World Cup: Five group matches to watch

World Cup fever is back. With 48 matches to catch in the group stages, The Republican Post’s Juan Sufyan B Jurami picks five games to look out for.

Spain Vs Portugal June 16 2:00 AM (Singapore Time)

The second match in Group B – which also comprise Morocco and Iran – this game between Spain and Portugal promises to be a cracker. Known as the ‘Iberian Derby’, the rivalry between these two countries goes back to 1581. Both sides have experienced recent international success with Spain – known as the “La Rojas” – lifting the 2010 World Cup as well as the 2012 European Championships and Portugal coming out as shock winners of Euro 2016. One can expect a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, who plays for Spanish giants Real Madrid, to write the headlines in both countries regardless the outcome of this game.

TEAMWORK MAKES IT WORK: Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo rallies his team during a match. The European champions are hoping to get the better of a resurgent Spain in their Iberian derby in the group stage of the Russia World Cup 2018. (Photo: Cristiano Ronaldo Facebook Page)

Egypt Vs Uruguay June 15 8:00 PM

Egypt’s World Cup qualifying run was nothing short of fantastical. A dramatic last-minute penalty, tears, and the anointed protagonist, Mohamed Salah sweeping all the accolades in England after his debut campaign with Premier League side Liverpool. Although Egypt beat Uganda, Congo and Ghana on their way to Russia, the Pharaohs will be severely tested at the World Cup. Uruguay, on the other hand, boast experienced players such as strikers Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, defender Diego Godin. All eyes will be on Egypt, as well as Mo Salah, to prove that they are not just a flash in the pan.

Argentina Vs Croatia June 22 2:00 AM

This is the last chance for Argentina’s golden generation to win a major trophy. Argentina have been blessed with attacking players – Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuaín – at their peak of their powers but have so far fallen short at the final hurdle at their last three major tournaments – The World Cup in 2014 and the Copa America in 2015 and 2016. The Croatians, however, are not held back by the weight of expectations. They enjoyed a decent Euro 2016, topping their group while beating Spain and nearly going to the quarter finals before losing to eventual champions, Portugal. Look out for the exciting trio of Luka Modrić, Ivan Perišić and Ivan Rakitić at the heart of Croatia’s midfield.

Mexico Vs Sweden June 27 10:00 PM

When the German national team is in your group, you may have to contend with the other qualifying spot left for the knock out stages. That is the case facing Mexico and Sweden. Having reached the last 16 in the previous World Cup 2014, Mexico could have gone further if not for the dubious penalty awarded to Netherlands. They also finished fourth place at the Confederation Cup in Russia in 2017, which served as a warm-up for this year’s World Cup. But Sweden have shown they are no pushovers. They emerged second in a tough qualifying group which included Netherlands and France, before edging out Italy in the second round of qualification. Both Mexico and Sweden know that there’s only room for one other team to qualify from Group F and this match will probably be the decider.

Belgium Vs England June 29 2:00 AM

Historically, the records do not favour Belgium having won only two out of the 21 encounters. But you have a Belgium team brimming with world class talent from the back all the way to the front three. England has also transformed quite a bit. What they lack in world class talents, they make up for with a youthful and vibrant squad. Though they may still be overhyped by the English media, gone are the days of the big names such as Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard who failed to replicate their club success on the international stage. This showdown sets to usher in a new generation for both sides and will undoubtedly not be a one-sided affair… unless England decides to start Joe Hart as the goalkeeper.

FRESH FACES: The England national team pose for a group photo for the Russia World Cup. The Three Lions will face a highly fancied Belgium in their group stage match. (Photo: England Football Team Official Facebook Page)