England vs. Italy one of the 10 must-see group stage matches

Dirty Tackle
England vs. Italy one of the 10 must-see group stage matches
England vs. Italy one of the 10 must-see group stage matches

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is right around the corner, so it's time to get excited about the best matches in the group stage. From defending champion Spain to host favorite Brazil to perennial power Italy, several countries will be playing in can't-miss matches. There are dozens of matches before the knockout round, but here are the ten you can't miss:


Two traditional soccer powers will square off on June 14, when England takes on Italy in Manaus, Brazil. The European World Cup fixtures each will be trying to get out of a difficult Group D, which also features Uruguay and lethal striker Luis Suárez. The defensive-minded Italians will attempt to stifle Wayne Rooney and company, who will be out to dispel their underachiever label in World Cup play. England has never beaten Italy at a major tournament, and Italian striker Mario Balotelli recently provided some bulletin-board fodder by saying the Three Lions have no chance of winning this World Cup. “They have some good players, but they are no real rivals for Italy,” Balotelli said. On June 14, we’ll find out. (June 14, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)


This June 16 match likely will play a big part in determining which sides advance out of the “Group of Death.” It wouldn’t be a surprise to see either the Germans or the Portuguese win Group G, so each nation will present a tough foe for one another in Salvador, Brazil. Germany has experienced a resurgence in international play and is one of the odds-on favorites to hoist the trophy in Brazil. But Cristiano Ronaldo is a difficult force to stop, and arguably the world’s best player will be counted on to generate – and finish – plenty of Portugal’s scoring chances. He’ll need help for Portugal to knock off the well-rounded Germans in this crucial tilt. (June 16, 11:30 a.m. ET, ESPN)


In both of the previous two World Cups, the United States was eliminated by Ghana in tense, hard-fought matches decided by the slimmest of margins, with the last match between these rivals decided in extra time. If either team hopes to advance to the next round, it will need to put its best foot forward from the get-go, as they meet in each country's World Cup opener. Points against Germany and Portugal will be difficult to come by, so a victory is a must for both countries. (June 16, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)


When asked whether he feared Mexico as a group-stage rival, Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari responded in the affirmative, answering, “Mexico is always a tough opponent for us." However, historic results show Mexico to be a bit more than a “tough” opponent for Brazil. Since the turn of the century, no team has beaten Brazil more often than Mexico. Similarly, Brazil’s victory over Mexico during last summer’s Confederations Cup was its first competitive triumph against the CONCACAF nation in more than nine years. Expect a tense and entertaining encounter. (June 17, 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)


If Suárez proves healthy for this Group D clash, he’ll give the English defense a lot to worry about. His striking partner, Edinson Cavani, scored 25 goals for Paris St. Germain this season and will be a significant threat as well. Uruguay has a number of attacking options but its defense is a weak point. England stalwarts Rooney and Steven Gerrard will look to find a way through. The two sides are evenly matched. A moment of brilliance, possibly from Suárez or Rooney, might prove the difference. (June 19, 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)


The heat will be on figuratively and literally for both the U.S. and Portugal when they meet in their second Group G match in city of Manaus—located in the middle of the Amazon rainforest—on June 22. In the “Group of Death,” points will come at a premium, and for either the U.S. or Portugal to advance to the knockout stage, this game can be considered a must-win. (June 22, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)


The final day of group competition in Group B will showcase a scrappy Chilean side take on the Netherlands in Sao Paulo. Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sánchez will try to lead La Roja to the round of 16 for the second straight World Cup tournament, while Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie will lead the Oranje attack as the Netherlands will look to advance to the knockout stage for the eighth time in their history. (June 23, 11:30 a.m. ET, ESPN)


Paired in a competitive group with England and Costa Rica, it’s likely that much will be at stake when these two teams meet in their last group match. So much depends on the health of Uruguayan striker Suárez who recently underwent knee cartilage surgery. Suárez, the reigning player of the year in England, comes into the World Cup as perhaps the most devastating striker on the planet. Italy, inventors of catenaccio, has the defensive pedigree to stop him. Veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon will lead the back line and likely be joined by two Juventus teammates: Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini. For goals, they’ll look to the temperamental Balotelli, who's had his own struggles with fitness lately. On the right day, he can be a world-beater. On the wrong day, Balotelli can be a liability. (June 24, 11:30 a.m. ET, ESPN)


A draw against powerhouse Germany sounds great, but depending on results from its first two matches, the U.S. may need more than a point to emerge from its group. U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann was once a star player for the German national side. From 2004-'06, he coached his country’s team, guiding them to a third-place finish at a World Cup played on home soil. His tactical acumen will be put to the test as the U.S. faces such individual attacking talents as Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mesut Ozil. To stunt the German attack, the Americans likely will depend on a center-back partnership featuring the relatively inexperienced Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler. Chances at the other end should be few and far between for the Americans. When and if they do occur, expect captain Clint Dempsey to be at the heart of the U.S. attack. (June 26, 11:30 a.m. ET, ESPN)


The first game of Group B competition is a rematch of the 2010 FIFA World Cup final as defending champion Spain faces the Netherlands in Salvador, Brazil. Vicente Del Bosque brings a relatively familiar-looking Spanish side from his 2010 squad. Louis Van Gaal, however, brings a Dutch side that’s a mix of veteran players and new faces to the World Cup stage -- in particular, in defense and goalkeeping. (June 13, 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

- Compiled by Khalil Garriott, Mike Rodriguez, Eddie Malone and Xoel Cardenas of Yahoo Sports

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