Why you should watch: Because it’s the World Cup opener. It’s really that simple.
Who you should watch: Neymar kicked off last summer’s Confed Cup with a breathtaking volley goal in the opening minutes. He will plan to kick-start Brazil’s World Cup campaign in similar fashion. On the other side, Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric will carry Croatia’s hopes for an upset bid on his shoulders. Also, watch out for Pitbull’s singing of the official anthem during the pregame ceremony. Dale!
Photo: EVARISTO SA / AFP
Spain vs. Netherlands (June 13, Salvador)
Why you should watch: For the first time in history, the group stage pits the previous World Cup’s finalists against each other. The winner of this one has the inside track to win a tough Group B, the loser faces a real uphill climb to even make it out.Who you should watch: Arjen Robben probably remains haunted to this day by his incredulous breakaway miss against Iker Casillas in the 2010 final. Robin van Persie was practically non-existent that night and will have plenty to make up for as well. Andres Iniesta, meanwhile, will look to duplicate his 2010 heroics.
Photo: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP
England vs. Italy (June 14, Manaus)
Why you should watch: If the Three Lions want to make it out of the “other” Group of Death, they probably need at least a draw against Italy, who’ve beaten England all three times they've met in major tournaments, most recently in the 2012 Euro quarterfinals.Who you should watch: Mario Balotelli will be licking his chops at the opportunity to frustrate former teammate Joe Hart, who, as an England keeper, is naturally in the spotlight as well. Andrea Pirlo “Panenka’d” the final penalty against England in 2012, and will look to tear them apart with his passing once again in his final major tournament.
Photo: Richard Heathcote/Mike Hewitt
Ghana vs. USA (June 16, Natal)
Why you should watch: The US looks to exorcise its demons against the side that knocked them out of the past two World Cups. Jurgen Klinsmann’s team feels they’re due, and they better be, because starting with a loss is not an option in Group G.
Who you should watch: Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones will have their hands full with Kevin-Prince Boateng, Sulley Muntari, Michael Essien and Kwadwo Asamoah. Both back lines are shaky, so whoever controls the midfield will likely come out on top in this crucial first match.
Photo: JAVIER SORIANO / AFP
Brazil vs. Mexico (June 17, Fortaleza)
Why you should watch: The marquee match-up in Group A doubles as a rematch of the 2012 Olympic final. Brazil could secure its ticket to the Round of 16 with a win.
Who you should watch: Oribe Peralta and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez will try to score Mexico’s first ever goal in a World Cup game against Brazil in four attempts. If Oscar and Paulinho control the midfield, the hosts should have no problems against El Tri.
Photo: LUIS ACOSTA / AFP
Uruguay vs. England (June 19, Sao Paulo)
Why you should watch: If England fails to get a result against Italy, this suddenly becomes a do-or-die match against the powerful Uruguayans. Not a good situation to find oneself in.
Who you should watch: Luis Suarez knows all about scoring against the English, but look for Edinson Cavani to do some self-promoting to Premier League managers as well. Across the pitch, all eyes will be on Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard to lead England to the knockout rounds.
Photo: Friedemann Vogel / Getty Images South America
Germany vs. Ghana (June 21, Fortaleza)
Why you should watch: Jerome and Kevin-Prince Boateng are brothers playing for opposite sides, making this a true family feud affair. As if you wouldn’t watch this one anyway. Every match in this Group of Death is a must-see.
Who you should watch: Aside from the Boateng brothers, keep an eye on Asamoah Gyan. The Black Stars’ captain will be called upon against a defense that has often been the Germans’ achilles’ heel. In turn, monitor if the center back pairing of Mats Hummels and Per Mertesacker can match Ghana’s speed.
Photo: Clive Mason/Simon Hofmann
USA vs. Portugal (June 22, Manaus)
Why you should watch: This one figures to be a real treat for Americans as the USA has never faced Cristiano Ronaldo before. The Stars and Stripes secured a famous win over Portugal in the 2002 group stage to reach the knockout rounds. They might need another for history to repeat itself.
Who you should watch: Ronaldo can win games by himself, but Tim Howard can also save results on his own. Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey will try to exploit Portugal on the counter. Fasten your seatbelts, this game could be a fast and furious affair.
Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
Italy vs. Uruguay (June 24, Natal)
Why you should watch: Italy and Uruguay have won six World Cups between them, and offered highly entertaining football in this summer’s Confed Cup third-place match. The winner will likely top this difficult group, the loser might be eliminated.
Who you should watch: This may be the last World Cup for the iconic Gigi Buffon, and he’ll face his toughest challenge in Uruguay’s one-two punch of Suarez and Cavani. Buffon won’t be able to do it alone, but thankfully Italy’s always-solid defense also boasts the likes of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.
Photo: Buda Mendes/Maurizio Lagana
USA vs. Germany (June 26, Recife)
Why you should watch: This could be a win-or-go-home situation for the USA. The Yanks’ manager Jurgen Klinsmann won a World Cup with Germany in 1990, then led them to a surprise third-place finish in 2006 as manager. His assistant back then? Current Germany coach Joachim Loew.
Who you should watch: The USA defense faces its toughest task against the likes of Mesut Ozil, Mario Goetze and Thomas Muller. Particularly Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson, two of the German-American Bundesliga veterans in Klinsmann’s squad, will have to deal with their creative playmakers.
Photo: David Madison/Martin Rose