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World Cup Roundup: The Preview

Tournament begins Thursday in Sao Paulo as Brazil squares off against Croatia
06/11/2014 6:11 PM ET
By Grant Tunkel

The United States' first test will be against Ghana on June 16.(AP)
Buckle up folks, it's almost here.

The 2014 World Cup begins Thursday at 4 p.m. in Sao Paulo, where the hosts, Brazil, take on Croatia in the first game of the tournament.

The Brazilians are five-time world champions, having last hoisted the trophy in 2002. Led by star forward Neymar, they are favored to win title No. 6 on home soil.

Thursday's match could be Brazil's stiffest test in Group A, which includes Mexico and Cameroon. Croatia, however, will be without its leading scorer from qualification, Mario Mandzukic. The forward was suspended for the World Cup opener after receiving a red card in Croatia's final qualifying match.

Brazil did not take part in qualifying competition, having been guaranteed one of the 32 spots as the tournament's host.

Key Dates

June 12: The tournament begins with Brazil vs. Croatia.

June 16: The United States plays its first Group G match against rival Ghana at 6 p.m. The Black Stars have eliminated the U.S. from the past two World Cups, including an extra-time defeat in 2010 in the Round of 16.

June 21: The U.S., which has been drawn into the so-called Group of Death, takes on Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal at 6 p.m.

June 26: Group G play concludes with the Americans taking on title contender Germany at noon.

June 28: Sixteen teams play on as the knockout stage begins.

July 4: The quarterfinals start on Independence Day. The U.S. reached this round of the competition in 2002, when they lost to Germany.

July 8-9: The semi-final matches are played.

July 13: All eyes will be on Rio De Janeiro for the Final.

Fast Facts

  • The last team to win the World Cup on home soil was Argentina in 1978.

  • The hosts have advanced past the group stage in all but one competition. South Africa failed to advance on goal differential four years ago.

  • Brazil's five titles are the most in tournament history, which dates back to 1930. Italy is second with four championships.

  • The World Cup has been played in the Americas seven times. Each of those tournaments was won by a South American team.
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