Mexico vs. Cameroon (aka THE WORLD'S ONLY RIVALRY CONTINUES)
Where: Arena Das Dunas, Natal. Probably the best stadium built for the World Cup, Arena das Dunas' design reflects the trademark giant dunes of Natal state. If you did not know that, it still looks like a very expensive and stylish ash tray.
What I'm watching Mexico for: continuing signs of a pulse. Sliding ass-backwards into qualifying, fresh off warm-up losses to Portugal and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mexico remains...alive. This is something we can definitely say about Mexico: they are alive, and hoping to stave off collapse with a lot of lineup shuffling and pure effort. That sounds like a dodgy plan, you say? At least Mexico are sort of fun to watch. There are worse plans.
What I'm watching Cameroon for: Speaking of worse plans. You watch Cameroon for...um...fights? A pregame flare-up of the contract dispute that nearly kept the team home for the World Cup? An old and angry Samuel Eto'o threatening someone's life? It's hard to say exactly what you're going to see out of Cameroon. If it's frustration taken out in Mexico's direction, they win, but Cameroon could just as easily take out their frustrations internally and combust before our very eyes, as they are this Cup's Team Most Likely To Get A Red Card In An Incident Involving Teammates.
Intangibles: Mexico (like, the entire team); Cameroon (also, entire team.)
Announcers: Fernando Palomo and Alejandro Moreno. Fun fact: Palomo used to throw javelin competitively in college, a skill which we really hope he won't have to use in the course of calling this match.
Watchability: This is a connoisseur's call. Two uneven teams competing in the first match of their tourney just screams shock and dysfunction in all directions, so if confusing frenzy is your thing, this is already hanging at about a six. However, either team is capable of slipping into long bouts of torpid nothingness. Watchability brokers thus call this at somewhere around a 5/10 on pure watchability, averaging out the possibility of a bonkers 10/10 and a dullard's special of 0/10.
Spain vs. Netherlands (aka REPLAY OF THAT TIME A DUDE KICKED ANOTHER DUDE IN THE CHEST)
Where: Arena Fonte Nova, in Salvador, Bahia. Salvador is famous for outdoor parties. In Brazil, a nation known for outdoor parties. This is like Germans recognizing your town as being the national leader in grim existential brooding, and no one is having a bad time before or after this game.
What I'm watching Spain for: The usual five hundred passes in a row. It would be very easy to say that the defending champions' Brownian Motion Offense has been solved, and that the 3-0 defeat by Brazil in the 2013 Confederations Cup is the blueprint for disrupting them. It may be, but a crucial element of that plan is being as talented as Brazil, which your soccer team most likely isn't. Spain are probably less dangerous than they were four years ago, and that downgrades them to a mere "slightly fatal" in this competition.
What I'm watching Netherlands for: Van Persie, Robben, and Sneijder working like mad to make something happen offensively for the Dutch, which depends on someone dispossessing Spain in the back, and now you get a sense of why playing Spain can be so frustrating for even the best teams in the world. If all else fails, Nigel De Jong can just start assaulting people. The chances of this happening are very good.
Intangibles: The usual nerves; Arjen Robben going off for two goals; the game being interrupted for several hours of beach barbecuing; part of the stadium roof collapsing, as it did after heavy rains in 2013.
Announcers: Jon Champion and Stewart Robson.
Watchability: A game with Spain stands around a 7/10 already, but a rematch with their World Cup final opponents in the first match of their 2014 World Cup campaign gets this up to a straight 9/10 on pure watchability.
Chile vs. Australia (aka WHAT DID POOR AUSTRALIA EVER DO TO YOU?)
Where: Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba, Mato Grosso, the exact center of the South American continent. It's the Kansas of Brazil!*
*Comparison value for accuracy in any sense but geography: zero dollars American
What I'm watching Chile for: Plunder, mostly. Chile play a wildly aggressive form of soccer, score goals, run real hard-like, and generally do a good job defeating every negative stereotype of the beautiful game peddled by American talk radio meatheaps. Their star Arturo Vidal is hobbled by injury, but fortunately for Chile the opponent probably won't be able to take advantage of that absence, as the opponent is brave and somewhat hapless here.
[/looks under "brave and hapless" in soccer dictionary...]
What I'm watching Australia for: Brave and hapless effort accompanied by spectacularly profane songs. (VERY NSFW.)
Anything is possible. However, what's probable are lots of Chilean goals answered by long, hopeless crosses into Tim Cahill in the box.
Intangibles: Tim Cahill's ability to head goals in despite being buried beneath five or six grown men; Chile's odd stance as the favorite; beer, a drunken intangible that forever bends in Australia's favor.
Announcers: Daniel Mann, Kasey Keller, and sadly not Kasey Keller's megamullet.