The 2014 FIFA World Cup inches closer. With the first kickoff scheduled for June of next year, we're just over 16 months away from the greatest sporting event on Earth.
While 16 months might seem like too much time for serious predictions, we don't think so. Today, we're bringing you 10 early predictions for the event.
Who will surprise? Who will disappoint? Who will win the whole thing? Keep reading for answers.
Following the 1998 World Cup in France, the three most recent Cups have produced progressively fewer goals. From the high of 171 goals in 1998, the 2010 event in South Africa gave us only 145.
The 2014 World Cup will be held in Brazil, and that has to mean more goals and more entertainment—right?
B/R's Will Tidey thinks so. He explains why here.
For one specific reason, click to the next slide.
Neymar, the precocious 21-year-old Brazilian forward, won the 2011 FIFA Puskas Award for the best goal scored in the world that year. The goal appears in the video at left.
By the time the 2014 World Cup kicks off, Neymar will be 22 and presumably a bit closer to his full potential. As his Puskas Award-winning goal demonstrated, Neymar's skills are already considerable. Imagine what he might do on the world's biggest stage, and on home soil.
Owing to that enormous potential, Neymar has been linked with some of the biggest clubs in the world, especially Barcelona and Real Madrid. But let's assume for a second that Neymar sticks around Santos through the 2014 Cup—like he and the club say will happen.
That could make the 2014 Cup an extraordinarily high-profile, high-stakes audition for one of the world's most promising young talents. Consider us excited.
South America has hosted a World Cup four times, and each time, one of their countries has won it.
Uruguay hosted and won the tournament in 1930. Uruguay won again in 1950, in Brazil. Brazil took the trophy in Chile in 1962. Argentina claimed glory on home soil in 1978.
Three more times, the Cup has been played elsewhere in the Americas. Again, all three times, a South American team won it.
Here's that list: Brazil triumphed in Mexico in 1970, Argentina won it all in the same country in 1986 and Brazil went all the way in the U.S. in 1994.
Now, it's true that Spain became the first European team to win the Cup on non-European soil four years ago in South Africa. But South America—and the Americas in general—will be an even greater challenge, even for a team like Spain.
Uruguay's Luis Suarez
A South American team is likely to win the 2014 World Cup, but it probably won't be Uruguay.
Uruguay, in fact, might not even make the tournament. More than halfway through South American qualifying, Uruguay sit outside the qualification spots.
The 2010 semifinalists face a fight just to qualify.
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo
It's becoming increasingly likely that at least one big European name won't make the tournament.
France are second in UEFA's Group I. With Spain topping the group, though, that's no surprise. The surprise is that England trail Montenegro in Group H with four matches left.
Both could be headed to the playoffs, and once there, they could even face each other.
England and France aren't the only nations in trouble. Portugal are third in Group F behind Russia (who have two matches in hand) and Israel.
Belgium top UEFA's Group A on goal differential ahead of Croatia. If the Belgians qualify, they could be a dark horse.
Just take a look at the squad, which is dominated by talent from the English Premier League.
At 22, attacking midfielder Eden Hazard is already an established Premier League star. Elsewhere, the midfield boasts Moussa Dembele, Marouane Fellaini and the Russian Premier League's Axel Witsel, among others.
Forwards Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke are also having solid seasons in England's top flight. The defense is full of solid international performers like Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Daniel Van Buyten, Toby Alderweireld and others, too.
Don't say you weren't warned.
That criticism was unfair then, and if he inevitably fails to live up to his own unbelievable standards again next summer, the criticism will be unfair once more.
Messi scored 91 goals in 2012, a world record. But he did that with Barcelona, a club set up to bring the best out of him. Playing with Argentina is somewhat different, and it's unfair to expect him to score quite so many goals for his country.
Still, if he comes anywhere close to replicating his Barca form, Argentina will be hard to beat.
The final round of CONCACAF qualifying, known popularly as the Hex, could hardly be tighter. Panama lead the six-team group with five points through three matches, while favorites Mexico are fifth with three.
Three points separate first place from last, and only the top three qualify automatically. So have Mexico and the United States fallen back to the pack? Or has CONCACAF improved as a whole thanks in part to the parallel improvement of the quality of Major League Soccer?
We think it's the latter. And we think CONCACAF teams could surprise in Brazil.
The United States has reached the point in its footballing history at which the national team expects to qualify for the knockout stage of the World Cup.
This might be wishful thinking on our part, but we expect that to happen next year in Brazil. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has had some ups and downs in his tenure, but recent results suggest progress is being made.
Question is: Will Landon Donovan be around for it?
We have to hand it to Sepp Blatter. The man has managed to stick around FIFA way past his expiration date and, considering all the nasty allegations surrounding him and FIFA, in increasingly improbable fashion.
But the FIFA president has also given us some pretty entertaining moments over the years. Just think of it as Sepp being Sepp.
He suggested that female footballers should dress sexier. He likened the transfer market to slavery. He advised gay fans to "refrain from any sexual activities" during the 2022 World Cup. He told players who have been subjected to racism on the pitch to shake hands with their adversary.
Imagine what he'll say or do in Brazil.