The 2014 World Cup should have little trouble living up to the hype. From a well-balanced group stage that should produce numerous terrific matches to a deep field of contenders capable of winning the coveted trophy, the tournament has all the makings of a memorable showcase.
Few events are able to make the same type of global impact as the World Cup. Whereas certain major sporting events are limited to a certain country or region, it brings the focus of every part of the globe to the same place for one month every four years.
In the end, one national team will stand above the rest, and there's no shortage of sides with a realistic shot of achieving that goal in Brazil. Let's check out all of the important viewing information for the tournament, followed by group predictions and a breakdown of some squads to watch.
World Cup Viewing Information
Host Nation: Brazil
Tournament Dates: June 12–July 13
TV Coverage: ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 (Full schedule via ESPN MediaZone)
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Predictions; Top 2 Advance From Each Group
National Teams to Watch
Four teams are seemingly a step above the rest heading into the tournament: Brazil, Germany, Argentina and the reigning champions from Spain. That doesn't mean a side from that quartet is definitely going to win the title: There's a strong batch of secondary hopefuls, but they are definitely the top choices.
Brazil gets the nod for two key reasons. The first is its performance in last year's Confederations Cup, which is basically a trial run for the World Cup. The Selecao won their fourth title in the event, beating Spain 3-0 in the championship match.
The other factor is home-field advantage. While it does add some extra pressure, it's more of a positive than a negative because of the huge supporter edge. Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal passed along Neymar's thoughts about the attention:
We suffer pressure in all of the things we do. It's normal in life, but if you're an athlete, this pressure is bigger because you are an example for many people. I suffer pressure since I decided to become a player, but it's a pleasure for me to play a World Cup in my country to my people.
The success of Neymar is crucial if Brazil is going to live up to its top billing. They have no shortage of talent or depth at every level, but he's the unquestioned leader of the attack. While his club form with Barcelona was inconsistent, he possesses the ability necessary to carry the Selecao on a deep run.
Sleeper: Ivory Coast
The talent-laden squad from the Ivory Coast received a lot of attention leading up to the tournament four years ago. The Elephants drew a very difficult group, however, and they were eliminated in the opening stage for the second straight time.
Which national team is your World Cup pick?
This time around the hoopla is gone and the group is easier. That bodes well for a team with one more chance to make a deep run with its current group of stars, led by the likes of Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure, before the next wave of players moves in.
The roster features a lot of players who endured the disappointment of those two previous World Cup trips. That experience, along with the knowledge that this is likely their last chance to succeed together, is going to provide plenty of motivation.
Group C doesn't have a dominant team. Colombia is probably the most well-rounded squad, but it's far from a lock to advance. So the Ivory Coast needs to focus on getting all three points in its opener against Japan, and it will be on track to surprise people.
Early Exit Alert: Portugal
Though there are several groups in the event capable of carrying the moniker "Group of Death," Portugal finds itself in what's probably the toughest of them all. It landed in Group G alongside Germany, Ghana and the United States.
That's bad news for a side which hasn't always put its best foot forward on the international stage. Andy Brassell of ESPN FC provided remarks from analyst Steve McManaman, who noted that lack of top form when it matters most:
Oh, Portugal. This is a wonderfully talented team, but as always, they just seem to mess it up, don't they? They are packed with world-class players, yet they play like an average team on the world stage.
Making matters worse, the Seleccao are forced to face Germany in their opener. If they lose that match and the United States or Ghana emerge with all three points in the group's other game, a very plausible scenario, they will find themselves in trouble immediately.
Cristiano Ronaldo is a truly special player. There are plenty of question marks outside of him, however, and the team's qualifying run left a lot to be desired. Unless players like Nani, Pepe and William Carvalho elevate their level of play, Portugal could be heading home quickly.