Four years after Spain showed it was the best in the world, 32 teams will try to earn that honor at the 2014 World Cup.
The most popular international event in sports will kick off on June 12 in a battle between host country Brazil and Croatia. The action will continue throughout the month until July 13, when a new champion is crowned in the finals at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.
Between these two dates, legends will be made and great plays will be remembered as well as the bad mistakes. Fans from around the world will stop what they are doing to root for their country, while every player will do his best to make the most of this opportunity to shine on the global stage.
It is an event that you do not want to miss, so check out this full schedule for the group stage followed by a breakdown of the top contenders this summer.
|2014 World Cup Group Stage Fixtures|
|June 12||Brazil vs. Croatia||A||4 p.m.||Sao Paulo|
|June 13||Mexico vs. Cameroon||A||12 p.m.||Natal|
|June 13||Spain vs. Netherlands||B||3 p.m.||Salvador|
|June 13||Chile vs. Australia||B||6 p.m.||Cuiaba|
|June 14||Colombia vs. Greece||C||12 p.m.||Belo Horizonte|
|June 14||Uruguay vs. Costa Rica||D||3 p.m.||Fortaleza|
|June 14||Ivory Coast vs. Japan||C||6 p.m.||Recife|
|June 14||England vs. Italy||D||6 p.m.||Manaus|
|June 15||Switzerland vs. Ecuador||E||12 p.m.||Brasilia|
|June 15||France vs. Honduras||E||3 p.m.||Porto Alegre|
|June 15||Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina||F||6 p.m.||Rio De Janeiro|
|June 16||Germany vs. Portugal||G||12 p.m.||Salvador|
|June 16||Iran vs. Nigeria||F||3 p.m.||Curitiba|
|June 16||Ghana vs. United States||G||6 p.m.||Natal|
|June 17||Belgium vs. Algeria||H||12 p.m.||Belo Horizonte|
|June 17||Brazil vs. Mexico||A||3 p.m.||Fortaleza|
|June 17||Russia vs. South Korea||H||6 p.m.||Cuiaba|
|June 18||Australia vs. Netherlands||B||12 p.m.||Porto Alegre|
|June 18||Cameroon vs. Croatia||A||3 p.m.||Manaus|
|June 18||Spain vs. Chile||B||6 p.m.||Rio De Janeiro|
|June 19||Colombia vs. Ivory Coast||C||12 p.m.||Brasilia|
|June 19||Uruguay vs. England||D||3 p.m.||Sao Paulo|
|June 19||Greece vs. Japan||C||6 p.m.||Natal|
|June 20||Costa Rica vs. Italy||D||12 p.m.||Recife|
|June 20||Switzerland vs. France||E||3 p.m.||Salvador|
|June 20||Ecuador vs. Honduras||E||6 p.m.||Curitiba|
|June 21||Argentina vs. Iran||F||12 p.m.||Belo Horizonte|
|June 21||Germany vs. Ghana||G||3 p.m.||Fortaleza|
|June 21||Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Nigeria||F||6 p.m.||Cuiaba|
|June 22||South Korea vs. Algeria||H||12 p.m.||Porto Alegre|
|June 22||United States vs. Portugal||G||3 p.m.||Manaus|
|June 22||Belgium vs. Russia||H||12 p.m.||Rio De Janeiro|
|June 23||Australia vs. Spain||B||12 p.m.||Curitiba|
|June 23||Chile vs. Netherlands||B||12 p.m.||Sao Paulo|
|June 23||Brazil vs. Cameroon||A||4 p.m.||Brasilia|
|June 23||Croatia vs. Mexico||A||4 p.m.||Recife|
|June 24||Italy vs. Uruguay||D||12 p.m.||Natal|
|June 24||Costa Rica vs. England||D||12 p.m.||Belo Horizonte|
|June 24||Japan vs. Colombia||C||4 p.m.||Cuiaba|
|June 24||Greece vs. Ivory Coast||C||4 p.m.||Fortaleza|
|June 25||Nigeria vs. Argentina||F||12 p.m.||Porto Alegre|
|June 25||Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Iran||F||12 p.m.||Salvador|
|June 25||Honduras vs. Switzerland||E||4 p.m.||Manaus|
|June 25||France vs. Ecuador||E||4 p.m.||Rio De Janeiro|
|June 26||United States vs. Germany||G||12 p.m.||Recife|
|June 26||Portugal vs. Ghana||G||12 p.m.||Brasilia|
|June 26||South Korea vs. Belgium||H||4 p.m.||Sao Paulo|
|June 26||Algeria vs. Russia||H||4 p.m.||Curitiba|
Not only have Spain won the last three major international events (Euro 2008, 2010 World Cup, Euro 2012), but the squad retains most of the top contributors from these squads. In fact, the best players appear to still be performing as well as in their prime.
Rob Train of ESPN FC breaks down the strength of the team in the midfield:
Spain's midfield is as set in stone as King Arthur's sword and it will take a lot more than a few good performances from others to dislodge it. Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso will provide the engine room, with Xavi dictating play from the middle and Andres Iniesta a little further forward. However, with only Sergio Busquets under 30, the wilting heat will mean tired legs around the 70-minute mark.
The good news is that even when the veterans get tired, there are still a number of elite players capable of coming in and contributing at a high level.
With world-class talent at virtually every position and plenty of winning experience, Spain should once again be a top contender in Brazil.
The squad will do its best to keep possession throughout matches and work to get the best shots near the net. Meanwhile, opponents will struggle to get more than a few opportunities on the attack at all in the match.
Although the Netherlands and Chile will create a difficult group stage, the defending champs should be able to make a deep run this summer.
When you think about dominant national teams, Brazil should immediately come to mind. The nation has won five World Cups, most recently in 2002.
While the current squad has a long way to go to reach the level of those most recent champions, manager Luiz Felipe Scolari thinks highly of the group, via Fernando Duarte of The Guardian:
Indeed they are less experienced. But their technical ability and their physical prowess enthuse me. We need to take a moment when drawing comparisons. The 2002 Seleção was more seasoned and had quality players but not even Ronaldo and Rivaldo could do things on their own. Of course, the 2014 team will be judged by their results but these boys have shown that, if they work hard, as they have been doing, we can beat anybody.
The team features young stars like Neymar, Oscar and others who make up arguably the most exciting group in the tournament. Almost everyone on the roster is capable of making an outstanding play that will be watched in highlights for years.
While Brazil lack the experience of some of the other top contenders, they won the Confederations Cup with a dramatic victory over Spain in the finals. There will be a lot of confidence and energy playing at home, and they should be able to use it to win a title.
While many people will pick Brazil to win it all at home, the nation's best player in history is picking against them, via Yahoo!:
Plenty of experts agree with Pele based on the way Germany's roster is constructed. The squad is loaded from front to back with talent all over the pitch.
Manuel Neuer anchors the group in net after becoming one of the top keepers in the world over the past few years. In front of him will be an experienced back line and defensive midfielders like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira and possibly Philipp Lahm depending on where he is placed.
This group will ensure that no more than a few goals are scored against Germany in the entire tournament.
Meanwhile, an attack that includes stars from Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and other Champions League contenders throughout Europe will ensure that the team finds a way to get the ball into the back of the net.
Things will be a bit difficult early with Portugal and the United States in the group, but the Germans should remain top contenders throughout the summer.
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