The five best World Cup games to watch

Italy’s Dino Zoff lifts the World Cup trophy in 1982.
Italy’s Dino Zoff lifts the World Cup trophy in 1982.
Image: Reuters/Action Images/Sporting Pictures
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There are 48 matches in the World Cup group stages in Russia this year. But if you don’t care about soccer or your country didn’t make the cut (sorry, Americans), then you’re probably not going to watch all of them.

The group stages run from the start of the World Cup on June 14 through to June 28. If you’re trying to decide which of these matches to tune in for, these are some of the best of the bunch:

Egypt vs. Uruguay (June 15)

Place: Ekaterinburg
Time: 3pm local time / 1pm London time / 8am New York time / 8pm Hong Kong time

Portugal vs. Spain (June 15)

Place: Sochi
Time: 9pm local time / 7pm London time / 2pm New York time / 2am on June 16, Hong Kong time

The World Cup kicks off with Russia vs. Saudi Arabia on June 14—but who cares about that? The real action begins the next day with two excellent matches.

Uruguay finished second in the South American qualifiers, the world’s toughest, behind Brazil but ahead of Argentina, and have a devastating attacking threat. They’ll face Egypt, where the pressing question is whether Mo Salah, the biggest surprise in world football this year, will be fit to play in some form after hurting his shoulder in the final of Europe’s Champions League.

The other game is an Iberian face-off.

Portugal have one of the world’s best two players in Cristiano Ronaldo and are coming off the confidence-boosting success of winning the European Championships for the first time ever (without Ronaldo for most of the final) in 2016. They’ll play a new-look Spain. While trying to defend their 2010 World Cup trophy, Spain suffered humiliating losses in Brazil in 2014. While the current squad isn’t as full of the sorts of star players as the teams that won three major international tournaments in a row from 2008 to 2012, this is a Spain that can be lethal—they beat a Messi-less Argentina 6-1 in Madrid in March.

Brazil vs. Costa Rica (June 22)

Place: St. Petersburg
Time: 3pm local time / 1pm London time / 8am New York time / 8pm Hong Kong time

Managed by Tite, the Seleção were the first team to qualify for the World Cup. Brazil are a perpetual World Cup favorite, but Costa Rica reached the quarter-finals last time around and should provide a decent test this year of the credentials of Tite’s team, who are playing with style and verve now. Plus, underlying all of Brazil’s matches during the tournament is the small matter of avenging one of the great national humiliations in its history during the last World Cup.

Nigeria vs. Argentina (June 26)

Place: St. Petersburg
Time: 9pm local time / 7pm London time / 2pm New York time / 2am on June 27, Hong Kong time

Argentina have Lionel Messi, possibly the greatest player ever. They are also seemingly cursed; Argentina have lost three major finals in two years, including those of the last World Cup and Copa America. Nigeria have looked better than ever since Gernot Rohr took over in 2016, coming in at the top of their qualifying group and posing a strong counter-attacking threat. (And regardless of how Nigeria perform, you’re going to look cooler than supporters of any other country wearing their kit.)

England vs. Belgium (June 28)

Place: Kaliningrad
Time: 9pm local time / 7pm London time / 2pm New York time / 2am on June 29, Hong Kong time

The sports-data company Gracenote gives England a 4% chance of winning, compared with Brazil’s 21%. England’s perennial underperformance since winning in 1966 is a national (and international) punchline. But a young coach and a largely untested group of young talented players have a chance to outperform expectations for once. They face a difficult task to finish top of the group against Belgium, a country with no storied footballing history but which now has a golden generation of genuinely world-class players, including Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Vincent Kompany, and Thibaut Courtois.

And after those matches, it gets really exciting: the knockout stages begin June 30, and run until the final on July 15.