Ranking the 2018 World Cup's group stage games by watchability, from 1-48

FC Yahoo

It’s World Cup week. Finally. The planet’s greatest sporting event, and a given quadrennium’s greatest month, kicks off on Thursday. And for that month, soccer will more or less have the sports world all to itself. Nations will shut down for days at a time. Public squares will fill. Wakeup and bed times will be adjusted.

And you, whether a casual sports fan or a diehard, will need to know when to call in sick to work; when to urge your favorite bar to open early; when to schedule family outings; when to run errands.

[Yahoo Sports’ 2018 World Cup preview hub]

Very few people will watch every single game of a World Cup. There are 64 of them, after all. So we’ve put together a handy guide to the 2018 World Cup group stage. The following 1-48 ranking of the group games by watchability will help you decide which to mark on your calendar and which to skip.

All times ET. Asterisks* indicate Matchday 3 games, meaning prior matches will dictate importance and entertainment potential.

Tier 1: Must-watch

1. Portugal vs. Spain | Friday, June 15, 2 p.m. (Fox, Telemundo) — It’s the last two European champions. It’s neighbors. It’s Cristiano Ronaldo vs. arguably the best team in the world. It’s the second day of the tournament. How could you possibly miss it?

Spain’s Sergio Ramos and Sergio Busquets have seen Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo before on the international stage. They’ll square off in 2018 World Cup Group B. (Getty)
Spain’s Sergio Ramos and Sergio Busquets have seen Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo before on the international stage. They’ll square off in 2018 World Cup Group B. (Getty)

2. Germany vs. Mexico | Sunday, June 17, 11 a.m. (Fox Sports 1, Telemundo) — There’s even more potential for entertainment here than in the Iberian derby. There’s real upset potential – Germany looks at least somewhat vulnerable. And there are stakes. Oh, man, there are stakes. The loser will likely end up facing Brazil in the Round of 16 – if it makes it out of Group F at all.

Tier 2: If at all possible …

3. Argentina vs. Iceland | Saturday, June 16, 9 a.m. (Fox, Telemundo) — This is as much a narrative pick as a soccer pick. There’s a chance Argentina romps. But La Albiceleste also look ripe for frustration. Iceland is built to inflict just that. It would be the biggest upset that’s actually possible.

4. Argentina vs. Croatia | Thursday, June 21, 2 p.m. (Fox, Telemundo) — There will be sooooo much talent on the field – and no telling how it will match up or perform.

[Group D preview]

5. Russia vs. Saudi Arabia | Thursday, June 14, 11 a.m. (Fox, Telemundo) — It’s the World Cup opener. Never mind that it’s the least appealing World Cup opener ever. If you’re a soccer fan, you watch the World Cup opener.

6. France vs. Peru | Thursday, June 21, 11 a.m. (Fox, Telemundo) — A tremendous clash of unorganized, potentially underperforming talent and a valiant, likable, potentially overachieving unit. You’re going to fall in love with Peru.

7. *England vs. Belgium | Thursday, June 28, 2 p.m. (Fox/FS1, Telemundo/Universo) — On paper, it belongs in the top tier. But if both teams win their first two games – the expected outcomes – it might not mean much. So planning a day off of work is dicey.

8. *Nigeria vs. Argentina | Tuesday, June 26, 2 p.m. (Fox/FS1, Telemundo/Universo) — If Nigeria’s 4-2 victory over Argentina in November was any indication … yeah, you’re going to want to be parked in front of a TV. But again, there’s dead rubber potential.

9. *Senegal vs. Colombia | Thursday, June 28, 10 a.m. (Fox/FS1, Telemundo/Universo) — There’s a very good chance this Matchday 3 showdown is decisive. Also a very good chance it’ll be riveting, especially if both teams crave a win.

