We now are less than one week away from the 2014 FIFA World Cup. To get you ready, I have compiled my predictions for each group, as well as how I see the entire tournament shaking out. I hope you will comment with your predictions after you read through mine!
*Countries are listed in alphabetical order with FIFA World Ranking as of June 5 in parentheses. Teams in bold are those which I predict will advance to the knockout Round of 16.
Brazil (3), Cameroon (56), Croatia (18), Mexico (20)
The host country, Brazil, should not have much trouble getting out of this group, riding the home crowd and momentum from last year's Confederations Cup championship. Mexico barely qualified for the tournament and will likely need to beat a tough Croatian squad to make it through, but I see El Tri getting the job done.
Australia (62), Chile (14), Netherlands (15), Spain (1)
The defending World Cup champion, Spain, did not get an easy draw, with a rematch of the 2010 final against Netherlands beginning a tough group. I see La Furia Roja making it through again, along with the Dutch after the Orange hold off a game Chilean club with a superior attack led by Arjen Robben.
Colombia (8), Greece (12), Ivory Coast (23), Japan (46)
An interesting group with no team looking invincible. Colombia will miss injured forward Radamel Falcao, but should have enough to advance. Ivory Coast will be led by a determined Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure, who was one of the top players in the English Premier League this past season.
Costa Rica (28), England (10), Italy (9), Uruguay (7)
While Group G is considered the "Group of Death," Group D actually has the best group of four when you add up all the world rankings, as it is the only group with three of the top 10 teams in the world. This is one of the groups where I see an upset, as Italy will win the group on the shoulders of timeless goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, but Uruguay will squeak by England to get into the knockout round.
Ecuador (26), France (17), Honduras (33), Switzerland (6)
While Switzerland comes into this group on a tear and should advance, France should win this group with a strong core of superstars. The French will miss injured playmaker Franck Ribery, but Olivier Giroud and Karim Benzema provide plenty of firepower for Les Bleus.
Argentina (5), Bosnia and Herzegovina (21), Iran (43), Nigeria (44)
Argentina will be a "love or hate" team in this World Cup, given that it features the best player in the world and will have a lot of supporters traveling to the tournament in its home continent, but is the biggest rival of the home country. Argentina should have no problem winning this group with Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, and Angel di Maria all better than any other player in the group. I see Bosnia and Herzegovina edging out Nigeria for the second spot, thanks to the heroics of Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic.
Germany (2), Ghana (37), Portugal (4), United States (13)
Do you want storylines? How about the only group with two of the top four teams in the world? How about the US trying to avenge Ghana in the opener after the African nation knocked the Americans out of the last two World Cups? How about one of Germany's most prolific and popular players of all time, Jurgen Klinsmann - now managing the US - taking on his one-time head assistant coach, Joachim Low, who leads this stellar German team? This group has a lot of talent and a lot of drama. I am going with Germany to win the group after defeating Portugal in match one, and I see the United States exacting revenge on Ghana in match one, drawing Portugal in match two, and taking advantage of a German squad - which will have already qualified for the knockout round - in match three to earn a draw and advance as second in the group with five points.
Algeria (22), Belgium (11), Russia (19), South Korea (57)
Belgium is rising again as a soccer power, led by a youthful core of Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas, and Romelu Lukaku. They should have no problem advancing out of this group. Russia should also move on, taking advantage of two very suspect other squads with a conservative approach and an unsung talent in Aleksandr Kerzhakov.
KNOCKOUT ROUND OF 16
Brazil over Netherlands
Uruguay over Colombia
France over Bosnia and Herzegovina
Germany over Russia
Spain over Mexico
Italy over Ivory Coast
Argentina over Switzerland
Belgium over United States
Brazil over Uruguay
Germany over France
Spain over Italy
Argentina over Belgium
Brazil over Germany
Argentina over Spain
THIRD PLACE GAME
Germany over Spain
Brazil over Argentina