The World Cup can be a minefield of matches to watch with little idea of where to start, particularly for the first two weeks, where games are coming thick and fast with very little breathing space from kick-off. So if you’re wondering where to start, don’t worry. We’ve got your back.
Here are the six games you have to watch in the Group stage:
Group A: FRANCE V SOUTH KOREA
Date: 7 June 9pm / 8 June 5am (AEST)
In the opening game, France will be riding the high that comes with the honour of hosting the tournament. However, don’t expect South Korea to let France just have their way in this one. South Korea will equally be looking to prove they have the goods on the international stage.
Outside of the intrigue of being the opening match, and how it can set the tempo for the rest of the tournament, it’s the collision of styles between the teams that will bring the true excitement.
France bring to the table creative football at its best, with flexible formations and precision passing. South Korea, however, love to mess up a good party. The Koreans will bring an organised and daring defence, whilst having the ability to flood the final third with bucketloads of creativity.
For both teams, this is a huge match. Expect France to be looking to dictate play, the tempo and unpick the opposition’s defence, while South Korea will be shutting up shop and working off the counters, hoping to pull out the unexpected in those rare moments.
Group B: CHINA v SPAIN
Date: 17 June 6pm (local) / 18 June 2am (AEST)
Both of these sides are almost the hidden gems in their own confederations. The Europeans claim Spain are the dark horse, while anyone familiar with the Asian confederation will know China are a side that can pull out the unexpected.
Adding further spice to the encounter: this last group match could well impact who wins an automatic spot to the knockout phase and who could be left fighting for the scraps of one of the top four third-place finishes.
Despite the mix of the Asian and European philosophies of football, it’s in the similarities that make things interesting. Spain no doubt are the queens of possession and will simply out-pass anyone. Likewise, China look their best with the ball at their feet, working themselves out of tight situations. For both, it will be a matter of who can finish their opportunities.
Whoever comes out and dictates play in this one will be in the driver’s seat. Expect the game to be won in those spaces between the lines, where attacking opportunities will be created.
Group C: AUSTRALIA V BRAZIL
Date: 13 June 6pm (local) / 14 June 2am (AEST)
It seems almost destiny for Australia and Brazil to meet up in a big competition again. The last two major tournaments have seen this match-up in the knockout stages, with the Matildas winning the Round of 16 in Canada 2015 and Brazil the victors in penalties in Rio the year after.
In recent matches, the Matildas appear to have Brazil’s number, with wins in the Tournament of Nations. However, this match-up during a major tournament is vastly different than the friendly ties. Both teams play differently under pressure and come into this competition with experienced sides.
On any stage, when these two teams meet it is a feisty, heart-on-the-line affair. Both love nothing better than dazzling down the wings, can suffer a few untimely blunders in defence, and will fight for every ball going as if it’s the last chocolate.
This might be a group stage match, but the tit-for-tat these two nations have over the course of the last decade will make this more important than an average group match. Expect an explosive match, with neither side content to sit deep and defend.
Group D: JAPAN V ENGLAND
Date: 19 June 9pm (local) / 20 June 5am (AEST)
There’s nothing much better than a grudge match, and this has the makings of such. At Canada 2015 it was a tense affair, where an England own goal in the dying stages was all it took to split the two sides. England will want revenge on the biggest of stages, while Japan will want to prove they’re still a nation to be feared on the pitch.
The two sides most recently met in this year’s She Believes Cup, where England served up a 3-0 victory against an inexperienced Japan side.
Both sides are coming into the match with a mix of experience and youth. Seeing the transition from both throughout this cycle continues to add flavour to this match-up. The fresh players bring a slightly different dynamic, while keeping in the type of vein each nation produces: for Japan, of technical excellence, for England, explosiveness on the ball.
Some of the sting may well be dulled when the two meet if both have already qualified for the knockout stages. However, expect an eye-drawing, clever match between the two, with moments of individual excellence likely to be the difference in breaking down composed defences.
Group E: CAMEROON v NEW ZEALAND
Date: 20 June 6pm (local) / 21 June 2am (AEST)
Whilst all eyes may be on the other enticing encounter of the group in Canada and the Netherlands, really the true battle will be when Cameroon meet New Zealand.
New Zealand’s best result at a World Cup was snatching a sole point in Canada 2015, while Cameroon will be looking for a repeat of their Round of 16 spot. Both nations have a lot to play for and will come into this match expecting something special to remind the world they mean business.
Both sides possess solid back fours. Their defensive structure is perhaps each nation’s greatest asset and will be needed throughout the tournament if either want to find success. It’s the contrast in how each team attacks that makes this encounter mouth-watering. New Zealand love to hit the flanks with pace. In contrast, Cameroon look their most deadly heading directly to goal through the guts of the field.
After what could be a very defensive outing by both sides in their earlier group matches, this will be an opportunity for both to show the world the attacking talent they have.
Group F: USA V SWEDEN
Date: 20 June 9pm (local) / 21 June 5am (AEST)
Again, this is a match-up that is almost magnetic with how often the sides meet at major tournaments. If there’s a big tournament, the USA and Sweden are probably going to play each other during it.
What makes this time around even tastier than usual? Sweden delivered a massive heart-ache to the USA en route to a silver medal in Rio 2016.
Both sides have developed considerably in their approaches since then. The United States have shifted from a defence-first approach to looking to keep play in their attacking third as much as possible, with considerable talent at their disposal in those positions. Similarly, Sweden have developed the way they attack: rather than rely on the long ball, they are looking confident and deadly in their combination play upfront.
Expect both teams to come out with their foot on the pedal to attack. Whoever pulls the wool over the other’s eyes and snatches a win will make a huge statement for the tournament.