The 3 Biggest Opening Weekend World Cup Games

The World Cup starts today, and there are three games that could bring some serious drama.

The World Cup is here! It's been a long, grueling four years, but we've finally arrived. Today marks the beginning of World Cup, and I - soccer fans - couldn't be more excited and ready. To get prepared and ready, let's take a look at the three biggest matches in the opening weekend (in this case, we'll look at Thursday through Sunday).

Brazil vs. Croatia

The tournament kicks off with Brazil vs. Croatia. I’ve already discussed Croatia’s chances, and we all know the Brazilians will be expected to not only win, but win with style. Our analytics give a Total score of 1.72 for Brazil, the third highest of any team. To put this another way, we'd expect Brazil to add about 1.72 goals in a given match. Croatia, on the other hand, has a Total score of 1.24, and if you sum them up, you get a Total of 2.97 - we should expect roughly three goals in this game. There will be scoring. Let’s factor in some adrenaline from the home team playing a game it has been waiting a lifetime to play, and I’ll go out on a limb and say at least five goals in this game.

Brazil Player to Watch: Neymar (you were expecting someone else?)
Croatia Player to Watch: Luka Modric. He's the heartbeat of this team
Why This Game is Important for Brazil: Pressure. They're the favorites at home and need to get off to a good start.
Why This Game is Important for Croatia: A point here will set themselves up nicely to secure a likely second place finish and advance into the Knockout Stage. They have an almost 36% chance of advancing. A tie here will see that number shoot up.
If This Game Were a TV Show: Game of Thrones. Plenty of action. Plenty of beauty. No dragons though, sadly.

England vs. Italy

Another important game will be played on Saturday in Manaus between England and Italy. The two teams are likely vying for a spot behind Uruguay in the next round, so this game is crucial. A win not only gets the team off to a good start, but places their main rivals for advancement in a major hole. A combined Total score of 2.28 means there will be goals, but not as much as other games.

England Player to Watch: Wayne Rooney (see my thoughts on him here). They need him to step up right out of the gate.
Italy Player to Watch: Mario Balotelli. Much like Manny Ramirez, are we going to see the good Balotelli, or the bad Balotelli? He is just as likely to see red as he is to score three goals.
Why This Game is Important for England and Italy: This is the biggest game of the Group Stage for both teams. Win, and the Knockout Stage is almost secure. England has an almost 84% chance to get to the Knockout Stage as of this moment. A win here and that number increases dramatically.
If This Game Were a TV Show: The Walking Dead. The stakes are high for everyone. One mistake (don’t slip again Gerrard!) and it is over before it even got started.

Spain vs. Netherlands

The number three game to watch this weekend pits the defending champs in Spain against the Netherlands. This one should be fun. With a Total score of 2.97, expect at least three goals in this matchup. The Champions have a target on their back, and with Chile in the group as well, they need to get off to a blazing start. It’s no lock they advance to the next round if they lose here.

Spain Player to Watch: It’s difficult picking one as they play so well as a team. Their ‘tiki-taka’ philosophy promotes teamwork and quick passing over a reliance on just one particular player. I’ll go Diego Costa though. Someone eventually has to put the ball in the net after all that beautiful passing.
Netherlands Player to Watch: Can I pick the manager? I’m writing this article, so I am picking the manager. Louis van Gaal will formally take over for David Moyes at Old Trafford once this World Cup ends. Where is his mind? Will he be distracted? This could play a key role in the outcome for the ‘Oranje’. If you need a player, I’ll say van Gaal’s soon-to-be colleague at Manchester in Robin van Persie.
Why This Game is Important for Spain: They need to show everyone they are still formidable and the cup runs through them. This game is more about confidence and appearance for the Spanish side.
Why This Game is Important for Netherlands: A win here will put them in good position to advance over Chile. They are going to need all the points they can get because Chile's right on their heels. The Netherlands and Chile are neck and neck in both nERD and odds to advance.
If This Game Were a TV Show: Survivor, but one of the editions where former winners come back to compete. They need to prove they still have it to the newbies trying to beat them and say they toppled the current champ.