The 2014 World Cup is set to begin, and legacies are on the line across world football, as the top players look to assume glory for their respective nations.
Brazil kick things off as the host country with a Saturday opener against Croatia, and what follows is two weeks of at least three World Cup matches per day. It's a packed slate full of enticing fixtures that are sure to entertain as we head toward the knockout phase of the tournament.
With a number of tough groups that feature more than two nations deserving of advancement, there should be plenty of surprises throughout the two weeks as the top-32 nations decide who will make the cut to 16.
Here's a glance at every upcoming World Cup group-stage fixture and a breakdown of the top teams:
|2014 World Cup Group Stage Fixtures|
|June 12||Brazil vs. Croatia||A||4 p.m.||Sao Paulo||ESPN|
|June 13||Mexico vs. Cameroon||A||12 p.m.||Natal||ESPN2|
|June 13||Spain vs. Netherlands||B||3 p.m.||Salvador||ESPN|
|June 13||Chile vs. Australia||B||6 p.m.||Cuiaba||ESPN2|
|June 14||Colombia vs. Greece||C||12 p.m.||Belo Horizonte||ABC|
|June 14||Uruguay vs. Costa Rica||D||3 p.m.||Fortaleza||ABC|
|June 14||Ivory Coast vs. Japan||C||6 p.m.||Recife||ESPN|
|June 14||England vs. Italy||D||6 p.m.||Manaus||ESPN|
|June 15||Switzerland vs. Ecuador||E||12 p.m.||Brasilia||ABC|
|June 15||France vs. Honduras||E||3 p.m.||Porto Alegre||ABC|
|June 15||Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina||F||6 p.m.||Rio De Janeiro||ESPN|
|June 16||Germany vs. Portugal||G||12 p.m.||Salvador||ESPN|
|June 16||Iran vs. Nigeria||F||3 p.m.||Curitiba||ESPN|
|June 16||Ghana vs. United States||G||6 p.m.||Natal||ESPN|
|June 17||Belgium vs. Algeria||H||12 p.m.||Belo Horizonte||ESPN|
|June 17||Brazil vs. Mexico||A||3 p.m.||Fortaleza||ESPN|
|June 17||Russia vs. South Korea||H||6 p.m.||Cuiaba||ESPN|
|June 18||Australia vs. Netherlands||B||12 p.m.||Porto Alegre||ESPN|
|June 18||Cameroon vs. Croatia||A||3 p.m.||Manaus||ESPN|
|June 18||Spain vs. Chile||B||6 p.m.||Rio De Janeiro||ESPN|
|June 19||Colombia vs. Ivory Coast||C||12 p.m.||Brasilia||ESPN|
|June 19||Uruguay vs. England||D||3 p.m.||Sao Paulo||ESPN|
|June 19||Greece vs. Japan||C||6 p.m.||Natal||ESPN|
|June 20||Costa Rica vs. Italy||D||12 p.m.||Recife||ESPN|
|June 20||Switzerland vs. France||E||3 p.m.||Salvador||ESPN|
|June 20||Ecuador vs. Honduras||E||6 p.m.||Curitiba||ESPN|
|June 21||Argentina vs. Iran||F||12 p.m.||Belo Horizonte||ESPN|
|June 21||Germany vs. Ghana||G||3 p.m.||Fortaleza||ESPN|
|June 21||Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Nigeria||F||6 p.m.||Cuiaba||ESPN|
|June 22||South Korea vs. Algeria||H||12 p.m.||Porto Alegre||ABC|
|June 22||United States vs. Portugal||G||3 p.m.||Manaus||ABC|
|June 22||Belgium vs. Russia||H||12 p.m.||Rio De Janeiro||ESPN|
|June 23||Australia vs. Spain||B||12 p.m.||Curitiba||ESPN2|
|June 23||Chile vs. Netherlands||B||12 p.m.||Sao Paulo||ESPN|
|June 23||Brazil vs. Cameroon||A||4 p.m.||Brasilia||ESPN|
|June 23||Croatia vs. Mexico||A||4 p.m.||Recife||ESPN2|
|June 24||Italy vs. Uruguay||D||12 p.m.||Natal||ESPN|
|June 24||Costa Rica vs. England||D||12 p.m.||Belo Horizonte||ESPN2|
|June 24||Japan vs. Colombia||C||4 p.m.||Cuiaba||ESPN|
|June 24||Greece vs. Ivory Coast||C||4 p.m.||Fortaleza||ESPN2|
|June 25||Nigeria vs. Argentina||F||12 p.m.||Porto Alegre||ESPN|
|June 25||Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Iran||F||12 p.m.||Salvador||ESPN2|
|June 25||Honduras vs. Switzerland||E||4 p.m.||Manaus||ESPN2|
|June 25||France vs. Ecuador||E||4 p.m.||Rio De Janeiro||ESPN|
|June 26||United States vs. Germany||G||12 p.m.||Recife||ESPN|
|June 26||Portugal vs. Ghana||G||12 p.m.||Brasilia||ESPN2|
|June 26||South Korea vs. Belgium||H||4 p.m.||Sao Paulo||ESPN|
|June 26||Algeria vs. Russia||H||4 p.m.||Curitiba||ESPN2|
|2014 World Cup Groups|
|Group A||Group B||Group C||Group D|
|Cameroon||Chile||Ivory Coast||Costa Rica|
|Group E||Group F||Group G||Group H|
No nation in the World Cup is generating more excitement as a favorite heading into the event than the host country.
