After four years of anticipation and endless storylines, it's finally here—the 2014 World Cup.
Legacies are on the line for some of the best current players in world football, as well as a few who will go down as some of the all-time best.
The crown jewel of any player's career is the World Cup, and the chance to play for their home country will bring out the best in elite footballers the world is used to seeing dominate the club ranks.
There is any number of national teams capable of winning the entire thing, but a few favorites have emerged from the rest. Still, no clear favorite has emerged, and there's no telling how the action will unfold in Brazil across one of the most exciting months in sports.
Let's break down the upcoming World Cup with the latest odds and predictions for who will win every group.
|2014 World Cup: Odds to Win Group|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||+600|
|Odds via OddsShark.com|
Highlighted teams are predicted to advance into the knockout stage
Intriguing Early Matches
Netherlands vs. Spain
Scripted, or a fascinating coincidence?
Either way, a replay of the 2010 World Cup final on one of the opening days of Brazil is a treat for world football fans. Netherlands and Spain's battle in the championship of the last World Cup went into extra time and finished with a thrilling Andres Iniesta goal that won it for the Spanish.
Plenty changes in four years but not too much regarding the squads of these teams. Spain mostly have their usual core along with some dangerous younger players, while Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben are assured to be controlling things again for the Dutch.
There wasn't much between the two sides last time they played for all of the international glory, and with the stakes high again in this World Cup opener, the suffocating defensive mentality of both teams should surface.
Spain have made it clear that they have no problem playing a slowed-down tempo. The Netherlands may try to gun for a winner but won't get very many chances with the opponent controlling possession.
In the end, both teams will be happy to take a draw and move on to defeating the rest of the group.
Prediction: Spain 0, Netherlands 0
Italy vs. England
Two widely respected national teams seemingly headed in different directions will face off for early-round positioning in Group D—which rivals Group G as the potential group of death.
The Italians are coming in off a surprise Euro 2012 final appearance with a squad featuring just enough young firepower and defensive experience to make another deep international run. Meanwhile, England struggled mightily, and for much of the qualifying circuit, their spot in the World Cup was very much in jeopardy.
England players, including their own captain Steven Gerrard, are even having to address their supposed "fear" of the Italians heading into group play, per Football Italia:
England have made it out of the group stage every time they've appeared in the World Cup, but fellow group members Uruguay and Italy are both playing well and with more overall chemistry heading in. This could be the year that the English post their worst-ever World Cup result.
If they want to avoid that, it will probably take some sort of result against Italy, but it's not likely to come. The Italians have been waiting for Brazil ever since a tough Euro final defeat to Spain, and the momentum they built on that run has only been carried over throughout the past two years.
Neither sides will give each other much. Expect it to be a defensive battle, with Mario Balotelli's game-changing ability shining through on one crucial play.
Prediction: Italy 1, England 0
Portugal vs. Germany
The best match in the group of death will come early on, with Portugal facing Germany.
The Germans haven't won a World Cup since 1990 but might have their best shot since then in Brazil. With a stacked roster including—but not limited to—Mesut Ozil, Marco Reus, Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Gotze, they have the perfect blend of depth, experience and firepower to blow any team out of the water.
Then, of course, there's Portugal. If he's not the world's best player, Cristiano Ronaldo is a very close second, and he has the ability to take over any game along with players such as Nani and Joao Moutinho helping the midfield.
It couldn't have been set up much worse for Portugal. Already entering the World Cup's hardest group, the Portuguese would be better off starting against the U.S. or Ghana but instead face the German giants to kick off their Brazil bid.
Ronaldo is pretty much guaranteed a goal in every game he plays, possibly more. But his fellow starters aren't quite as talented as he's used to with Real Madrid, and they just don't have enough to hang with a German team that has its eyes looking long past the group stage.
Meanwhile, Germany are much deeper and will have the chance to press the ball much more than their opponents.
By the time Portugal get to face the remaining teams in the group, they'll be nursing an early defeat.
Prediction: Germany 3, Portugal 2
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