The 2014 World Cup is about to begin in Brazil. Over the next month, there will be shocking upsets, highlight-reel goals and plenty of drama for fans around the globe to endure. When the dust settles on July 13, one national team will stand above the rest.
Once the tournament gets underway, it moves pretty fast. It only takes seven matches to get from the group stage to the final, which is why there's reason for optimism almost across the board. Finding the peak form at the right time can lead to a deep run for a large number of squads.
Above all else, it's a showcase unlike any other in the world of sports. That should be especially true this year with the football-crazy nation of Brazil serving as the host. So let's check out all of the key information for the month ahead.
|Rank||National Team||Title Odds|
Odds via Odds Shark
As the odds show, there are four teams that enter the tournament in a class of their own. Belgium, a side that's generated plenty of sleeper hype since the draw was completed, headlines a strong secondary group of contenders.
Normally, a manager of the tournament favorite would do everything possible to take pressure off his players. Not Luiz Felipe Scolari. The Brazil boss has remained steadfast in his belief that the Selecao are going to capture the title on home soil.
BeIN Sports passed along comments from Scolari about the role the fans will play:
It helps us win. Fans, they help us win. Fans are important. I have said even though some journalists don't agree, I'm not worried about this (burden of expectation). We have a 12th player.
We are playing at home, something that makes the difference. We have a squad that is competitive and of a high quality. And having this together with the fans we can always be the best. Because of this, I'm completely confident that we can get to the final and become champions.
In reality, very little separates the top four teams. The reigning champions from Spain bring a battle-tested veteran squad. Germany has probably the most well-rounded roster. And Argentina gets to play in South America while also featuring a dynamic strike force, led by Lionel Messi.
Although the overall high level of competition probably makes it unlikely, it wouldn't be a surprise if those four teams ended up comprising the semifinals. Brazil simply gets the slight edge in title odds because they will have immense crowd support.
|F||Argentina||Bosnia & Herzegovina||Nigeria||Iran|
Most of the predictions are pretty straightforward, with the top contenders winning their respective groups. There are a couple picks worth reviewing, though.
In Group B, Spain and the Netherlands will dominate the headlines, but Chile is a team to watch. Alexis Sanchez is perhaps the most underrated player in the tournament. He's a game-changing forward who led an explosive attack during qualifying.
The Oranje are dealing with plenty of question marks at the back due to a lack of international experience. It's a weakness La Roja should be able to exploit in their head-to-head matchup in order to secure a spot alongside Spain in the knockout rounds.
Which group is the toughest from top to bottom?
Group D is another tricky pool. It's likely a three-team race for two spots between England, Italy and Uruguay, but Costa Rica is capable of playing a defensive style that can frustrate even the best opponents. It could very well end up playing the role of spoiler.
The reason Uruguay is projected to fall short is the lack of star power behind the forwards. Luis Suarez and Co. should be able to put up some goals, but keeping them off the board will be a major challenge in such a difficult group.
Finally, there's the "Group of Death." Group G features Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the United States, four sides that can all make a strong case as to why they will advance. It should make for six high-intensity matches.
As mentioned, the German squad is probably the most complete in the tournament, so it's hard to imagine them getting knocked out. The other spot is up for grabs between the other three teams, although Cristiano Ronaldo ensures Portugal will be the popular pick.
The one area where the United States has the edge is in goal. Tim Howard is coming off a terrific season with Everton in the Premier League, and an in-form goalkeeper can carry a team through the group stage. Jeff Carlisle of ESPN provided remarks from Jurgen Klinsmann about where his keeper stands:
Klinsmann on Tim Howard: "I think he was absolutely in the top 3 in the PL this year. I look at him in the top five in the world." #usmnt— Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle) May 21, 2014
Howard will be the difference as the Americans survive the "Group of Death."
