The 2014 World Cup is just around the corner, and as teams all over the globe start their training camps to determine the final squads that will be travelling to Brazil, fans are already busy predicting what will happen once the tournament kicks off.
Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Germany will be among the favourites to lift the trophy, but a slow start in the group stage can quickly eradicate such hopes.
Here we predict which nations will advance to the knockout rounds. Be sure to share your picks in the comment section.
Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Cameroon, Mexico
Everyone is going to pick the hosts in this group, and they should. Brazil have shown few signs of weakness in the last two years and have one of the deepest squads in world football. Add the advantage of playing at home, and the Selecao are as close as you'll get to a lock for the next round.
Croatia had some issues in their qualifying group, and the wheels really came off the wagon late with losses to Scotland and Belgium and a draw against Serbia. They did, however, match the heavily fancied Belgians point for point prior to their shock loss against Scotland and somehow have an underrated squad, headlined by mercurial players Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic.
The Mexicans are another squad that won't have to travel as far and can call upon numerous players from the criminally underrated Liga MX. Their Olympic gold medal in London was impressive, but much of what has followed since has been underwhelming.
Cameroon disappointed somewhat during the CAF group qualifications, sporting a terrible record away from home, but the team truly redeemed themselves with a solid win over Tunisia. In Group A, however, they're definitely outsiders.
Prediction: Mexico will gain an advantage from playing in South America, but Croatia are just too talented to finish below them. Brazil go top, and Croatia finish second.
Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia
Spain have won three straight major tournaments and will be the defending champions—they hardly need an introduction. People are somehow sleeping on La Roja, and they shouldn't.
The Netherlands absolutely dominated qualification, as they usually do. Euro 2012 was a tremendous disappointment for Oranje, and the team is going through something of a transition, but overlooking this squad would be dangerous. If Louis van Gaal keeps his eyes on the prize, rather than Manchester United, he has the squad to go far.
Chile are widely favoured as dark horses, but following the news of Arturo Vidal's surgery and reports he could miss the World Cup, as shared by Goal.com's Carlo Garganese, they've suddenly lost some of their luster:
Australia have a solid squad with some very interesting young players. Any other year, they'd have a shot at causing an upset. But not in 2014's version of the Group of Death.
Prediction: With Vidal, Chile could have been the pick here to pull off the upset and finish second behind Spain. No longer, though. Holland now have the edge.
Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan
This truly is a fantastic group. Colombia and Japan are exciting teams with tremendously high work rates. Ivory Coast have way more talent than people give them credit for, and Greece's style of solid, organised football is tailor-made for cup tournaments.
Too much has been made of Radamel Falcao's injury—Colombia have enough talent to make do without him and will be playing close to home. You have to love the Japanese team and their attacking brand of football, but you have to hate their record at the World Cup, as the Blue Samurai have never made it out of the round of 16.
Prediction: Colombia and Greece tie on points for first, with the tiebreaker going to Colombia thanks to a superior goal difference.
Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy
Group D is tricky. Uruguay have talent, but they might not be as strong as they were four years ago, even with a favourable climate and a certain Luis Suarez.
England do not carry much belief among their own fans, but it's hard to see why. The 2013-14 campaign has seen several youngsters making the leap, and the likes of Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge could play huge roles in Brazil.
The Italians, on the other hand, are waiting on their youngsters to step up, with Stephan El Shaarawy and Mattia De Sciglio seeing their progress halted by injuries. But the Azzurri seem to play their best when people are counting them out. Costa Rica are a good team, but they will be facing very steep odds to survive this group.
The Three Lions have the attacking prowess to take advantage of an aging Italian back line as well as Uruguay's unbalanced talent distribution, which leans heavily toward the attacking department with players such as Suarez and Gaston Ramirez. If England can find a reliable partner for Gary Cahill in the centre of the defence, the second round should be a definite possibility.
Prediction: Suarez fires Uruguay to the top spot, and England surprise everyone by dominating the Italian team in their match on their way to second.
Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras
On paper, this is the second-weakest group and perhaps the one most likely to produce an upset. The Swiss team and their combination of talent and work rate are somehow flying under the radar, and they have an excellent record against France.
Les Bleus seem to be rounding the corner at just the right time, however, and there's a lot of young talent available for the French squad to work with. Karim Benzema, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann all had dominant seasons at their particular positions, and their 2-0 win over Netherlands earlier this year was just the type of confidence booster Les Bleus needed.
Andy Najar had a great second half to the season with Anderlecht, and the winger looks like he could have a very bright future both at club level and with Honduras. But he's simply too young to carry his squad past heavyweights such as France and Switzerland, as Honduras lack true veteran players to take the pressure off his shoulders.
Ecuador could surprise people, as they edged Uruguay during the qualifiers, an impressive feat. But big tournaments often require star power, something the squad lacks.
Prediction: Switzerland control the group and take first, and France barely scrape by Ecuador to steal second.
Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria
Arguably the group supporters are least excited for but for the wrong reasons. This isn't Argentina and the other three—It's Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina plus Nigeria and Iran.
Nigeria are yet another squad unable to capitalise on a good performance at the Olympics, developing a reputation for underperforming at the World Cup. Iran, meanwhile, just don't have the talent required to compete at this level. They have never progressed out of the opening round at a World Cup and haven't medaled in the Asia Cup since 2004.
Argentina have basically been given a tuneup group, with a perfect test against an underrated Bosnia team and very winnable matches in general. Lionel Messi and Co. couldn't have asked for a better start to the World Cup.
Prediction: Argentina predictably take the top spot, followed by Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA
Group of Death, Part II. It's too easy to assume that Germany and Portugal will waltz beyond USA and Ghana into the knockout rounds. The Ghanaians have consistently produced talent in the past five years and completely dominated Egypt during qualifiers. Kwadwo Asamoah is but the latest Black Star to emerge as a top player following his excellent season with Juventus.
We keep talking about how the USA are ever improving, because, well, they're ever improving. Jurgen Klinsmann has built a solid, deep squad with a very bright future, even if the 2014 World Cup will come too soon for players such as Aron Johannsson and Julian Green.
The loss to Belgium last year temporarily emphasised a problem with quicker wingers, but Klinsmann was able to make the necessary alterations, with no such issues to be seen against Mexico. With veteran international players such as Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley all at the German's disposal, the USA will make life hard on anyone in Group G.
It won't be enough in 2014 though. Not with Cristiano Ronaldo facing his last World Cup while he's still in his prime years and the German Golden Generation set to finally deliver on all their promise.
Portugal aren't as deep behind Ronaldo as they've been in years past, but they're still pretty good in the technical department. Die Mannschaft, meanwhile, arguably have a deeper squad than any other team in world football and can match anyone in terms of talent.
Prediction: Germany finish first, and Portugal take second. All is normal with the world.
Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, Korea Republic
Group H is is expected to be a procession for Belgium, but that might not prove to be the case.
The Red Devils have plenty of talent but virtually no experience in major tournaments, and qualification didn't go as smoothly as the numbers would suggest. They struggle against organised squads and will be forced to take the initiative as the favoured team against all three opponents.
The good news is that Korea Republic are equally inexperienced, and their young talents are two or three years further back in their progression as opposed to the Red Devils.
Russia were awful away from home during qualification (losing to Portugal and Northern Ireland) and have disappointed in major tournaments since their magical run in 2008. Alan Dzagoev is one of the world's most underrated players, and he could drive this talented squad to new heights, but their struggles away from home are a real issue.
Algeria are somewhat similar to Korea Republic in that they are young and talented but very inexperienced. Ishak Belfodil is probably the team's star name, but he's yet to make a big impact at the top level. Algeria's showing against Burkina Faso to make it to the tournament was pedestrian at best.
Prediction: Belgium take the top spot, but it will cost blood, sweat and tears. Korea Republic shock the world to take second off Russia.
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