Tier 3: Intrigue and first looks

10. Portugal vs. Morocco | Wednesday, June 20, 8 a.m. (Fox Sports 1, Telemundo) — If Portugal loses to Spain and Morocco beats Iran on Matchday 1, the pressure will be on the Portuguese. Pressure creates drama. Portugal could be in a similar situation to the one it found itself in four years ago against the U.S.

11. Brazil vs. Switzerland | Sunday, June 17, 2 p.m. (Fox Sports 1, Telemundo) — There’s just something about getting a first look at a favorite; at this team you’ve read so much about, and maybe even picked to win it all, knowing all along that your evidence is more theoretical than actual. Even if Brazil’s opening opponent is dull, the Selecao‘s first game will be a spectacle.

Philippe Coutinho, Neymar and Gabriel Jesus lead a fearsome Brazil attack into the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)
Philippe Coutinho, Neymar and Gabriel Jesus lead a fearsome Brazil attack into the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)

12. England vs. Tunisia | Monday, June 18, 2 p.m. (Fox Sports 1, Telemundo) — Will this England team actually be different? An entire nation might self-destruct if it stumbles against Tunisia.

13. *Mexico vs. Sweden | Wednesday, June 27, 10 a.m. (Fox/FS1, Telemundo/Universo) — Full disclosure: Sweden is going to be the most boring team at the tournament. But, unfortunately, it’s not a pushover. And this contest, especially if Mexico loses to Germany, could be for a place in the knockout round.

[Group F preview]

14. Poland vs. Colombia | Sunday, June 24, 2 p.m. (Fox, Telemundo) — A clash of styles, and a whole bunch of implications in Group H, which is completely there for the taking.

15. *Denmark vs. France | Tuesday, June 26, 10 a.m. (Fox/FS1, Telemundo/Universo) — It all depends on scenarios. But if France slips up in one of its first two matches, this should be tremendous theatre.

16. Peru vs. Denmark | Saturday, June 16, Noon (Fox Sports 1, Telemundo) — A battle of Group C’s two middle-tier teams will set the tone for the rest of the round robin. And it’ll be Peru’s first World Cup game since 1982.

[Group C preview]

Tier 4: Watch for one team, not the other

17. Brazil vs. Costa Rica | Friday, June 22, 8 a.m. (Fox Sports 1, Telemundo) — Potential for Brazilian exasperation or the soccer equivalent of a fireworks display. Or boredom.

18. *Iran vs. Portugal | Monday, June 25, 2 p.m. (Fox/FS1, Telemundo/Universo) — Portugal might need a result. Iran is capable of denying Ronaldo and co.

19. Egypt vs. Uruguay | Friday, June 15, 8 a.m. (Fox Sports 1, Telemundo) — Starpower? Check. But less so if Mohamed Salah doesn’t recovery from a shoulder injury in time. And it won’t exactly be a free-flowing game.

20. *Brazil vs. Serbia | Wednesday, June 27, 2 p.m. (Fox/FS1, Telemundo/Universo)
21. *Spain vs. Morocco | Monday, June 25, 2 p.m. (Fox/FS1, Telemundo/Universo)

[Group B preview]

22. Russia vs. Egypt | Tuesday, June 19, 2 p.m. (Fox, Telemundo) — OK, this doesn’t really fit the tier’s title. But Salah will certainly be back, and could condemn Russia to failure.

23. Spain vs. Iran | Wednesday, June 20, 2 p.m. (Fox, Telemundo) —  Spain could struggle here. Tension levels, though, will depend on Matchday 1 results.

24. France vs. Australia | Saturday, June 16, 6 a.m. (Fox Sports 1, Telemundo) — It’s our first look at France, the biggest name that could bump into group stage obstacles. But it’s also super early in the morning.

Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba celebrate Griezmann’s goal in a recent friendly ahead of the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)
Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba celebrate Griezmann’s goal in a recent friendly ahead of the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)

25. England vs. Panama | Sunday, June 24, 8 a.m. (Fox Sports 1, Telemundo) — There’s definitely going to be a silly red card in this game. Top three candidates are Blas Perez (obviously), Dele Alli and Roman Torres.

