The final countdown for the 2014 World Cup has begun, and teams are in the process of finalising their preparations ahead of making the trip to Brazil.
Fans and pundits alike have gotten busy predicting how football's biggest tournament is going to play out.
Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Germany appear to be the four consensus favourites when discussing potential champions, and for good reason. Whether due to home-field advantage, a history of greatness or overwhelming talent at their disposal, all four teams will feel confident going into next month's tournament.
Let's have a look at a few other teams, and why they may or may not be successful during the group stages and latter rounds of the 2014 World Cup.
|2014 World Cup Group Stage Predictions|
|Final standings||Group A||Final standings||Group E|
|Group B||Group F|
|3||Netherlands||3||Bosnia & Herzegovina|
|Group C||Group G|
|Group D||Group H|
The Three Lions are a popular pick to disappoint, courtesy of a difficult group draw and a run of mediocre results in recent tournaments.
The loss against Italy at Euro 2012 was painful in many ways—the Azzurri dominated long stretches of the match and emerged victorious in a penalty shootout of which England initially seemed in full control.
But this year's squad can't be compared to that fielded in Poland and Ukraine.
Exciting talents like Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw enjoyed phenomenal 2013-14 seasons, and for all their inexperience on the international stage, they appear primed to play big roles for England.
The latter suffered through a difficult campaign with Manchester United, and Sky Sports are reporting that the forward will see team psychiatrist Dr. Steve Peters in an attempt to improve his World Cup scoring record.
Rooney talked about meeting him and how he hoped it would help his scoring form:
I've never done something like that before but it's interesting and if it can give you an extra couple of per cent, then it's worth doing.
When you're going into a tournament, you believe you're going to do well, so you don't really feel that pressure, but maybe inside you are feeling it, which you don't realise.
After hearing what he (Peters) said to us, I feel it might benefit me.
England will bring a lot of firepower to Brazil, and if Rooney can find his shooting boots, there's no reason they couldn't survive the difficult group including Uruguay, Italy and Costa Rica.
Their opener against Italy could set the tone for a successful tournament, but manager Roy Hodgson will no doubt have hoped for a different first opponent.
Though the Azzurri are being written off by some, Italy always seem to reserve their best for the biggest stage. As we saw in 2006, Cesare Prandelli's squad are very dangerous with their backs against the wall.
However, they're also notoriously slow starters, which should at least give the Three Lions a chance at overcoming their demons from two years ago.
The Samurai Blue dominated their fourth-round qualifying group in the Asian zone and surprised many with a 3-2 victory over highly rated Belgium—in Brussels—with an exciting brand of free-flowing, attacking football.
Perhaps victims of a relatively easy path in qualification, the Japanese team has a history of underperforming at the final tournament and have never progressed past the round of 16.
But the 2014 World Cup could be different.
Players like Yoichiro Kakitani and Yasuhito Endo have impressed in the J-League, and there's plenty of European experience on the squad as well from Shinji Kagawa and Yuto Nagatomo.
Kagawa didn't play much for Manchester United this season, and the midfielder's legs should be fresher than most going into the tournament. Speaking to Kyodo News agency (via Sky Sports), Kagawa made it clear his focus is entirely on Japan:
I think everyone knows I want to do well at the World Cup, and I'm sure everyone else does, too.
But I don't want to get my priorities mixed up here—the important thing is for Japan to win at the World Cup. I'm not using the World Cup as a place to showcase myself for (van Gaal).
Group C might be the most interesting of any, with four teams that seem to be evenly matched. Colombia have home-field advantage and a deep squad, and Greece are traditionally well-organised, making them a generally difficult opponent. Meanwhile, Ivory Coast will be led by Yaya Toure, who enjoyed a phenomenal season for Manchester City.
The midfielder will look to duplicate those performances in Brazil.
Japan had difficulty containing Belgium's attack early in their friendly win, with a lack of concentration looking like the team's biggest problem. If they can fix that issue—and adapt to stronger teams than they face in Asia—progressing past the round of 16 could be a possibility.
Chile have only made the final tournament twice since 1982, but they progressed out of the group stages both times.
Not unlike Belgium or Colombia, the Chileans seem to be fielding a bit of a golden generation with players like Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez, Mauricio Isla and Marcelo Diaz.
But Chile don't rely on their star power. They are a strong, cohesive unit coached by one of the world's most underrated managers, Jorge Sampaoli.
While the team may not lean solely on their biggest stars to leverage difficult situations, it doesn't hurt to field several world-class players.
And according to ESPN FC, Vidal should be fit in time for the World Cup following surgery on his knee.
As Juventus club doctor Fabrizio Tencone said after the procedure, "He will be available for the World Cup. Arturo left Turin with his knee in the best possible condition after the operation. Now the Chile medical staff will evaluate him."
Group B opponents Spain will be defending their title and are once again counted among the favourites, but the Netherlands are going through a transitional phase and have injury concerns of their own.
Per The Mirror's Ed Malyon, Kevin Strootman's absence has the team scrambling for solutions:
Australia are not to be underestimated either, but it looks like the battle for second will culminate in a head-to-head between Holland and Chile. Playing on their home continent, the Chileans will have the advantages of location as well as health.
Also, their brand of organised football will give Oranje fits.
Past the group stages, the Chileans are exactly the kind of team those favoured will want to avoid, with a never-say-die attitude and enough talent to make the difference between winning and losing.
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