World Cup 2014: A viewer’s guide to Friday’s games

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

MUST-SEE GAME

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.

More World Cup coverage:

Want to sound like you know soccer? Use these World Cup terms

U.S.-Belgium scrimmage doomed by Sao Paulo traffic

Previews: Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H

Manaus World Cup stadium still isn’t finished

Rio airport workers are latest to go on strike

FIFA still has unsold tickets for 15 matches

TV listings and game schedule

Klinsmann meets the media at U.S. camp

Photos: World Cup groups and players to watch

After spending the first 17 years of his Post career writing and editing, Matt and the printed paper had an amicable divorce in 2014. He's now blogging and editing for the Early Lead and the Post's other Web-based products.

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