|June 12||4 p.m.||A||Brazil vs. Croatia||ESPN|
|June 13||12 p.m.||A||Mexico vs. Cameroon||ESPN2|
|June 13||3 p.m.||B||Spain vs. Netherlands||ESPN|
|June 13||6 p.m.||B||Chile vs. Australia||ESPN2|
|June 14||12 p.m.||C||Colombia vs. Greece||ABC|
|June 14||3 p.m.||D||Uruguay vs. Costa Rica||ABC|
|June 14||6 p.m.||D||England vs. Italy||ESPN|
|June 14||9 p.m.||C||Ivory Coast vs. Japan||ESPN|
|June 15||12 p.m.||E||Switzerland vs. Ecuador||ABC|
|June 15||3 p.m.||E||France vs. Honduras||ABC|
|June 15||6 p.m.||F||Argentina vs. Bosnia-H.||ESPN|
|June 16||12 p.m.||G||Germany vs. Portugal||ESPN|
|June 16||3 p.m.||F||Iran vs. Nigeria||ESPN|
|June 16||6 p.m.||G||Ghana vs. USA||ESPN|
|June 17||12 p.m.||H||Belgium vs. Algeria||ESPN|
|June 17||3 p.m.||A||Brazil vs. Mexico||ESPN|
|June 17||6 p.m.||H||Russia vs. South Korea||ESPN|
|June 18||12 p.m.||B||Australia vs. Netherlands||ESPN|
|June 18||3 p.m.||B||Spain vs. Chile||ESPN|
|June 18||6 p.m.||A||Cameroon vs. Croatia||ESPN|
|June 19||12 p.m.||C||Colombia vs. Ivory Coast||ESPN|
|June 19||3 p.m.||D||Uruguay vs. England||ESPN|
|June 19||6 p.m.||C||Japan vs. Greece||ESPN|
|June 20||12 p.m.||D||Italy vs. Costa Rica||ESPN|
|June 20||3 p.m.||E||Switzerland vs. France||ESPN|
|June 20||6 p.m.||E||Honduras vs. Ecuador||ESPN|
|June 21||12 p.m.||F||Argentina vs. Iran||ESPN|
|June 21||3 p.m.||G||Germany vs. Ghana||ESPN|
|June 21||6 p.m.||F||Nigeria vs. Bosnia-H.||ESPN|
|June 22||12 p.m.||H||Belgium vs. Russia||ABC|
|June 22||3 p.m.||H||South Korea vs. Algeria||ABC|
|June 22||6 p.m.||G||USA vs. Portugal||ESPN|
|June 23||12 p.m.||B||Netherlands vs. Chile||ESPN|
|June 23||12 p.m.||B||Australia vs. Spain||ESPN2|
|June 23||4 p.m.||A||Croatia vs. Mexico||ESPN|
|June 23||4 p.m.||A||Cameroon vs. Brazil||ESPN2|
|June 24||12 p.m.||D||Italy vs. Uruguay||ESPN|
|June 24||12 p.m.||D||Costa Rica vs. England||ESPN2|
|June 24||4 p.m.||C||Japan vs. Colombia||ESPN|
|June 24||4 p.m.||C||Greece vs. Ivory Coast||ESPN2|
|June 25||12 p.m.||F||Nigeria vs. Argentina||ESPN|
|June 25||12 p.m.||F||Bosnia-H. vs. Iran||ESPN2|
|June 25||4 p.m.||E||Ecuador vs. France||ESPN|
|June 25||4 p.m.||E||Honduras vs. Switzerland||ESPN2|
|June 26||12 p.m.||G||United States vs. Germany||ESPN|
|June 26||12 p.m.||G||Portugal vs. Ghana||ESPN2|
|June 26||4 p.m.||H||South Korea vs. Belgium||ESPN|
|June 26||4 p.m.||H||Algeria vs. Russia||ESPN2|
|June 28||12 p.m.||R of 16||1A vs. 2B (Match 49)||ABC|
|June 28||4 p.m.||R of 16||1C vs. 2D (Match 50)||ABC|
|June 29||12 p.m.||R of 16||1B vs. 2A (Match 51)||ESPN|
|June 29||4 p.m.||R of 16||1D vs. 2C (Match 52)||ESPN|
|June 30||12 p.m.||R of 16||1E vs. 2F (Match 53)||ESPN|
|June 30||4 p.m.||R of 16||1G vs. 2H (Match 54)||ESPN|
|July 1||12 p.m.||R of 16||1F vs. 2E (Match 55)||ESPN|
|July 1||4 p.m.||R of 16||1H vs. 2G (Match 56)||ESPN|
|July 4||12 p.m.||Quarter||W53 vs. W54 (Match 57)||ESPN2|
|July 4||4 p.m.||Quarter||W49 VS. W50 (Match 58)||ESPN|
|July 5||12 p.m.||Quarter||W55 vs. W56 (Match 59)||ABC|
|July 5||4 p.m.||Quarter||W51 vs. W52 (Match 60)||ESPN|
|July 8||4 p.m.||Semis||W57 vs. W58 (Match 61)||ESPN|
|July 9||4 p.m.||Semis||W59 vs. W60 (Match 62)||ESPN|
|July 12||4 p.m.||3rd||L61 vs. L62||ESPN|
|July 13||3 p.m.||Title||W61 vs. W62||ABC|
FIFA.com and ESPNMediaZone.com