World Cup Preview 2014: Group Predictions, Player Projections and More

Patrick Clarke@@_Pat_ClarkeCorrespondent IJune 11, 2014

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JUNE 30:  Neymar of Brazil competes with Jordi Alba of Spain during the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 Final match between Brazil and Spain at Maracana on June 30, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The 2014 World Cup will pit the best players and squads on the planet against one another in Brazil.

While history tells us that a South American nation will prevail, reigning champions Spain and other past winners such as Germany, France, England and Italy can't be counted out. 

The oddsmakers like Brazil to hoist the FIFA World Cup trophy inside the Maracana Stadium on July 13, but don't sleep on the rest of the field. If the Selecao's stunning loss in 1950 taught us anything, it's that no Goliath is too big to slay. 

With this summer's global spectacle set to kick off, I'll project how all eight groups will shake out and which players will steal the show in South America.

2014 World Cup Group-Stage Projections
Group AWDLPts
Group BWDLPts
Group CWDLPts
Ivory Coast0121
Group DWDLPts
Costa Rica0030
Group EWDLPts
Group FWDLPts
Group GWDLPts
United States0121
Group HWDLPts
South Korea1114


Golden Ball: Neymar, Brazil

If Brazil do deliver on their home soil this summer, Neymar is sure to have a big hand in his side's success. 

He scored four goals for Brazil at last summer's 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup and earned Golden Ball honors for his efforts. Therefore, it wouldn't be at all shocking if he replicated that performance one year later. 

In April, Neymar discussed the tremendous boost he and his teammates are set to receive this summer with Bleacher Report lead writer Will Tidey: "I think we are going to have a great show...especially with the supporters and fans. We (Brazil) have a very important weapon in our hands—the supporters. They will help us along."

The 22-year-old will have the weight of a nation on his shoulders from start to finish, but with an impressive supporting cast at his side, he should continue to excel on the international stage as he has since making his debut for the senior squad back in 2010.

Neymar has scored at an incredible rate for the Brazil national team over the years and has clearly prepared himself for this moment. 


Golden Boot: Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal

Although Portugal were drawn into a very challenging group with Germany, Ghana and the United States, their leading man, Cristiano Ronaldo, is currently in a different stratosphere in terms of offensive production, and he is coming off a year in which he won the prestigious FIFA Ballon d'Or.

The 29-year-old single-handedly wiped out Sweden in Portugal's World Cup qualifying playoff last November, scoring all four of his side's goals in a 4-2 win on aggregate. What's more, Ronaldo attempted more shots than the entire Sweden team in those two matches. 

Even if Portugal fail to make it out of Group G or fall shortly after reaching the knockout stage, Ronaldo is explosive enough to net four or five goals and head home with Golden Boot honors.


Best Young Player: Paul Pogba, France

Michel Euler/Associated Press

French midfielder Paul Pogba recently turned 21. Despite his limited experience with the senior squad, he's become a mainstay for Les Bleus and has proved to be a dynamic talent on the international scene, as noted by OptaJean on Twitter:

Pogba captained the French squad that won the 2013 FIFA Under-20 World Cup last summer and earned the Golden Boy award in 2013, an award given to the best under-21 player in Europe.

Considering that Pogba won't be under the microscope like Neymar, Bernard and some of the other young players at this year's World Cup, and given the fact that France has drawn a favorable group, the Juventus star has a real shot to break out and earn Best Young Player honors in Brazil.


Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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