Most groups have clear winners. Plenty of groups have obvious cellar dwellers, too. But almost every group has equal teams with equal chances of advancing which will face each other at some point with a shot at the knockout phase almost assuredly on the line.
While below you can find a prediction for every group-phase game, we'll also focus more in-depth on one key matchup from every group (with the exception of Group D, which is so up in the air it's hard to single out one key matchup).
There are going to be very talented teams that fail to make the knockout phase—let's find out why they'll be left behind.
|World Cup Group Phase Schedule|
|Date||Time (ET)||Team 1||Pick||Team 2||Group||TV|
|Thursday, June 12||4 p.m.||Brazil||2-0||Croatia||Group A||ESPN|
|Friday, June 13||12 p.m.||Mexico||1-0||Cameroon||Group A||ESPN2|
|Friday, June 13||3 p.m.||Spain||1-0||Netherlands||Group B||ESPN|
|Friday, June 13||6 p.m.||Chile||3-0||Australia||Group B||ESPN2|
|Saturday, June 14||12 p.m.||Colombia||2-0||Greece||Group C||ABC|
|Saturday, June 14||3 p.m.||Uruguay||4-0||Costa Rica||Group D||ABC|
|Saturday, June 14||6 p.m.||England||1-1||Italy||Group D||ESPN|
|Saturday, June 14||9 p.m.||Ivory Coast||2-1||Japan||Group C||ESPN|
|Sunday, June 15||12 p.m.||Switzerland||1-1||Ecuador||Group E||ABC|
|Sunday, June 15||3 p.m.||France||3-1||Honduras||Group E||ABC|
|Sunday, June 15||6 p.m.||Argentina||2-0||Bosnia-Herzegovina||Group F||ESPN|
|Monday, June 16||12 p.m.||Germany||1-1||Portugal||Group G||ESPN|
|Monday, June 16||3 p.m.||Iran||0-2||Nigeria||Group F||ESPN|
|Monday, June 16||6 p.m.||Ghana||1-1||United States||Group G||ESPN|
|Tuesday, June 17||12 p.m.||Belgium||3-0||Algeria||Group H||ESPN|
|Tuesday, June 17||3 p.m.||Brazil||2-1||Mexico||Group A||ESPN|
|Tuesday, June 17||6 p.m.||Russia||1-0||South Korea||Group H||ESPN|
|Wednesday, June 18||12 p.m.||Australia||0-4||Netherlands||Group B||ESPN|
|Wednesday, June 18||3 p.m.||Spain||1-0||Chile||Group B||ESPN|
|Wednesday, June 18||6 p.m.||Cameroon||0-1||Croatia||Group A||ESPN|
|Thursday, June 19||12 p.m.||Colombia||3-3||Ivory Coast||Group C||ESPN|
|Thursday, June 19||3 p.m.||Uruguay||2-1||England||Group D||ESPN|
|Thursday, June 19||6 p.m.||Japan||0-0||Greece||Group C||ESPN|
|Friday, June 20||12 p.m.||Italy||2-0||Costa Rica||Group D||ESPN|
|Friday, June 20||3 p.m.||Switzerland||0-1||France||Group E||ESPN|
|Friday, June 20||6 p.m.||Honduras||1-2||Ecuador||Group E||ESPN|
|Saturday, June 21||12 p.m.||Argentina||6-0||Iran||Group F||ESPN|
|Saturday, June 21||3 p.m.||Germany||2-1||Ghana||Group G||ESPN|
|Saturday, June 21||6 p.m.||Nigeria||2-3||Bosnia-Herzegovina||Group F||ESPN|
|Sunday, June 22||12 p.m.||Belgium||1-1||Russia||Group H||ABC|
|Sunday, June 22||3 p.m.||South Korea||1-0||Algeria||Group H||ABC|
|Sunday, June 22||6 p.m.||United States||1-3||Portugal||Group G||ESPN|
|Monday, June 23||12 p.m.||Australia||0-7||Spain||Group B||ESPN2|
|Monday, June 23||12 p.m.||Netherlands||0-1||Chile||Group B||ESPN|
|Monday, June 23||4 p.m.||Croatia||2-1||Mexico||Group A||ESPN|
|Monday, June 23||4 p.m.||Cameroon||0-4||Brazil||Group A||ESPN2|
|Tuesday, June 24||12 p.m.||Italy||1-1||Uruguay||Group D||ESPN|
|Tuesday, June 24||12 p.m.||Costa Rica||0-2||England||Group D||ESPN2|
|Tuesday, June 24||4 p.m.||Japan||1-2||Colombia||Group C||ESPN|
|Tuesday, June 24||4 p.m.||Greece||1-1||Ivory Coast||Group C||ESPN2|
|Wednesday, June 25||12 p.m.||Nigeria||1-3||Argentina||Group F||ESPN|
|Wednesday, June 25||12 p.m.||Bosnia-Herzegovina||2-0||Iran||Group F||ESPN2|
|Wednesday, June 25||4 p.m.||Honduras||0-2||Switzerland||Group E||ESPN2|
|Wednesday, June 25||4 p.m.||Ecuador||0-2||France||Group E||ESPN|
|Thursday, June 26||12 p.m.||United States||0-2||Germany||Group G||ESPN|
|Thursday, June 26||12 p.m.||Portugal||2-1||Ghana||Group G||ESPN2|
|Thursday, June 26||4 p.m||South Korea||0-1||Belgium||Group H||ESPN|
|Thursday, June 26||4 p.m.||Algeria||0-1||Russia||Group H||ESPN2|
|ESPN (All matches streamed via WatchESPN.com and the WatchESPN app)|
Group A: Croatia vs. Mexico
Brazil should cruise to victory in the underrated Group A, and though Cameroon may yet provide a surprise or two, the second place in the knockout phase should come down to Croatia and Mexico.
