Ecuador vs. Qatar, Group A, Sunday, 11 a.m., FS1
Tune in here to witness the spectacle of the start of the biggest tournament in the world. Following the Opening Ceremony at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar gets its best chance at a group-stage victory — the Netherlands and Senegal are the top teams in Group A — to go with its controversial role as host. Keep an eye on Ecuador’s 21-year-old midfield star Moises Caicedo.
Belgium vs. Canada, Group F, Wednesday, 2 p.m., Fox
Belgium, which reached the semifinals four years ago, is the No. 2 team in the world — but its current form with an aging roster lags behind that lofty ranking. Kevin De Bruyne, who stars for Manchester City in England’s Premier League, is operating at the peak of his powers; the same can’t be said for marquee teammates Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard. Canada, which finished first in CONCACAF regional qualifying, is looking for a breakthrough in its first World Cup appearance since 1986. The Canadians play a pressing, high-tempo style led by star Alphonso Davies. Upset special?
Denmark vs. France, Group D, Saturday, 11 a.m., FS1
France is the reigning World Cup champion, yet injuries to midfield pillars Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante have caused questions to surround Les Bleus’ repeat bid. The electrifying Kylian Mbappe features up front, along with striker Karim Benzema, who seems to save his most superb goal-scoring strikes for the biggest stages. Denmark is the dark-horse pick to win Group D if France falters. The Danes are led by midfielder Christian Eriksen, who has made an inspiring comeback after nearly dying on the field during the European Championships last summer. Denmark beat France twice recently in the Nations League.
Germany vs. Spain, Group E, Nov. 27, 2 p.m., FS1
The headline matchup of a popular pick for this tournament’s Group of Death — Group E also contains an up-and-coming Japan and a defensively fireproof Costa Rica — features a pair of European superpowers. Spain, a semifinalist at the most recent Euros and now spearheaded by young talents Pedri and Gavi, is going to ping the ball around the field, but at times lacks for finishing. Germany suffered premature exits at its two most recent major tournaments, but has the wealth of talent — many of whom play together at the club level for Bayern Munich, including veteran forward Thomas Müller, midfielder Joshua Kimmich and goalie Manuel Neuer — to make a deep dent.
Portugal vs. Uruguay, Group H, Nov. 28, 2 p.m., Fox
Cristiano Ronaldo will use a lot of oxygen around the Portugal squad and, by extension, around how Group H unfolds. But in his fifth World Cup, at 37 years old, he’s no longer a game-tilting influence. Portugal, ranked No. 9 in the world, is the favorite, but will have its hands full advancing out of a tightly bunched Group H that also includes Ghana and South Korea. Here, in the middle game of the round robin, Portugal faces another pair of world-class scorers in their twilights: Uruguay’s Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. The South American nation’s golden generation advanced to the World Cup semifinals in 2010 and the quarters in 2018.
England vs. Wales, Group B, Nov. 29, 2 p.m., FS1
If you’re busy watching the U.S. play Iran on Fox in its final group-stage game during this time slot, understood. But this is set to be a scintillating showdown even outside of the scoreboard-watching implications for whether the Americans advance out of Group B. There’s the historical element for these neighboring countries in the United Kingdom. There’s the familiarity of most of these players from the Premier League. And there’s England’s ongoing attempt to end a haunted, Knicks-level World Cup drought that dates to 1966. Imagine the drama if England needs a win here to escape the group.
Argentina vs. Poland, Group C, Nov. 30, 2 p.m., Fox*
Is this finally the year the legendary Lionel Messi leads Argentina to World Cup glory? That pressure-packed question looms over the loaded Argentines’ progress through a relatively benign Group C — famous last words — and beyond. Argentina enters the World Cup undefeated in its past 35 games. Watch the shrewd Angel Di Maria on Messi’s opposite wing. Poland, ranked No. 26, is a lively underdog and has an elite forward in Robert Lewandowski to at least rival Messi. Poland will be looking to advance out of the group stage for the first time in 36 years.
Brazil vs. Cameroon, Group G, Dec. 2, 2 p.m., Fox*
It’s likely that spots in the knockout rounds will remain up for grabs going into the final matchday in a highly competitive Group G, which also includes European stalwarts Serbia and Switzerland. But those squads can’t compare with Brazil, the pre-tournament favorite in many corners, and Cameroon for a potentially fun and stylish matchup. Brazil superstar Neymar has a checkered history in two prior World Cups that he’ll be looking to rewrite; Vinicius Jr., in his first World Cup, is a sensation in the making. Cameroon midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa makes his team tick.
* subject to change