2014 FIFA World Cup preview

Michael Bauer

Every four years, the biggest stage in soccer occurs, bringing with it the pride and passion of all the countries that have qualified and ending a long wait for thousands of fans around the globe.
The FIFA World Cup, rich with triumph and history, will reignite next week in the most successful nation in soccer history: Brazil.
Thirty-two of the best teams will square off for the next month with only one goal in mind: to win the coveted World Cup trophy. The teams have been split into groups of eight. The best two teams in each group will advance to the knock-out stages beginning with the round of 16 and eventually working its way to the last two countries in the final, which will be played in Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Maracana stadium on Sunday, July 13.
For some teams, just qualifying for the contest is an accomplishment. For others, like the U.S., getting to the knockout stages is the key while for others, Brazil and Germany, nothing short of winning the tournament will be accepted.
Spain is the defending champion from 2010. The Spaniards (also known as La Roja) are in the middle of a dynasty, winning back-to-back European championships in 2008 and 2012. They enter the tournament with a No. 1 world ranking and will be looking to add another trophy to their growing pile.
The United States, currently ranked 14th, has an arduous task ahead. After being placed in the “Group of Death” along with three-time winners Germany, third-ranked Portugal and Ghana, the strongest team in Africa, the Americans have some work to do if they’re to advance.
Below is a breakdown of all 32 teams.

Group A

Brazil: Neymar da Silva Santos Jr. will have to carry a young Brazil squad to glory just as he did in last summer’s FIFA Confederations Cup.
Cameroon: Have struggled since its historic 1990 quarterfinal run.
Mexico: Struggled to qualify but is a safe bet to advance.
Croatia: Barely beat Iceland in the qualifying playoffs. Luka Modric must shine.

Group B

Spain: Could face Argentina, Portugal or even Uruguay in the knockout stages. Repeating as champions will be a tall order.
Chile: Advancing ahead of the Netherlands will be difficult but don’t be surprised if it happens.
Australia: Struggled to qualify and anything other than three straight losses will be a surprise.
Netherlands: Age might hurt the Dutches’ attempt at their first world cup title.

Group C

Colombia: Could become vulnerable without Radamel Falcao.
Ivory Coast: With an easier group draw, should have the best chance of all the African teams to advance.
Greece: Qualified strongly from a very weak group.
Japan: Might be the strongest Asian squad, but always struggles to live up to expectations.

Group D

Uruguay: 2010’s semifinals appearance was a surprise. This time, the same will be expected if they can avoid Spain or Brazil in the quarterfinals.
Italy: Missing out on two consecutive knockout stages shouldn’t happen for Italy.
England: Wayne Rooney must show he can carry England in the world cup.
Costa Rica: Don’t expect them to make any headlines in Brazil.

Group E

France: Needs to show the strength it used to beat Ukraine in the playoffs in order to advance.
Ecuador: Believed to be the weakest South American side, though a second-round appearance isn’t out of reach.
Switzerland: Probably the weakest seeded team in the tournament. Lack of a big name player will prove costly.
Honduras: Will be a big surprise if they advance.

Group F

Argentina: Seems to lack the quality needed to win its third world cup.
Bosnia-Herzegovina: Will go only as far as Eden Dzeko can carry them.
Nigeria: Too young and inexperienced to do much.
Iran: One of the weakest of all 32 teams.

Group G

Germany: Among the favorites, but injuries will hurt its chances.
Portugal: Must show it can win with more than just Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ghana: Has the talent to reach the quarterfinals if it can escape the group.
United States: Jozy Altidore needs to end drought of goals scored by U.S. strikers at the world cup.

Group H

Belgium: Plenty of talent to be a dark horse but won’t reach the quarterfinals.
Algeria: With no proven attacker, could end up dead last.
Russia: Qualified ahead of Portugal but won’t do much better.
South Korea: Improved with a versatility of scorers in qualifying,

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