With World Cup 2014 edging closer and closer, it’s time for us all to meticulously prepare for the month of thrilling action ahead of us.
By now, we should all have crates of our chosen refreshment waiting patiently for us in the fridge, seating plans arranged and numerous alarms set to keep up with the Brazilian time zone.
Indeed, we wouldn’t advise missing a single kick of this summer’s tournament, and with that in mind, below is a guide to where you can kick back and enjoy the group-stage action with a glance at some of the biggest opening fixtures:
Brazil vs. Croatia, June 12
There’s nothing quite like a World Cup curtain-raiser, is there? We’ve seen some quite remarkable matchups to kick World Cups off over recent tournaments: Senegal’s shock 1-0 victory over the holders, France back in 2002 and Germany’s thrilling 4-2 triumph over Costa Rica four years later to name a couple.
Even a match that was far from mouth-watering on paper in 2010, South Africa vs. Mexico, was thrilling from first minute to last with the magnitude of the occasion gripping the worldwide football audience.
This year, with Brazil and Croatia kicking off the World Cup, a snoozefest is far from expected once again as Sao Paolo writes its name in the history books.
Five-time champions Brazil have endless pressure on their shoulders to keep the famous trophy on their shores, with the nation failing to progress beyond the quarter-finals since their 2002 triumph.
They’re certainly coming into the competition in the right kind of form to do so, though, winning 13 of their 14 international fixtures over the course of 12 months, according to SoccerWay.
In that time, they’ve kept nine clean sheets and looked in imperious form, summed up by their 2013 Confederations Cup victory which saw them dispose of world champions, Spain, 3-0 in the final.
However, Croatia aren’t the kind of side to just roll over and accept defeat, and they harbour some of Europe’s best talent in their ranks.
With the likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Darijo Srna at manager Niko Kovac’s disposal, the Croats are more than capable of spoiling Brazil’s party, and Kovac himself said that his players will be giving everything to do just that—per UEFA.com:
The whole world will be watching, two or three billion people. I hope they will see our national team fighting on every square centimetre of the pitch. They are the hosts, their fans will be cheering for them, but, as much as it is nice for them, at the same time it will be hard—the pressure will be on them. We will go into the competition, the match, without the pressure. We will give our best and I hope there will be a positive outcome.
If Croatia can put up the kind of fight and show the grit that saw them qualify for the tournament through the play-off stage, it’ll be far from a comfortable 90 minutes for the star-studded Brazilians.
What we know for sure, though, is that no matter the outcome, World Cup 2014’s opening fixture will captivate billions around the globe.
Prediction: Brazil 2-1 Croatia
Germany vs. Portugal, June 16
When Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund reached the final of 2012-13’s Champions League by dumping out Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively, there were murmurs of Germany taking the title of Europe’s football superpower.
Though this season’s all-Spanish Champions League final may well have silenced those murmurs, the Germans will be in a determined mood to show the world what they’re made of as they chase their fourth World Cup title.
Standing in their way, though, are Portugal, who happen to boast a certain Cristiano Ronaldo within their ranks.
The Real Madrid forward has enjoyed the best season of his life with the Spanish giants, winning the Champions League, breaking records and being attractive enough to pose naked on the cover of Vogue.
Adding World Cup glory would be the icing on the cake for the mercurial Ronaldo, who has failed to light up previous tournaments with his beloved Portugal.
According to SoccerWay, Ronaldo has scored just two World Cup goals in his career—one in the 2006 competition against Iran and one during Portugal’s 7-0 demolition of North Korea in 2010.
It’s a statistic that the 29-year-old will be desperate to improve on in Brazil, but he’ll have his work cut out to do so against the stubborn Germans.
Of their last eight matches, Germany have kept six clean sheets—per SoccerWay—including their 1-0 victory over England at Wembley back in November.
It’s hardly surprising, though, is it? With the best goalkeeper in the world, Manuel Neuer, between their sticks and defenders such as Phillipp Lahm and Mats Hummels protecting him, Germany have become one of the hardest teams in the world to break down.
Combine that with the ferocious talent of their forward players and it’s not difficult to work out why FIFA ranks Germany as the second-best team on the planet.
These sides met in the World Cup back in 2006, where the hosts dominated to see off Portugal 3-1 in the third-place play-off in a tournament that promised so much for both nations.
This time around, all 22 sets of legs will be fresh in Salvador on June 16, where both sides will be looking for the perfect start in a tough-looking group with Ghana and USA.
If Ronaldo can find a way to fire, as he did against Bayern Munich in this season’s Champions League semi-final, then Portugal will make a game of Group G’s opener.
However, with the likes of Thomas Mueller, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Marco Reus to contend with, the Portuguese forward may not be given a chance to make an impact.
Prediction: Germany 3-1 Portugal
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