So, are you in the mood to watch 48 soccer games over the next couple of weeks?
Odds are you probably aren't, but don't fret when the 48 preliminary-round games of the World Cup take place between June 14-30.
As is usually the case each time the World Cup rolls around, fans can simply narrow the focus to marquee games that CAN'T be missed as the 32-team field gets narrowed down to 16 by June 30.
While there should be plenty of good matches within the eight, four-team groups in the preliminary round, these five matchups have really caught our eye.
Portugal vs. Spain, June 15 (2 p.m. ET)
While this is technically the fourth game of the tournament, it will be the first premier matchup. After all, odds are there probably won’t be as much excitement in the soccer world surrounding the first three matches of the tournament - Russia vs. Saudi Arabia, Egypt vs. Uruguay or Morocco vs. Iran.
Portugal vs. Spain features neighboring nations who also happen to be ranked in the top10 (Portugal No. 4, Spain No. 8) in the world and who are the last two European champions.
It’s safe to say that after this one, the World Cup will really feel like it’s kicked off.
Argentina vs. Iceland, June 16 (9 a.m. ET)
These two couldn’t be more opposite when it comes to World Cup history. On one side, Argentina has a traditional power that has won two World Cups and advanced to the final in 2014. On the other side, Iceland will make its World Cup debut having never previously qualified. But there is still intrigue given Iceland’s improbable run to the quarterfinals of the European Championships in 2016. The world will be watching to see if Iceland can continue that magic against the South American juggernaut and Lionel Messi.
Germany vs. Mexico, June 17 (11 a.m. ET)
Get ready for Fox to promote this game the way political candidates promote themselves on Election Day. Without the U.S. team, this is one of the games Fox unquestionably has circled on the schedule to tell people about. It’ll be an easy sell, since it’s the defending world champions against a good Mexico team that has the largest following of any non-American team in the U.S.
Brazil vs. Switzerland, June 17 (2 p.m. ET)
This game will take place right after Germany vs. Mexico, which should make for a delightful doubleheader on Father’s Day. Going by the FIFA world rankings, this is the top matchup of the first round of pool play. Brazil enters ranked No. 2, while Switzerland is No. 6.
England vs. Belgium, June 28 ( 2 p.m. ET)
This will be the last matchup in Group G for each, and it’s a sexy matchup between a traditional power in England and a current power in Belgium, which is ranked No. 3 in the world going into the tournament. Belgium has two elite players, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, who are well-known by English fans because they play professionally in the English Premier League.
Disagree with this list? Let us know other good pool games to watch in the comments below.
Graham Media Group 2018