World Cup 2014: Group Predictions, Full Schedule and More

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistMay 28, 2014

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
DateMatchFinal Standings
June 12Brazil vs. CroatiaBrazil
June 13Mexico vs. CameroonCroatia
June 17Brazil vs. MexicoMexico
June 18Cameroon vs. CroatiaCameroon
June 23Cameroon vs. Brazil
June 23Croatia 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 13Spain vs. NetherlandsSpain
June 13Chile vs. AustraliaNetherlands
June 18Spain vs. ChileChile
June 18Australia vs. NetherlandsAustralia
June 23Australia vs. Spain
June 23Netherlands 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 14Colombia vs. GreeceColombia
June 14Ivory Coast vs. JapanIvory Coast
June 19Colombia vs. Ivory CoastJapan
June 19Japan vs. GreeceGreece
June 24Japan vs. Colombia
June 24Greece 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 14Uruguay vs. Costa RicaItaly
June 14England vs. ItalyUruguay
June 19Uruguay vs. EnglandEngland
June 20Italy vs.Costa RicaCosta Rica
June 24Italy vs. Uruguay
June 24Costa Rica vs. England

There is a slight change here from previous predictions. The untimely knee injury suffered by striker Luis Suarez naturally reduces the danger Uruguay can pose.

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 15Switzerland vs. EcuadorFrance
June 15France vs. HondurasSwitzerland
June 20Switzerland vs. FranceHonduras
June 20Honduras vs. EcuadorEcuador
June 25Honduras vs. Switzerland
June 25Ecuador 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 15Argentina vs. Bosnia and HerzegovinaArgentina
June 16Iran vs. NigeriaNigeria
June 21Argentina vs. IranBosnia and Herzegovina
June 21Nigeria vs. Bosnia and HerzegovinaIran
June 25Nigeria vs. Argentina
June 25Bosnia 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 16Germany vs. PortugalGermany
June 16Ghana vs. United StatesPortugal
June 21Germany vs. GhanaGhana
June 22United States vs. PortugalUnited States
June 26United States vs. Germany
June 26Portugal 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 17Belgium vs. AlgeriaBelgium
June 17Russia vs. Korea RepublicRussia
June 22Belgium vs. RussiaKorea Republic
June 22Korea Republic vs. AlgeriaAlgeria
June 26Korea Republic vs. Belgium
June 26Algeria 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.


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