Tier 5: If you’re not busy …

26. *Uruguay vs. Russia | Monday, June 25, 10 a.m. (Fox/FS1, Telemundo/Universo) — Luis Suarez potentially sticking the dagger in the hosts? Sign us up.

27. *Iceland vs. Croatia | Tuesday, June 26, 2 p.m. (Fox/FS1, Telemundo/Universo) — Should be Matchday 3 implications here.

28. Croatia vs. Nigeria | Saturday, June 16, 3 p.m. (Fox Sports 1, Telemundo)
29. Poland vs. Senegal | Tuesday, June 19, 11 a.m. (Fox, Telemundo)

30. Belgium vs. Panama | Monday, June 18, 11 a.m. (Fox Sports 1, Telemundo) — First look at Belgium, but we won’t learn much.

31. Uruguay vs. Saudi Arabia | Wednesday, June 20, 11 a.m. (Fox, Telemundo) — Could be 5-0. Could also be a dull 2-0.

32. Morocco vs. Iran | Friday, June 15, 11 a.m. (Fox, Telemundo) — Root for a winner, as opposed to a draw, because that ups the ante in the Portugal-Spain clash an hour after the conclusion of this one.

33. Germany vs. Sweden | Saturday, June 23, 2 p.m. (Fox, Telemundo)
34. Belgium vs. Tunisia | Saturday, June 23, 8 a.m. (Fox, Telemundo)

35. Serbia vs. Switzerland | Friday, June 22, 2 p.m. (Fox, Telemundo) — Should be the Group E decider.

36. South Korea vs. Mexico | Saturday, June 23, 11 a.m. (Fox, Telemundo) — Squeaky bum time if Mexico loses to Germany and doesn’t get an early goal here. Oh, also, you should watch every Mexico game.

37. Colombia vs. Japan | Tuesday, June 19, 8 a.m. (Fox Sports 1, Telemundo)
38. Costa Rica vs. Serbia | Sunday, June 17, 8 a.m. (Fox, Telemundo)

Tier 6: Meh

39. *Germany vs. South Korea | Wednesday, June 27, 10 a.m. (Fox/FS1, Telemundo/Universo)
40. *Australia vs. Peru | Tuesday, June 26, 10 a.m. (Fox/FS1, Telemundo/Universo)

41. *Saudi Arabia vs. Egypt | Monday, June 25, 10 a.m. (Fox/FS1, Telemundo/Universo) This applies here, to the two games above, and to the final two in this tier: Only tune in if they matter.

42. Nigeria vs. Iceland | Friday, June 22, 11 a.m. (Fox, Telemundo) — Iceland is a great story, but this has a chance to be very dull.

43. Japan vs. Senegal | Sunday, June 24, 11 a.m. (Fox, Telemundo)
44. *Poland vs. Japan | Thursday, June 28, 10 a.m. (Fox/FS1, Telemundo/Universo)
45. *Switzerland vs. Costa Rica | Wednesday, June 27, 2 p.m. (Fox/FS1, Telemundo/Universo)

Tier 7: Nap time

46. *Panama vs. Tunisia | Thursday, June 28, 2 p.m. (Fox/FS1, Telemundo/Universo)
47. Denmark vs. Australia | Thursday, June 21, 8 a.m. (Fox Sports 1, Telemundo)

48. Sweden vs. South Korea | Monday, June 18, 8 a.m. (Fox Sports 1, Telemundo) — Nondescript teams. early Monday morning. I might even sleep in and skip this one.

– – – – – – –

Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

More World Cup coverage from Yahoo Sports:
2018 World Cup preview hub
Ranking the top 100 players at the World Cup
FC Yahoo Mixer: The Ronaldo vs. Messi debate
A tactical guide to the 2018 World Cup
All 32 team previews and 8 group previews

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