The group stage of the 2014 World Cup is all set, after all 32 teams were drawn into their respective groups on Friday.
It's about this time that the anticipation for the tournament begins hitting a fever pitch all over the globe. Having all the teams qualified is one thing. Now fans can anticipate the juiciest fixtures of the first round, and figure out which favorites will have an uphill battle just to qualify for the knockout stages.
In the coming six months, there will be plenty of speculation as to whether Spain will be able to repeat as champions, if Brazil can win the trophy at home and which of the ruling elite—such as Argentina, Italy, Netherlands and Germany—are best positioned to take home the crown.
However, there are also more than enough teams without much international success capable of making some noise in Brazil and enjoying a deep run.
Below is the draw for the 2014 World Cup.
Among the 32 teams in the competition, the four below represent some of the more fascinating sides from their respective regions.
Intriguing Teams to Watch
This is arguably the best Colombia side since that ill-fated run at the 1994 World Cup.
The Colombians are blessed to have Radamel Falcao in the squad. The 27-year-old is one of the best pure finishers in the world. In a short tournament like a World Cup, having such a great striker can be a huge equalizer when facing top competition.
With a second-place finish in CONMEBOL qualifying, you have to believe that this Colombia side is for real.
Jose Pekerman has done a great job of drilling defensive organization into his side. The Colombians conceded just 13 goals, the fewest by any South American country, during qualification.
Although Colombia may not have enough to win the World Cup, they're certainly capable of making a deep run.
"You know, I think this Belgium side could be a dark horse."
Thank you, Captain Obvious.
There was a time when you could legitimately call Belgium a dark horse. Sure they had talent, but it had yet to come together on the pitch. Then they went and won Group A in UEFA World Cup qualification by seven points over Croatia and failed to lose a match.
In every facet of the pitch, Marc Wilmots has a slew of talent to choose from. Thibaut Courtois is the best young goalkeeper in the world. The defense is rock solid, with the likes of Jan Vertonghen, Vincent Kompany and Toby Alderweireld. Up top, Belgium can choose either Christian Benteke or Romelu Lukaku.
The question is whether Belgium will be ready for prime time when the World Cup rolls around. A lot of their key players are in their early 20s, and never before has so much expectation been heaped upon their shoulders.
The Belgians may need to taste failure before they reach new heights.
It's almost painful to read about how the Ivory Coast have failed in international tournaments. Les Éléphants have tasted bitter defeat at the last five Africa Cups of Nations, and their trip to the 2010 World Cup was ruined by Didier Drogba's broken arm.
Sooner or later, though, you expect that the Ivory Coast will fulfill expectations.
Although Drogba will be 36 by the time the World Cup rolls around, he's still playing at a high enough level that he should provide help up top. If he isn't in a position to contribute, Wilfried Bony looks to be settling into the Premier League, while Gervinho has been on a great run of form at Roma.
The defense is also solidly built around Kolo Toure and Didier Zokora.
The Mexico of Miguel Herrera is almost unrecognizable from the Mexico of Jose Manuel de la Torre. Sure, that partly has to do with Herrera selecting a lot of Club America players, but the fact of the matter is El Tri are playing much better under their new manager.
Hate to break it to you, United States fans, but there's no better CONCACAF country than Mexico when they actually play up to their ability. The defense has never been a question, and with Oribe Peralta on a scintillating run of form, the attack is beginning to gel together and finish off chances in the final third.
El Tri were able to make it to the round of 16 in 2010, and a similar result should be the minimum expectation this time around.
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