While 32 teams come into the 2014 World Cup hoping to win all of their matches, only one squad will be able to end the tournament on top. This level of success can only begin with a strong showing in the group stage.
The draw for the international tournament has been out since December, and squads have used this time to prepare for the first three opponents that will decide their fate. Although some groups are tougher than others, every team in Brazil can cause problems.
We have seen throughout history there are potential contenders that do not make it out of the group stage, and that will not change this year. Here is a breakdown of every group match with a look at top teams that will struggle to reach the knockout stage.
Note: All matches will be available for live stream with the Watch ESPN app.
|June 12||Brazil vs. Croatia||A||4 p.m.||ESPN||Sao Paulo|
|June 13||Mexico vs. Cameroon||A||12 p.m.||ESPN2||Natal|
|June 13||Spain vs. Netherlands||B||3 p.m.||ESPN||Salvador|
|June 13||Chile vs. Australia||B||6 p.m.||ESPN2||Cuiaba|
|June 14||Colombia vs. Greece||C||12 p.m.||ABC||Belo Horizonte|
|June 14||Uruguay vs. Costa Rica||D||3 p.m.||ABC||Fortaleza|
|June 14||Ivory Coast vs. Japan||C||6 p.m.||ESPN||Recife|
|June 14||England vs. Italy||D||6 p.m.||ESPN||Manaus|
|June 15||Switzerland vs. Ecuador||E||12 p.m.||ABC||Brasilia|
|June 15||France vs. Honduras||E||3 p.m.||ABC||Porto Alegre|
|June 15||Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina||F||6 p.m.||ESPN||Rio De Janeiro|
|June 16||Germany vs. Portugal||G||12 p.m.||ESPN||Salvador|
|June 16||Iran vs. Nigeria||F||3 p.m.||ESPN||Curitiba|
|June 16||Ghana vs. United States||G||6 p.m.||ESPN||Natal|
|June 17||Belgium vs. Algeria||H||12 p.m.||ESPN||Belo Horizonte|
|June 17||Brazil vs. Mexico||A||3 p.m.||ESPN||Fortaleza|
|June 17||Russia vs. South Korea||H||6 p.m.||ESPN||Cuiaba|
|June 18||Australia vs. Netherlands||B||12 p.m.||ESPN||Porto Alegre|
|June 18||Cameroon vs. Croatia||A||3 p.m.||ESPN||Manaus|
|June 18||Spain vs. Chile||B||6 p.m.||ESPN||Rio De Janeiro|
|June 19||Colombia vs. Ivory Coast||C||12 p.m.||ESPN||Brasilia|
|June 19||Uruguay vs. England||D||3 p.m.||ESPN||Sao Paulo|
|June 19||Greece vs. Japan||C||6 p.m.||ESPN||Natal|
|June 20||Costa Rica vs. Italy||D||12 p.m.||ESPN||Recife|
|June 20||Switzerland vs. France||E||3 p.m.||ESPN||Salvador|
|June 20||Ecuador vs. Honduras||E||6 p.m.||ESPN||Curitiba|
|June 21||Argentina vs. Iran||F||12 p.m.||ESPN||Belo Horizonte|
|June 21||Germany vs. Ghana||G||3 p.m.||ESPN||Fortaleza|
|June 21||Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Nigeria||F||6 p.m.||ESPN||Cuiaba|
|June 22||South Korea vs. Algeria||H||3 p.m.||ABC||Porto Alegre|
|June 22||United States vs. Portugal||G||6 p.m.||ESPN||Manaus|
|June 22||Belgium vs. Russia||H||12 p.m.||ABC||Rio De Janeiro|
|June 23||Australia vs. Spain||B||12 p.m.||ESPN2||Curitiba|
|June 23||Chile vs. Netherlands||B||12 p.m.||ESPN||Sao Paulo|
|June 23||Brazil vs. Cameroon||A||4 p.m.||ESPN2||Brasilia|
|June 23||Croatia vs. Mexico||A||4 p.m.||ESPN||Recife|
|June 24||Italy vs. Uruguay||D||12 p.m.||ESPN||Natal|
|June 24||Costa Rica vs. England||D||12 p.m.||ESPN2||Belo Horizonte|
|June 24||Japan vs. Colombia||C||4 p.m.||ESPN||Cuiaba|
|June 24||Greece vs. Ivory Coast||C||4 p.m.||ESPN2||Fortaleza|
|June 25||Nigeria vs. Argentina||F||12 p.m.||ESPN||Porto Alegre|
|June 25||Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Iran||F||12 p.m.||ESPN2||Salvador|
|June 25||Honduras vs. Switzerland||E||4 p.m.||ESPN2||Manaus|
|June 25||France vs. Ecuador||E||4 p.m.||ESPN||Rio De Janeiro|
|June 26||United States vs. Germany||G||12 p.m.||ESPN||Recife|
|June 26||Portugal vs. Ghana||G||12 p.m.||ESPN2||Brasilia|
|June 26||South Korea vs. Belgium||H||4 p.m.||ESPN||Sao Paulo|
|June 26||Algeria vs. Russia||H||4 p.m.||ESPN2||Curitiba|
via FIFA.com and ESPNMediaZone.com
While the Dutch were able to go all the way to the finals at the last World Cup, things will not be as easy this time around. The top players are moving past their prime, and even star Robin van Persie is coming off one of the worst years in his career with Manchester United.
