The 2018 World Cup is nearly here and fans around the world are getting ready to be glued to their televisions. The best teams in the world will feature in the month-long soccer tournament as the best players on earth will premier in Russia.
The group stage is the place for the top teams to show their superb ability over those weaker squads. While the group phase has some less glamorous games, we can still look forward to several key matches before the knockout stages.
Here’s a look at the top five group stage matches of the World Cup:
#1 Portugal vs Spain
This is the biggest match of the group stage with the winner likely topping Group B and will have a more favorable draw in the Round of 16. Portugal vs Spain will kick off on June 15th and fans are expecting fireworks.
Portugal enters this summer as the reigning European champions, with five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo playing in what is likely to be his last World Cup tournament. The goal-scoring machine will be hoping to continue the momentum after lifting the Champions League trophy for Real Madrid.
Ronaldo and company will have their hands full when they take on the 2010 World Champions who are full of talent. Spain suffered an embarrassing 2014 campaign and their first task will be taking care of business against Portugal. An early statement will go a long way as Spain eyes another championship.
Familiar friends and foes will also take to the pitch with a key battle being between defender Sergio Ramos versus his club teammate Ronaldo. A critical part of the match will be controlling the middle of the pitch as both teams are skillful in the midfield. Portugal vs Spain will be a true nail-biter which has all the ingredients for a tournament kickstarter.
#2 Germany vs Mexico
Germany has a challenging group as they face Mexico, Sweden, and South Korea. The reigning World Champions start their campaign in Moscow when they take on Mexico on June 17th.
Javier Hernandez will be leading Mexico’s offense and desperate to help his team advance out of their group and make a real run in the tournament. While Germany is a far superior team, El Tri has the best chance of taking any points from the leaders in group F.
Mexico was knocked out in the round of 16 in the last six tournaments and while they are likely to advance out of the group behind Germany, they will be unfortunate to take on Brazil in the knockout stage.
Die Mannschaft’s squad is capable of retaining the trophy, which all begins with a stellar performance against Mexico.
#3 Argentina vs Croatia
Argentina is clear favorites to win Group D as Lionel Messi looks to follow in the footsteps of Diego Maradona and lift the World Cup trophy.
The attacking force of La Albiceleste will be tough for Croatia’s defense. However, Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic, and Ivan Rakitic provide one of the best trios in the game and can give Argentina difficulty in the midfield. Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic will also supply plenty of firing power to make this matchup extremely exciting.
#4 Poland vs Colombia
Group H is one of the most difficult groups to predict with Colombia, Poland, Senegal, and Japan. The featured match will be between Poland and Colombia on June 24th with both teams capable of toppling the group.
Lewandowski will lead the Poles in Russia after scoring a record-breaking 16 goals during the World Cup qualifiers. The key striker will need to be in top form while Colombia has James Rodriguez who was stellar four years ago in Brazil. This matchup can feature plenty of attacking on both sides of the pitch which could lead to a highly contested scoring match.
The clash between these two sides will result in the winner likely earning the top spot in the group, but either way, the team will be unfortunate to face either Belgium or England in the knockout phase.
#5 England vs Belgium
The top two teams in group G will battle on the final day of the group phase. England and Belgium will be an entertaining match to determine who wins the group and goes on to face the winner of group H.
England fans will be eager to see the Three Lions provide the same magic of 1966 and it all begins with a strong campaign in the group stage. However, supporters have been accustomed to hardships and failure and low expectations are key for England.
Belgium’s golden generation are currently ranked third in the FIFA rankings and will give the Three Lions a tough time. Kevin De Bruyne and company are eager to show off their talent in what looks to be an iconic World Cup matchup.