Croatia will be without star forward Mario Mandzukic for their first game, but luckily that match is against Brazil, a game they were going to lose anyway. Having him against Mexico and Cameroon will be key, as he and Luka Modric are the key figures on an underrated Croatian side.
Mexico are no pushover themselves, but what team will show up in Brazil? Will they be the dogged, defensively sound side from years past? Will Javier Hernandez find his form with the national team again? Or will they be the floundering side that barely qualified for this year's World Cup at all?
Mexico will probably be the former, but Croatia have the better squad. They'll squeak out a close win.
Prediction: Croatia wins, 2-1
Group B: Chile vs. the Netherlands
Spain are going to win this group—they may be getting older, but they still have more talent and depth than either Chile or the Netherlands—but the next spot in the knockout phase is wide open for the taking.
The argument for the Dutch is that several of the players who helped the team reach the 2010 World Cup final return, and between Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Wesley Sneijder, there is plenty of attacking talent on this roster. But the argument against the Dutch is that without Rafael van der Vaart and Kevin Strootman, the midfield is a major question mark. The defense also leaves much to be desired, though the move to a 3-4-1-2 should help in that regard.
While the Chileans don't have the same attacking quality of the Dutch (outside of excellent Barcelona winger Alexis Sanchez), they have far more balance and enough depth that they can play multiple systems to take away an opponent's strength. Look for them to boss the midfield and swarm the Dutch attackers when they get on the ball, destroying any attacking rhythm.
Prediction: Chile wins, 1-0
Group C: Ivory Coast vs. Japan
Colombia should win this group with or without Radamel Falcao—and Greece always have a trick or two up their sleeves—but the real intrigue will be when Ivory Coast and Japan face, seemingly with a place in the knockout phase on the line.
Both teams are dangerous on the attack: Japan highlighted by creative midfielders Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda, and the Ivory Coast behind a slew of dangerous attackers led by the legendary Didier Drogba.
But the difference in this game will be Yaya Toure, Manchester City's imposing and well-rounded central midfielder. His powerful, driving runs forward, acute passing touch and ability to score from distance will simply be too much for Japan to contain. Add in the fact that Japan can be vulnerable in the back, and you have the recipe for the Ivory Coast to advance.
Prediction: Ivory Coast wins, 2-1
Group D: All Three Matches Including England, Italy and Uruguay
All three of these teams have the talent to advance, and all have different strengths. Uruguay have brilliant attackers, led by Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. Italy are rugged defensively and have experienced, talented midfielders. The English are a younger side than in years past, but they are surprisingly balanced and really only have question marks out wide on the wings in their attack.
Italy will be stinging from their poor performance four years ago, and they'll recover in style. And Uruguay responded to a slow start in qualifying by getting hot down the stretch, so they aren't a team you want to face right now. Plus, that Suarez fellow is pretty in-form after his season for Liverpool.
So yes, England will be the odd team out.
Prediction: Uruguay, Italy advance
Group E: Switzerland vs. Ecuador
France will win this group and Honduras are in over their heads, so the second place in the knockout phase will come down to a match between Switzerland and Ecuador. But here's the thing—there isn't a ton to separate these two teams.
Switzerland were brilliant in European qualifying, but they had a weak group. Ecuador were brilliant in South American qualifying, but only because they were unbeaten at home when playing in 9,000-foot elevation that took the legs away from their opponents.
In a game both teams will need to win, they'll draw. It will be Switzerland that ultimately advances on goal differential, however—you just can't trust Ecuador away from home.
Prediction: 1-1 draw, Switzerland advances on goal differential
Group F: Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Nigeria
Bosnia and Herzegovina are sneaky good, led by Edin Dzeko, Asmir Begovic and Miralem Pjanic, among others. Nigeria are dangerous but unpredictable, both capable of winning the Africa Cup of Nations in 2013 and failing to advance out of the group stage of the 2010 World Cup. You never quite know what you'll get from them.
When in doubt, side with the team sharpened by a tough European qualifying campaign and a forward in Dzeko who finished the Premier League season with nine goals in his last 11 appearances. And expect plenty of goals, too.
Prediction: Bosnia and Herzegovina wins, 3-2
Group G: Portugal vs. Ghana
Germany are the class of this group. The United States have a young, generally inexperienced side and major questions in defense, so they aren't advancing. So the second spot in the knockout phase will come down to Portugal and Ghana.
Let's keep this one simple—one of these teams has Cristiano Ronaldo, and one doesn't. The team with him is going to advance.
Prediction: Portugal wins, 2-1
Group H: Russia vs. Belgium
These teams seem like the major favorites to win this group, so the real question will be which team wins Group H.
Belgium are loaded with high-profile talent, including Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany, Thibaut Courtois, Jan Vertonghen, Axel Witsel, Marouane Fellaini, Moussa Dembele, Dries Mertens, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku, among others. This is a stacked roster, though they aren't without flaws, namely the absence of true fullbacks in defense.
Russia don't have the same amount of star power, but they're a balanced side and benefit from the majority of their players playing professionally in Russia, so the familiarity is there. But it's Belgium's time, and they'll end up winning this group.
Prediction: 1-1 draw, Belgium wins group on goal differential (both teams finish with seven points)
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