World Cup 2014: Brazil v Croatia, Spain v Netherlands and the 10 best games to watch - International - Football - The Independent

World Cup 2014: Brazil v Croatia, Spain v Netherlands and the 10 best games to watch

A look at the best games in the group stages not featuring England

It's not long until the festival of football starts in Brazil. But which of the games not featuring England should you be watching and which should you leave alone?

Brazil v Croatia – June 12, 9pm

It’s the opening game! You shouldn’t need too much encouragement to tune into this one, it’s the game football fans have been waiting to come round for four years. If that’s not enough then viewers will get an early chance to see if the Samba boys really can deliver with a nation’s hopes piled onto them.

Spain v Netherlands– June 13, 8pm

Group openers don’t come much better - this was the final from 2010. Controversially refereed by Howard Webb, Spain continued their dominance of the international game despite some heavy-handed defending from the Dutch. We’ll get to see if Spain really are a nation in decline and what Manchester United fans can expect from their new boss Louis van Gaal.

 

Uruguay v Costa Rica – June 14, 8pm

The other two teams in Group D play immediately before England. This could give pessimistic fans a chance to tell you why the Three Lions are going out at the group stage or optimistic ones a reason why England are going to go all the way.

Argentina v Bosnia-Herzegovina – June 15, 11pm

Lionel Messi – for once – didn’t have the best of domestic seasons, struggling with injury and form. It was suggested that he was saving himself for an Argentine assault on the World Cup, hosted by their biggest rivals. Bosnia offer stiffer opposition than their reputation might indicate, but this game will show us whether Messi is ready to finally deliver in a major tournament.

Read more: The 100 greatest moments in tournament history
A guide to the World Cup referees
The Independent's interactive guide to every team taking part in Brazil

Germany v Portugal – June 16, 11pm

Another clash between two heavyweights, both of these sides have seen their plans thrown into mini-crisis because of injury trouble. Cristiano Ronaldo may have returned to training but that doesn’t mean he is fully fit, while Joachim Low saw another one of his stars, Marco Reus, ruled out of the tournament after being injured in the warm-up win against Armenia.

Colombia v Ivory Coast – June 19, 5pm

Two of the tournament’s dark horses meet. Colombia had a brilliant qualifying campaign but top scorer Radamel Falcao, who scored nine goals to get Jose Pekerman’s side to Brazil, won’t be there to provide the firepower. The Elephants have a talented team on paper and always threaten, but they never quite seem to deliver, this could be a chance for both to prove the doubters wrong.

Eden Hazard leads a very talented Belgian side  

Belgium v Russia – June 22, 5pm

Another pair of dark horses, but a number of pundits truly believe Belgium have the firepower to make a run into the latter stages. Hazard, Kompany, Lukaku, Courtois… the names roll off the tongue for the Red Devils – not so much for Russia – who have 12 Premier League-based players in the 23-man squad.

Netherlands v Chile – June 23, 5pm

Another team who impressed in the Brazil-less South American qualifying campaign, Chile proved they weren’t just taking advantage of a weakened CONMEBOL section with an excellent 2-0 win at Wembley in November.

England fans will be keeping a close eye on the progress of Mario Balotelli and Italy

Italy v Uruguay – June 24, 5pm

In a best-case scenario England will have qualified comfortably by the time the third group game comes around and will be afforded the luxury of being able to rest a few players when they play Costa Rica. What’s much more likely to happen is that England fans will be watching the two games simultaneously and hoping it works out for Roy’s boys.

Ecuador v France – June 25, 9pm

Ecuador proved they were no pushovers in the battling 2-2 draw with England in a sweltering Miami and should prove a tough test for France. Les Bleus qualify easily from a group that also contains Honduras and Switzerland, but we all remember what happened in South Africa.

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