“All in one rhythm” may be the slogan for the 2014 World Cup, but the phrase can’t exactly be applied to fans' predictions for FIFA’s showcase event.
Opinions are varied on who will lift the world’s most recognised trophy on Jul. 13 next year. While host nation Brazil are the favourites with most bookies, arguments can be made for numerous countries to emerge victorious.
The weather, injuries, nerves and history will all play a role when the action gets underway, but with 182 days to go, we’ve taken a stab at predicting the final eight and beyond.
But first, here’s a look at Groups A-H and the knock-out bracket.
Brazil vs. Italy
Brazil’s talent is unquestionable. While their attacking prowess needs no introduction, A Selecao possess a solidity behind the ball that they have lacked at previous tournaments.
Italy are a solid unit with the majestic Andrea Pirlo pulling the strings as a deep-lying playmaker. The Italian may be aging, but he has never been known for his running. He stamps his authority on the game with his vision, and it will be no different in Brazil.
While Italy should have enough to get to the quarter-final, their lack of a threat going forward will cost them against Brazil’s endless creative talent.
France vs. Germany
France are just as likely to crumble in the group stages as they are to win outright, but they can’t be ruled out despite their glorious unpredictability. An easy draw has helped their cause, but their tournament will come to a halt at the hands of Germany.
Les Bleus defence will struggle to contain the German's attacking threat, which can come from numerous different angles.
Spain vs. Uruguay
Uruguay were the last team to win a World Cup hosted by Brazil, but the quarter-final is as far as they will go this time around. For all the talk of their attacking threat, which boasts Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, the South American side conceded 25 goals, as many as they scored, in their 16 qualification games.
Suarez and Cavani have the ability to terrorise the Spanish back line, but they will need to get the ball first. Expect Spain’s tiki-taka style to frustrate the 1950 champions.
Argentina vs. Portugal
Many consider Portugal a one-man side, but they aren’t. Inconsistent? Yes. But one-dimensional? No. Joao Moutinho was central to their efforts in qualifying, providing eight assists, and they boast an experienced defence.
While Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. will overcome a tough Belgian side in the round of 16, they will likely crash out at the hands of Argentina. The South American side were fairly rampant in qualifying, and their attacking threat is arguably the best on offer in Brazil.
Portuguese defenders Pepe and Coentrao have struggled with Lionel Messi in La Liga with talented teammates around them. There’s little to suggest the Barcelona front man won’t frustrate them once more.
Brazil vs. Germany
For all the talk of it being Brazil’s tournament to lose, Germany will be more than happy to play the underdog role in the semi-final.
When you look through both squads, there is one slight mismatch that stands out. When Marco Reus, Mesut Ozil, Mario Goetze, Thomas Mueller and Toni Kross come bursting through from midfield, will the likes of Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo be able to stop them?
Spain vs. Argentina
If anyone knows how to stop Messi it will be Xavi and Co. The Spanish squad will know the Argentine’s game inside out and if they can stifle his threat then Argentina will be tamed.
The South American side have an embarrassment of riches going forward—Messi, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain—but it isn’t 1920. To borrow a phrase from Jonathan Wilson, the pyramid has been inverted, and Argentina can only field a handful of their star talent.
At the back, they will struggle against Spain’s free-flowing football. La Furia Roja will have one of the strongest midfields in Brazil and with Alvaro Negredo, Diego Costa, Fernando Llorente and David Villa hitting form of late, they won’t be short of options up front either.
Germany vs. Spain
Spain have triumphed over the last six years with players from both Barcelona and Real Madrid making up a large portion of their squad. The players were familiar with each other and, as a result, the club success of the El Clasico rivals lead to silverware with the national side.
A similar thing could happen this year, but to another country.
Germany are comprised mainly of players from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, last year’s Champions League finalists.
Who will win the 2014 World Cup?
Joachim Loew’s charges will take confidence from their feats in Europe’s premier competition—in which both clubs clinched overwhelming victories over Spanish opposition—and it’s difficult to pinpoint a weakness in their squad. They scored 36 goals in qualifying, 22 more than Spain, who played two games less.
The German's have in-form defenders at their disposal, and when at their best going forward, they are virtually unstoppable.
Germany's attacking threat combined with the question marks over Spain's defence, make the three-time champions favourites to clinch a fourth World Cup crown.
From Nos. 1 through to 11, Germany possess world-class players in abundance. After a disappointing semi-final exit in Euro 2012, they will be gunning for football's biggest prize in Brazil.