World Cup 2018: Five-must See Group Games

After a four-year wait the 2018 World Cup kicks off today, when hosts Russia face Saudi Arabia in the tournament's opening game.

FIFA revamped the seeding process ahead of the draw last December, meaning the 32 qualified teams were divided in four pots based on their world rankings. In previous editions, Pot A contained the host plus the top seven teams in the FIFA rankings—which has remained unchanged—while the remaining 24 teams were separated in pots B, C and D by federation.

Lionel Messi of Argentina looks on before a friendly against Haiti at Alberto J. Armando Stadium on May 29, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images

The new system has guaranteed there will be no repeat of the so-called Group of Death, which saw Italy, Uruguay and England paired together four years ago or Argentina, Netherlands, Serbia and Montenegro and Ivory Coast clash in 2006.

While the groups are fairer, that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of exciting games to keep an eye on ahead of the knockout stages. Newsweek has picked the five matches to watch in the group stages.

Egypt vs Uruguay 8 a.m. EDT, June 15 (Ekaterinburg Arena, Ekaterinburg)

Russia vs Saudi Arabia might be the official World Cup's curtain raiser but Egypt and Uruguay are the favorites to qualify from Group A. Egypt makes its first World Cup appearance in 28 years, while Uruguay finished second in the South American qualifiers, behind only Brazil.

Should Mohamed Salah recover from the injury he sustained in the Champions League final, the game could be a treat for fans of attacking soccer, pitting the Liverpool star against Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, who have scored a combined 93 goals for La Celeste.

Portugal vs Spain 2 p.m. EDT, June 15 (Fisht Stadium, Sochi)

The last two European champions go head-to-head as Group B begins with a bang. Portugal has failed to score in the last two competitive matches against Spain, losing 1-0 in the round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup and drawing 0-0 in the quarterfinals of Euro 2012, before taking the L in the following penalty shoot-out.

Portugal tore through the qualifying stages, winning nine of their 10 games, scoring 32 goals and conceding just four. In Cristiano Ronaldo they have a man capable of winning games by himself. The Real Madrid forward will come up against some of his teammates in a Spain squad that has slowly phased out the stars who won two European championship and a World Cup between 2008 and 2012, but remains among the favorites to lift the trophy.

With Morocco and Iran completing Group B, Spain and Portugal are odds-on to qualify.

Cristiano Ronaldo in action against Spain at the 2010 World Cup. Portugal lost 1-0 and have failed to score in its last two competitive games against Spain. Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images

Germany vs Mexico 11 a.m. EDT, June 17 (Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow)

The defending champions begin their campaign against a Mexico side it beat in the Confederations Cup semi-finals last summer. El Tri has not won any of its three previous World Cup meetings with Die Mannschaft and knows its chances of qualification will in all likelihood hinge on the games against South Korea and Mexico.

The last two times it won the World Cup—in 1990 and 2014—Germany scored four goals in its opening game, the same amount it put past Mexico last summer. Will history repeat itself?

Argentina vs Croatia 2 p.m. EDT, June 21 (Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod)

Group D is arguably the most balanced of the eight pools, and while Argentina is favorite to finish top, the process might not be as straightforward as it seems. Depending on the outcome of the opening game against Iceland, Lionel Messi and his teammates can either clinch qualification against Croatia or will find themselves needing to win to avoid a nightmare scenario.

Meanwhile, the Croats—who have lost their only previous World Cup meeting against Argentina—know avoiding defeat against the Albiceleste could be crucial ahead of their last group game against Iceland.

With Luka Modric, Messi and Sergio Aguero on the pitch, this has all the ingredients to be a match to remember.

Denmark vs France 8 a.m. EDT, June 26 ( Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow)

This all-European clash could determine the winner of Group C, given France and Denmark are both expected to progress through to the round of 16. That could be crucial as the runners up will face the winner of Group D, meaning a potential showdown with Argentina.

Didier Deschamps' men are among the favorites to lift the trophy, while Denmark never fully convinced throughout the qualifying campaign but should have enough to see off the likes of Australia and Peru.

With Christian Eriksen, Hugo Lloris, Paul Pogba, N'golo Kante and Kasper Schmeichel on the pitch, there will be plenty of faces familiar to Premier League fans.

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