With the field getting set for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, we're inching nearer and nearer to next summer's spectacle in Brazil.
Considering the amount of elite teams sprinkled in with smaller nations ready to make noise on the world's biggest stage, we're in for perhaps the most exciting World Cup in recent memory.
Even though the groups haven't been announced as of yet, some favorites are already emerging from the crowd and folks are pouring in their predictions.
Here is a look at the teams that will be in the field and those that have the best chance of being the last ones standing.
|2014 World Cup Finals Teams|
|Russia||New Zealand/Mexico TBD|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||Uruguay/Jordan TBD|
FIFA announced the seven Pot 1 seeds for next summer's World Cup. The eighth and final top seed will either be Uruguay (should they advance over Jordan to qualify) or Netherlands, per the FIFA report.
- Brazil (host)
- *Uruguay or Netherlands
Not only does the whole geography thing match up pretty well for Brazil, but the team looks more dynamic and explosive than any Brazilian squad in recent history.
No player has emerged more between 2010 and 2014 than Neymar, who transformed from a small-stage youngster with untapped potential into Barcelona's new-age sensation and one of the most unstoppable international players in the world.
But it's the guys around him who could take Brazil to the next level. Fred has come into his own as a goal-scoring threat, while Oscar is becoming a star in his own right. There's enough experience around them in Robinho and Hulk to complete this dazzling attack.
The last time an elite nation hosted a World Cup was 2006, and that didn't work out well for Germany (they lost in the semifinals). Anything short of a championship for Brazil on their home turf will be a huge disappointment.
Very few teams in all of sports have dominated their craft quite like Spain has in the last half-decade.
Coming off 2008 Euro, 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euro victories, perhaps the only letdown garnered by the Spanish since 2006 was a Confederations Cup finals loss to Brazil this past summer. Although that doesn't quite live up to the stage of a Euro or a World Cup, this team won't sacrifice a chance to look for redemption.
With the typical, seemingly never-changing lineup of veterans along with plenty of young stars, Spain should cruise into the latter stages of the World Cup quite easily.
While Brazil and Spain hold more of the spotlight, Germany enters next summer's affair (somewhat) quiet but still boasting an endless array of talent.
The veteran leadership is there in Bastian Schweinsteiger, and there are more than enough options up front with Mario Gomez, Mario Goetze and Miroslav Klose. If Mesut Ozil emerges like he has in England recently, this team will only be better.
Goals against the Germans will come at a premium. They may have the world's best goalkeeper in Manuel Neuer and boast as strong a defense as any nation in the world.
United States Will Again Advance Past Group Stage
This could change if the U.S. somehow find themselves in an incredibly tough group, but the Americans have shown admirable form over the past year and are entering the home stretch before Brazil playing inspired football.
Jurgen Klinsmann has revitalized this roster, building depth and establishing his top starters very well en route to a relatively easy World Cup qualification. Don't expect that to fade before the summer.
In 2010, USMNT received a somewhat fortunate draw in a group with England, Algeria and Slovenia. Somehow, they were able to win that group before being matched against a No. 2 group stage finisher in Ghana, who eliminated the Americans.
This time around, it's more conceivable to see Klinsmann's squad finish second in their group and get eliminated by an elite foe in the round of 16. But just getting past the group stage will be a win in most Americans' books.
Spain Will Win Second Straight World Cup
There are more than a couple of nations that can knock the champs off their perch, but it's hard to envision anyone beating Spain in one, 90-minute match for the World Cup.
Spain's core of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Villa is aging, but there's just way too much depth and more than enough budding stars to make any sort of deficiency disappear.
It may be boring, it may lack flair and excitement, but the way Spain plays simply wears down even the most explosive of clubs. They'll win their consecutive world championship and continue their ascendance into the argument of best dynasties in world football's history.