The World Cup kicks off in earnest Friday with three group-stage matches (all times EDT):
— Group A: Mexico vs. Cameroon in Natal, noon, ESPN2
— Group B: Spain vs. Netherlands in Salvador, 3 p.m., ESPN
— Group B: Chile vs. Australia in Cuiaba, 6 p.m., ESPN2
Spain vs. Netherlands
The finalists from four years ago meet again, and hopefully it’ll be a more aesthetically pleasing match this time around after the teams combined for 13 yellow cards and one red card in South Africa. The Dutch will likely go into a defensive crouch with five defenders in hopes of suffocating Spain’s quick-passing style of play. Spain has won the last three major soccer championships and is looking to become the first team to repeat as World Cup champion after also winning the European Championship title. Striker Diego Costa, who was born in Brazil and has played for that country’s national team, will be making just his third appearance for Spain after being granted citizenship in September 2013. He scored 36 goals in all competitions for Spanish champion Atletico Madrid last season.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Javier Hernandez, Mexico
Will one of the breakout stars of the last World Cup start this year’s tournament on the bench? Just 26, Chicharito is tied for third on Mexico’s all-time goal-scoring list but his spot in the starting lineup is far from assured, as he has slumped recently both for the national team and for Manchester United in the English Premier League, making only six starts. Hernandez came off the bench in Mexico’s final warmup game last week against Portugal and hasn’t scored in international play since last June’s Confederations Cup.
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