The Brazilians have built toward 2014 for some time, and it's finally here. They arrive with a star-studded lineup that features dominance at every position, and they have the advantage of always playing in front of their home fans.
It's Neymar's first World Cup, but he's been a staple of the national team for years with 47 caps and 30 goals in his short career. With him out left, Oscar in the middle, Bernard on the right and Fred as the striker target with more options available on the bench, Brazil's attack figures to be potent at all times and unstoppable at other moments.
Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Marcelo in the back proves daunting for any attacker, and that speed on the outside allows them to inject life into the offense through a counter-attack and with extra bodies out wide. Most important of all is that Silva and Alves, along with reserve Maicon, are three of the five players on the current roster who played in the 2010 World Cup.
Experienced attackers Kaka and Robinho were left off the squad entirely, but it already was known that Brazil were going with a young look in the attack. The defense is where the experience lies, and that's an important thing if Brazil are serious about advancing to the final.
Brazil aren't the only South American nation looking to validate its status as a World Cup favorite right in its own continent.
After traveling a few thousand miles north, the Argentinians have embarked upon Brazil looking to make 2014 just the third time ever that they have hoisted the World Cup trophy.
As was the case in 1986, when Argentina touted Diego Maradona, there's an unquestioned leader of the team that also doubles as the world's best player: Lionel Messi.
Messi's incredible career at Barcelona has already spanned a decade and has included 243 goals. His ability to find his way open in the box and get on the finishing end of passing displays is only one-upped by his constant threat to score every time the ball is on his foot within 25 yards.
He won't be without comrades in Brazil, however. Sergio Aguero is getting back to fitness after an injury-plagued season, and with Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria also in the attack, Messi has his hands full with weapons at his disposal.
Head coach Alejandro Sabella had this say about the entire squad's need to step up and help Messi, per Daily Mail's Tom Sheen:
There is a team which must help Messi. We cannot put all the responsibility on his shoulders. He is happy. He feels sheltered by his teammates. Messi has a different leadership role, in his own way. Leo is the leader with his footballing experience, which makes the whole world fall at his feet.
There are questions about the defense at times, and there's no true man in the midfield, which could be detrimental against teams like Spain or Germany, who both play primarily through the middle. Still, there's no doubt that Argentina can put up goals on par with just about anybody.
Eight years ago, Germany couldn't make it to the World Cup final on their home soil. In 2010, they saw their status as one of the tournament's favorites squashed once again with a semifinal loss to Spain.
Now in Brazil for a chance at redemption, the Germans arrive with a stacked roster that could simply tear through every nation en route to a fourth-ever World Cup title if it all comes together perfectly.
No team boasts both the experience and in-prime firepower that Germany does. Bastian Schweinsteiger is the constant in a plethora of young studs in the midfield, which also includes Mario Gotze and Mesut Ozil, who can run wild and set up sequences.
In the defense, captain Philipp Lahm and Per Mertesacker run things, while already established world-class defenders like Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng are ready for the biggest international action of their career.
It's still up in the air whether 35-year-old Miroslav Klose—who can break the all-time World Cup goals record with two in Brazil—still has what it takes to finish chances at a high-enough level to get past the elite teams they will have to face deep in the tournament.
But at the very least, Germany's sheer blend of experience and talent will see them into the latter stages of the tournament.