The defense is also extremely inexperienced and prone to mistakes against good teams, which it will see a lot of in Brazil.
Even former star goalkeeper Edwin van Der Sar does not think this World Cup will be great for the Netherlands, telling FIFA.com:
We are in a little bit more of a difficult time now, we don't have the ten or eleven world class players in our team – we have maybe three or four and they are getting older. So it's about time that the young Dutch generation pick up the laurels from the older ones and hopefully can achieve, first with their clubs and then the national team, a little more success than over the last three or four years.
Of course, the biggest problems will be with the opponents. The first match of the tournament for this squad is against Spain, which have spent almost a decade as the premier national team in the world. The team has won the last three major international titles (World Cup and two European championships) and still has the best midfield in the world.
Also in Group B is Chile, which performed exceptionally well in CONMEBOL qualifying and will have somewhat of a home-field advantage playing in South America.
Netherlands will get a break in the middle with a match against Australia, but it might not be enough to get into the knockout stage.
Like the Netherlands, Uruguay have been put into an extremely difficult group in the World Cup. Even experienced defender Diego Godin voiced his concerns with Group D to Sky Sports, via Fox Sports:
We have been given a group with very strong teams. England do not talk much but I think it is a very strong team with players going through a great time. They are at a high level and it is going to be very difficult. Italy are always a favourite to win in past World Cups and we faced them in the Confederations Cup. And Costa Rica is our debut match in Brazil, the first game is always difficult and it is a grand final because it is so important for the group.
The squad's chances got even worse when star forward Luis Suarez was forced to undergo knee surgery only a few weeks before the start of the World Cup, via the Associated Press:
Even if the talented scorer plays, he will clearly be less than 100 percent on the pitch. The talented group still has other options in Diego Forlan and Edinson Cavani, but it is clearly not as dangerous.
Uruguay were extremely inconsistent in qualifying, finishing in fifth place in the CONMEBOL table and only earning a trip to Brazil in a final play-off match. Against experienced teams like England and Italy with elite defenses, it will be difficult to score.
While the South American team has the talent to go the distance, a difficult group could prevent it from even escaping the group stage.
Based on talent alone, many people are expecting Mexico to at least reach the round of 16. Javier Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos have showcased plenty of talent in European leagues, while the local stars have displayed their skill in big matches as well.
Unfortunately, the squad limped through qualifying and struggled mightily just to score. The rotation of managers was also a problem, as Tom Marshall of ESPN FC noted:
Four managers for Mexico in a little over a month. Just 14 months since winning Olympic Gold. What an implosion 2013 has been!— Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup) October 18, 2013
Miguel Herrera is now at the helm and will hope that he can get this versatile group of players to live up to expectations.
This will not be easy in a group that seems impossible to win with Brazil looming in the top spot. The hosts have talent at every position and come into the tournament with plenty of confidence after winning the Confederations Cup last summer.
There is a chance to finish in second place in Group A, but Croatia will not be an easy team to beat with a talented midfield led by Luka Modric. Even Cameroon will present a challenge with their strong defense.
Mexico could surprise people in this World Cup, but an early exit seems much more likely at this time.
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