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The Sports Daily
2018 World Cup: Three must-watch soccer matchups

The 2018 World Cup in Russia is expected to once again produce competitive matches on the pitch. With the 36 teams now assigned to eight groups in the initial group stages, every game is expected to be exciting to watch.

But even at such a high level of play, a few matches stand out as being exceptional must-see games.  Let’s take a closer look at these games:

Group A-Russia vs Saudi Arabia

With the two countries ranked by FIFA at 63rd and 65th respectively, they are the lowest-ranked teams in the competition. The two countries have only played against each other once, with Saudi Arabia winning 4-2 in a friendly in 1993. What makes this a must-see game? For one thing, opening matches in World Cups are always special, with the opportunity for the host country to show off their team on the pitch before anyone else.

Based upon team ranking, an evenly-matched game is expected, which should make for an exciting spectacle on the field. With Uruguay and Egypt rounding out Group A, surely Uruguay is expected to go through to the knockout stages, leaving the other three teams fighting for the final spot. Neither Russia nor the Saudis can afford to lose this game, certainly not the Russians in front of their home fans.

Group B-Portugal vs Spain

Suffice it to say that there is no love lost between these two Iberian countries on the soccer field. Historically, the two sides have met a total of 36 times since 1921 in all UEFA matches, with Spain winning 18 times while drawing 12. But in competitive matches, no game has been decided by more than one goal since World Cup competition in 1950.

Iran and Morocco round out the group, with both of those teams widely expected to exit once group play ends. But with this game opening Group B, it features the individual talents of Cristiano Ronaldo against the playmaking skills of Andres Iniesta, and the team talent of the reigning European champion against the 2010 World Cup champion. With neither team wanting to show any defensive vulnerabilities, expect a low-scoring, hard-fought match, and one that is a must-see for football aficionados.

Group H-Japan vs Colombia

While both teams want to advance beyond of the group stage, this match result could potentially eliminate one of these teams. While ranked 55th worldwide, the last World Cup saw Japan eliminated from advancing to the knockout stage when they lost their final match to Colombia 4-1. Although new manager Vahid Halilhodzic did not take the helm until 2015, he has ignited the fires of the Japanese players, saying the Colombia game will be key to advancing and promising to avenge what was a humiliating loss for Japan four years ago.

With seventh-ranked Poland and 32nd-ranked Senegal rounding out the group, this is a must-win game if  the Japanese are to have a chance to advance to the Round of 16. But Japan have failed to advance beyond the knockout stage since 2010, leading Japanese Football Association chief Kozo Tashima to demand improvements in the squad’s performance in Russia next year. With Halilhodzic evoking the revenge factor against the Colombians, this match should prove to be a great game throughout.