The World Cup draw is a crucial and sometimes overlooked factor in determining which national team wins the coveted championship. Bad luck on draw day can be enough to put even the most talented squads in danger during the group stage.
Heading into Friday's key event, four teams stand out from the rest. Host nation Brazil, defending champion Spain, Germany and Argentina are seemingly the class of the tournament—at least based on how things look about seven months from kickoff.
With that in mind, let's check out the pots for the draw—as passed along by Paul Carr of ESPN—and rank those four top contenders before they find out their group opponents. Whether they maintain these rankings after the draw is all dependent on luck.
Brazil entered the Confederations Cup earlier this year with plenty of questions to answer. The team's ranking dipped after winning just one of its first six matches in 2013, rarely flashing the form necessary to make a deep World Cup run.
However, in the warm-up event—which was also hosted in Brazil—the Selecao were dominant. They scored wins over Italy and Spain, among others, en route to winning the tournament for the third straight time dating back to 2005. It was enough to reinvigorate the nation's World Cup hopes.
Led by Neymar, Oscar and Thiago Silva, Brazil sports an extremely well-rounded roster with a multitude of upside. If the talented squad can find the same form it displayed during the Confed Cup and combine it with the support from the home crowd, a title is definitely within reach.
The first thing that immediately stands out about the German roster, aside from having a boatload of talent, is the versatility available to manager Joachim Low. This is a squad capable of winning any type of match from extremely defensive to all-out attacking.
That's important because during the course of the World Cup every team that makes a deep run is going to face a wide range of teams. Players like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller and Mario Gotze—to name a few—give Germany a chance to mix and match to fit any style.
The X-factor could be Manuel Neuer, a goalkeeper with big-game experience with the size to excel in penalty kick situations. He could emerge as the hero if one of Germany's knockout stage matches goes the distance and leaves the side with very few weaknesses.
One of the major questions leading up to the World Cup will surround Spain and whether the 2010 champions have already peaked or if La Roja have another championship run in them. It's an interesting debate that rests on the shoulders of the team's veteran leadership.
Players like Andres Iniesta, David Villa, Carles Puyol and Xavi, who were critical pieces during the run last time around, haven't been able to display the same world-class form on a consistent basis as of late. Spain will need major contributions from those players and their fellow aging stars to win it all again.
Make no mistake, Spain is still one of the best teams in the tournament and it wouldn't be a shock if it captured the title. However, there are certainly more question marks than there were at this time four years ago, which is why La Roja land behind Brazil and Germany.
Rounding out the elite group is Argentina. What makes the Albiceleste so dangerous is an attack that can match any in the world. Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain are going to give opposing back lines nightmares once they build chemistry.
Just as important is Angel di Maria, the playmaker who will be charged with creating scoring opportunities for that trio of forwards. His ability to control the pace of the match in the midfield along with a stabilizing force like Javier Mascherano is essential.
What Argentina lacks compared to the other top squads is stability at the back. Goalkeeper Sergio Romero is talented but unproven on the big stage, and the back line doesn't have the international experience of the other teams on the list. It could hold the Albiceleste back in the latter stages of the event.