die Mannschaft to a World Cup final (2002), a European Championship Final (2008), and Third-place honors in the 2006 World Cup. Can Germany survive the absence of their industrious midfield talisman? This is the last Group Stage match for both teams, and it will go a long way towards deciding which teams advance out of the tricky and deep Group D.
Picking the best game out of the match-ups between Brazil, The Ivory Coast and Portugal is, frankly, an impossible task. We recommend that you watch all three games. Only two of these three great teams will advance out of the Group of Death, and while many consider Brazil a lock for one of those golden tickets, it would be no great surprise if they went home early for the first time since 1966. Brazil's counter-attacking system, implemented by head-coach Dunga, will have its hands-full with the potent offenses of Portugal and the Ivory Coast. Portugal played poorly in the World Cup qualifiers, while the Ivory Coast wants to make an impression in Africa after falling short at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Following disappointing exits at the 2006 World Cup and the 2008 European Championship, it remains to be seen if Dutch young guns Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben, and Wesley Sneijder can succeed where all the other Dutch stars have failed and bring the World Cup home to Holland. Commentators and analysts are bullish on the Oranje, but isn't it just like the Dutch to build up hope before letting everyone down, again. Why should this year be any different? Standing in the way of The Flying Dutchmen are The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, who are limping into the tournament and dealing with controversy surrounding captain Samuel Eto'o. If Holland wants to avoid defending champions Italy in the Round-of-16, they need to beat Cameroon.
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