- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2006

ABC and ESPN will air 48 games in the opening round. Diehards might catch all four dozen, but here are 10 can’t-miss matchups for the rest of us:

GERMANY vs. COSTA RICA

June 9, Munich (11:55 a.m., ESPN2)

The opener for the host team. Will the young untested German squad have the jitters? Will Costa Rica pull off an upset? A German loss would bring a dark cloud down on the finals.

ANGOLA vs. PORTUGAL

June 11, Cologne (2:55 p.m., ESPN2)

First-timers Angola face their former colonial rulers in a rivalry that will divide loyalties in Portugal. Many of Angola’s players play club soccer in that country.

BRAZIL vs. CROATIA

June 12, Berlin (2:55 p.m., ESPN2)

Champions sometimes fall flat in their opening games: Argentina lost 1-0 to Cameroon in 1990, and France fell 1-0 to Senegal in 2002. Brazil tries to avoid that winner’s curse.

U.S. vs. CZECH REPUBLIC

June 12, Gelsenkirchen (11:55 a.m., ESPN2)

The Americans open against the No. 2-ranked Czechs. It’s imperative the U.S. team at least earns a tie if they hope to advance, because a tough match against Italy awaits them in Game No. 2.

ENGLAND vs. TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO

June 15, Nuremberg (11:55 a.m., ESPN2)

A former Howard University star, goalie Shaka Hislop, takes on England in the first meeting between the teams. Hislop plays for West Ham United, and the majority of his Trinidad teammates compete at the club level in England and Scotland.

U.S. vs. ITALY

June 17, Kaiserslautern (2:30 p.m., ABC)

Likely to be the toughest test for the United States. Italy beat the Yanks 1-0 at the 1990 finals, but it will not take the improved U.S. team for granted.

ENGLAND vs. SWEDEN

June 20, Cologne (2:55 p.m., ESPN)

England, coached by Sven-Goran Eriksson, always has had a tough time against his native Swedes. The teams tied 1-1 in group play in 2002 and have an even all-time record (6-6-8). This match, however, could decide which squad wins Group B.

ARGENTINA vs. HOLLAND

June 21, Frankfurt (2:55 p.m., ESPN)

This “Group of Death” game could be the match of the tournament: Two potential finalists battling for supremacy to win Group C.

U.S. vs. GHANA

June 22, Nuremberg (9:55 a.m., ESPN)

The last game in the group for the U.S. squad, and maybe the one that could decide its fate.

TOGO vs. FRANCE

June 23, Cologne (2:55 p.m., ESPN)

This will be a testy battle between two French-speaking teams. No love is lost between Arsenal strike partners Theirry Henry of France and Emmanuel Adebayor of Togo, who will put their club loyalty behind them when their nations collide. Many of Togo’s players play club soccer in France.

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