by Trevor Whenham - 03/24/2006
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The closer the World Cup gets, the more excited I get. Every second of it will be great to watch with the emotion and the upsets, the heroes and the villains. Looking over the schedule, however, there are six first round games that jump out at me as ones I absolutely can't miss. If you aren't a huge fan and want to make sure that any games you watch are great, choose from this group. You won't be disappointed. Here then, in order of their occurrence, is my list of 2006 World Cup games to watch.
Czech Republic vs. USA, June 12, Gelsenkirchen - Here's one for the American fans. The Americans have to regroup after a disastrous 4-1 loss in a friendly with Germany. That game was a huge blow to the team's confidence. The match-up against a very good Czech Republic squad will tell us quickly if the team is ready to make a deep run, or if the World Cup will just be three games long. The Czechs, too, will have to prove that they are ready to live up to all the hype that they are getting going into their first World Cup. It's the first game for both teams, so it could start out tense and tight, but I look for it to open up and really get exciting.
Brazil vs. Croatia, June 13, Berlin - The Brazilians could take the field against a high school girl's team and it would still be worth watching. The team is that good. The fact that they are starting out their tournament by playing a young and hungry Croatian team should make for a great game. The excellent Croatian midfield will be challenged fully by the ridiculous Brazilian depth. The Croatians are young, which could be a benefit. They haven't been around long enough to be scared of how outclassed they are. If Brazil were to lose a first-round game it would be the biggest story of the tournament. If anyone in Group F can do it, it's Croatia.
Germany vs. Poland, June 14, Dortmund - Germany will obviously be under more pressure than any other team. The home fans won't be happy unless they win. On paper the team should be very competitive. The nation's confidence took a hit when they lost a friendly to Italy, 4-1. They have to be feeling better after being on the other side of a 4-1 score against the U.S. All the German games will be worth watching because of the passion and chaos of the fans, but the match against Poland will be the best. Not only is Poland a precocious side that could surprise, they are also Germany's neighbor. Polish fans will be out in full force, so there could be fights in the stands that are as good to watch as the action on the field.
England vs. Sweden, June 20, Cologne - You either love England or you hate them. There is no middle ground. If you love them, you will watch this game to see if the team's star-filled lineup can mesh and play well against a team that they have struggled against. England needs to live up to their potential in a major tournament for the first time in a long time, and this game will be key. If you hate England, you will be watching to see if the talented Swedish side can continue their trend of giving England trouble, because you love nothing more than seeing England lose. And if the game between the well-matched teams doesn't live up to expectations, there are always the English hooligans to provide entertainment.
Argentina vs. Netherlands, June 21, Frankfort - If you need someone to tell you why this game is so exciting, you obviously aren't a soccer fan. These are two top teams in fine form meeting in an early round clash of the titans. This is the Yankees and the Red Sox in the ALDS or the Colts and the Patriots in a wild card game. Two great teams will hit the field and only one can win. Neither team will want to be the loser, so this match promises to be epic.
Czech Republic vs. Italy, June 22, Hamburg - I don't want to make it seem like I have a crush on the Czech Republic, but they deserve to be on this list twice. This game shapes up to be huge, no matter what happens. If the U.S. has a rough tournament, this will be a battle for first and second place in the group. If the U.S. plays well, this will be the battle for the second qualifying spot. If that's not enough, there is another level of intrigue. The second place team in Group E will almost certainly play Brazil in the next round, so both of these teams will quite likely be playing hard to avoid that ugly fate.