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A Beginner’s Guide To World Cup Soccer

If you can watch just one soccer match per day, pick these.

You want to get into the World Cup, but don’t know who or which game to watch. Normally, I’d suggest taking vacation days to sit on a couch and watch grown men play a game. I’ll assume, however, that most of you have “kids to attend to” or “a life” and can maybe catch one game a day, at most. Well, here is your guide to which game to watch each day for the first round of group matches. I’ve also included some handy soccer talk you can use to impress your soccer friends. If they ask follow-up questions, just kind of ignore them and squint at the screen as if you’re really paying attention.

Thursday, June 12: Brazil vs. Croatia (4:00 p.m. EDT, ESPN)
The opening day of the World Cup has provided entertainment in recent iterations, if only because any match featuring the hosts will have a great atmosphere. And if there’s a time to see Brazil, it’s on home soil for the first match. I can’t imagine too many places with a more electric atmosphere than what we’ll experience in Sao Paulo on June 12. In addition, you’ll have a talented Croatia side looking to have enough of an impact (or stem enough of the bleeding) to secure the second spot in Group A, likely at Mexico’s expense. It should be a game worth seeing.

Player to watch: Brazil’s Neymar (NAY-mar)

Insider talk: “I know Neymar is Brazil’s darling, but I think Oscar (oz-CAR) might be just as vital to Brazil’s hopes.” “Can you believe the transfer fee PSG paid for David Luiz (loo-EEZ)? Outrageous! I don’t see how they’ll fall in line with Financial Fair Play after that purchase.”

Friday, June 13: Spain vs. Netherlands (3:00 p.m. EDT, ESPN)
You will not want to miss this game. Not only is this a rematch of the 2010 World Cup Final, but this match will likely determine who wins Group B and avoids a probable matchup with Brazil in the Round of 16. The 2010 match became famous for the Netherlands’ hacking and dogged determination to prevent Spain from playing their style (mostly by hacking). The 2014 edition should be a more open affair, since both sides will be desperate to avoid Brazil. We’re also blessed to have this be both teams’ first group match, when they must go for it.

Player(s) to watch: The 20 non-goalkeepers

Insider talk: “I don’t know if Spain will be able to successfully implement the false nine again like they did at Euro 2012.”

Saturday, June 14: England vs. Italy (6:00 p.m. EDT, ESPN)
England and Italy face off in what is just as much a Group of Death (alongside Uruguay and Costa Rica) as the Germany/Portugal/Ghana/USA group. Both of these teams traditionally make it through to the knockout stages. However, with Uruguay featuring one of the world’s best strikers in Luis Suarez and having essentially home-field advantage, one of these sides will most likely make an early trip home. Neither will want to go into a match against Uruguay needing a result and both will probably expect to defeat Costa Rica, which hopefully means this will be a game full of attacking intent.

Player to watch: Wayne Rooney

Insider talk: “I hope Roy Hodgson takes the shackles off of Raheem Sterling. I think he could provide a real spark for England.”

Sunday, June 15: Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina (6:00 p.m. EDT, ESPN)

In all likelihood, these two teams should emerge from Group F, regardless of the result of this match. However, neither side will want to go into their second match with zero points. Both teams have an array of attacking talent, so this could be a real shootout. Lionel Messi remains the reason to watch any Argentina match. He’s a once-a-generation player, regardless of whether he actually wins a World Cup.

Player to watch: Messi

Insider talk: “If Argentina can get even three of Di Maria (dee muh-REE-uh), Messi (MEH-see), Aguero (uh-GWARE-oh), Lavezzi (luh-VET-zee), and Higuain (ig-why-EEN) to play to their potential, I can see them winning it all.”

Monday, June 16: Germany vs. Portugal or Ghana vs. United States (12:00/6:00 p.m. EDT, ESPN)
This is the first round of matches for the other Group of Death, featuring Germany, Portugal, Ghana, and the United States. In all likelihood, Germany will win the group (probably in entertaining fashion), so you’ll see the other sides doing anything they can to grab that second spot. Portugal features one of the world’s top players in Cristiano Ronaldo. He is not to be missed, especially in a game of this magnitude on the world’s biggest stage (and assuming his tendonitis isn’t an issue).

At 6 p.m., the United States and Ghana kick off. Now, not only will the United States go into every group match as an underdog (a position which tends to suit them), but they’ll be facing the team that has knocked them out of the last two World Cups. Ghana also knocked out the United States in the Under 20 World Cup last summer. In short, they have America’s number. This is also the United States’ best chance to grab a vital three points.

Player(s) to watch: Ronaldo (Portugal), Michael Bradley (USA)

Insider talk: “Did anyone see Ronaldo on the cover of Vogue? My stars!” “People can go on and on about the lack of Landon Donovan, but I think the decision to not bring any center backs with World Cup experience might be the biggest mistake Jurgen (YER-gen) Klinsmann (CLEANSE-mun) made”

Tuesday, June 17: Belgium vs. Algeria (12:00 EDT, ESPN)
At noon, Belgium makes its much-anticipated return to the world stage with a winnable match against Algeria. Belgium is this tournament’s “dark horse that everyone picks as their dark horse.” They’re inexperienced as a national side in tournaments, but they pack considerable talent and flair. If they can keep their nerve, they should be a delight to watch.

Player to watch: Belgium’s Eden Hazard (eh-DEEN AZ-ahrd)

Insider talk: “It’s a shame Benteke (ben-TEK-ay) got injured, but I think Lukaku (loo-KAH-koo) can lead the line brilliantly for Belgium, especially after the season he had at Everton.”

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