The group stage of the FIFA 2014 World Cup won't create many surprises, at least not in terms of the winners. But a few smaller nations will be tougher than expected.
Among them, Croatia, in particular, field an interesting squad that should be exciting to watch. Meanwhile, certain touted nations will fail to impress. Expect Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal to be in that bracket.
Here's the full schedule for each group along with predicted final standings and analysis:
|Group A Full Schedule and Final Standings|
|June 12||Brazil vs. Croatia||Brazil|
|June 13||Mexico vs. Cameroon||Croatia|
|June 17||Brazil vs. Mexico||Mexico|
|June 18||Cameroon vs. Croatia||Cameroon|
|June 23||Cameroon vs. Brazil|
|June 23||Croatia vs. Mexico|
Host nation Brazil will win this group, but they'll make harder work of it than expected. Luiz Felipe Scolari's team is finally balanced, combining power and defensive resolve with ample pace and flair.
Those qualities will prove too much for the competition in Group A. However, Croatia will win plaudits for their intelligence and creativity.
|Group B Full Schedule and Final Standings|
|June 13||Spain vs. Netherlands||Spain|
|June 13||Chile vs. Australia||Netherlands|
|June 18||Spain vs. Chile||Chile|
|June 18||Australia vs. Netherlands||Australia|
|June 23||Australia vs. Spain|
|June 23||Netherlands vs. Chile|
Spain may not look as strong as they were in previous tournaments, but this squad is still brimming with quality. Coach Vicente del Bosque can rely on a plethora of crafty playmakers such as FC Barcelona ace Andres Iniesta and Manchester City schemer David Silva.
Of course, much of Spain's success is likely to depend on their firepower up front. To that end, Del Bosque is banking on Atletico Madrid talisman Diego Costa recovering from injury in time for Brazil, per Daily Mail writer Iain Rogers.
But even if Costa can't win his race to be fit, Del Bosque will scheme ways for Spain's creative talent to flourish. His planning will keep the current champions ahead of Louis van Gaal's plucky Netherlands squad.
|Group C Full Schedule and Final Standings|
|June 14||Colombia vs. Greece||Colombia|
|June 14||Ivory Coast vs. Japan||Ivory Coast|
|June 19||Colombia vs. Ivory Coast||Japan|
|June 19||Japan vs. Greece||Greece|
|June 24||Japan vs. Colombia|
|June 24||Greece vs. Ivory Coast|
Colombia could be scary, provided the squad's wealth of attacking talent delivers. FC Porto's Jackson Martinez and Sevilla hitman Carlos Bacca are capable of exposing any defence.
As if they aren't enough, the Colombians might even be able to call on star striker Radamel Falcao. He has been recovering from a major knee injury but took part in a recent training session, per Daily Mail reporter John Drayton.
If Falcao is ready, Colombia will have too many goals in the ranks for Group C. However, watch out for Ivory Coast as well.
They have their own potent attack, thanks to a forward line boasting Swansea City striker Wilfried Bony and Lille wide forward Salomon Kalou.
|Group D Full Schedule and Final Standings|
|June 14||Uruguay vs. Costa Rica||Italy|
|June 14||England vs. Italy||Uruguay|
|June 19||Uruguay vs. England||England|
|June 20||Italy vs.Costa Rica||Costa Rica|
|June 24||Italy vs. Uruguay|
|June 24||Costa Rica vs. England|
Suarez believes he will be fit in time, at least according to his Liverpool teammate Glen Johnson, per BBC Sport. But if he doesn't make it, the Uruguayans are certain to miss the Liverpool man's mercurial flair and ability to manufacture goals for himself.
That will create an opportunity for Italy to top this tough group. The Italians just have a knack for navigating tournament play and will repeat the trick here.
Coach Cesare Prandelli's squad features guile in midfield, courtesy of Juventus duo Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio. There is also ample power up front, assuming striker Mario Balotelli is in the right mood.
|Group E Full Schedule and Final Standings|
|June 15||Switzerland vs. Ecuador||France|
|June 15||France vs. Honduras||Switzerland|
|June 20||Switzerland vs. France||Honduras|
|June 20||Honduras vs. Ecuador||Ecuador|
|June 25||Honduras vs. Switzerland|
|June 25||Ecuador vs. France|
France can dominate this group, provided there is unity in what has notoriously been a fractured camp during recent tournaments. But things should be different in Brazil, thanks to a squad that features solidity at the back and real power in midfield.
Arsenal defenders Laurent Koscielny and Bacary Sagna make the back four one of the tougher units in the tournament. But the real strength lies in the central midfield partnership between Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi.
Not many World Cup squads boast a pair of runners as powerful, skilled and creative. If the attack functions above expectations, France will be a strong contender for the trophy.
Switzerland won't find it easy to hold off Ecuador and Honduras. But manager Ottmar Hitzfeld is a shrewd operator who can call on key players such as midfielder Gokhan Inler and striker Josip Drmic.
|Group F Full Schedule and Final Standings|
|June 15||Argentina vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina||Argentina|
|June 16||Iran vs. Nigeria||Nigeria|
|June 21||Argentina vs. Iran||Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|June 21||Nigeria vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina||Iran|
|June 25||Nigeria vs. Argentina|
|June 25||Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Iran|
Argentina will have too much technical class and scoring power for their Group F opponents. Being able to unleash Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain is a luxury no other team at the tournament possesses.
Although Nigeria is not as strong as in previous years, the African nation still has enough to sneak into second place.
|Group G Full Schedule and Final Standings|
|June 16||Germany vs. Portugal||Germany|
|June 16||Ghana vs. United States||Portugal|
|June 21||Germany vs. Ghana||Ghana|
|June 22||United States vs. Portugal||United States|
|June 26||United States vs. Germany|
|June 26||Portugal vs. Ghana|
Germany is lacking in some areas, notably defence and central striker. But the squad still features quality attacking options, particularly in midfield.
The likes of Borussia Dortmund's pacey forward Marco Reus and Arsenal schemer Mesut Ozil will ensure the Germans create plenty of chances and stretch defences to breaking point.
Portugal will scrape their way past Ghana and make it out of this group. But Ronaldo and company won't look at all impressive along the way and will be prime candidates for an early exit from the knockout stage.
|Group H Full Schedule and Final Standings|
|June 17||Belgium vs. Algeria||Belgium|
|June 17||Russia vs. Korea Republic||Russia|
|June 22||Belgium vs. Russia||Korea Republic|
|June 22||Korea Republic vs. Algeria||Algeria|
|June 26||Korea Republic vs. Belgium|
|June 26||Algeria vs. Russia|
Belgium won't be the dynamic force many expect. The squad is littered with players who feature in the English Premier League, but not many are of the World Class variety.
Still, this is a favorable group for the Belgians. Russia might cause a problem or two but won't do enough to sneak into top spot.
Teams like Italy, Germany and Brazil will emerge from the group stage the strongest. Italy and Brazil will feel the benefit of tougher-than-expected qualifications.
That will leave them battle-ready for the knockout phase.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!