The World Cup is just days away and, which all 48 matches in the group stage are must watch TV, very few of us have enough time to take in 72 total hours of soccer over the next few weeks.
So, in case you aren’t using all of your vacation days between now and the end of June, here are ten games you need to make sure to clear your schedule for:
10. Russia vs. Saudi Arabia (June 14)
No, neither of these sides will make a run at the trophy. Neither one features a ton of players most fans have ever heard of. This is, however, the opening match of the World Cup and anyone experiencing World Cup fever is going to tune in to the start of the biggest event in global sports.
9. France vs. Peru (June 21)
France is one of the teams that can lift the trophy if everything goes right. Peru doesn’t have such lofty expectations, but the South Americans are one of the more overlooked teams in the tournament. They’re playing in their first World Cup since 1982, but have been making waves in CONMEBOL for a few years now. They should give France a very tough match.
8. Brazil vs. Costa Rica (June 22)
The last time these teams met at the World Cup, they played a beautiful 5-2 shootout won by the Brazilians in 2002. We should expect similar fireworks as Neymar and his crew of World Cup favorites look to overwhelm a Ticos side that will need Keylor Navas to have a big game if an upset is going to happen.
7. Poland vs. Colombia (June 24)
Poland is playing in its first World Cup since 2006 and has been given a tricky draw. The Poles’ hardest match will be this one against Colombia, which took the 2014 tournament by storm before bowing out to Brazil in the quarterfinals. Poland is on the tail end of a golden generation spearheaded by Robert Lewandowski, and a solid result against Colombia could propel the Europeans to a deep run.
6. Argentina vs. Iceland (June 16)
World Cup debuts are always special, and Iceland’s Cinderella story makes its first appearance even more fascinating. Lionel Messi will be kicking off his final quest for the elusive World Cup, and will look to ensure Argentina avoids the type of shocking upset we have seen so often at the World Cup.
5. Peru vs. Denmark (June 16)
After a 36-year absence, Peru makes its return to the world stage, and as if that weren’t bringing enough to this group-stage opener, the Peruvians will be facing a tough Denmark side that is their stiffest competition for second place in Group C. Both teams like to attack, so this should be one of the more entertaining matches of the group stage.
4. Argentina vs. Croatia (June 21)
Everyone will want to see what Lionel Messi can do with this bunch of Argentinian stars, but Croatia isn’t a team to sleep on either. Despite their small population, the Croatians have produced a shocking amount of world class players. Between Messi, Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric, and others, there will be no shortage of players who ply their trades at big name clubs in this one.
3. Germany vs. Mexico (June 17)
The defending champions will get a fairly stiff test to open their title defense. El Tri are in the middle of a strong run of form and are no strangers to facing big-time opponents in the World Cup. They played Brazil to a thrilling 0-0 draw thanks to some fantastic goalkeeping four years ago and will certainly look to repeat that performance against Germany this time around.
2. England vs. Belgium (June 28)
Both of these sides may not be at the point they each feel they should be, but there is no denying they boast two of the most talented teams. Both have rosters filled with exciting, young talent and both are capable of scoring an upset later on in the tournament. Adding to the excitement of this match is its timing. It’s the final match of Group G and is likely to decide who wins the group.
1. Portugal vs. Spain (June 15)
The best match of the group stage happens on just the second day of the tournament. Spain is one of the favorites to lift the trophy for the second time in three World Cups and Portugal has Cristiano Ronaldo, which means a title can’t be ruled out. It’s a match featuring some of the biggest names in the world, the last two European champions, and a pair of geographical rivals with strong dislike for each other. Both should advance past the group stage, but this match will have a lot of say in who wins Group B.