Under a fortnight remains until the most anticipated sporting event of the year kicks off in Brazil after a long and arduous World Cup wait.
Fans and pundits alike will be putting together their last pre-tournament predictions in the days leading up to June 12, after which we'll receive some idea of which sides stand the best chance of triumphing in South America.
Ahead of this summer's action, we break down which outfits are shaping up to pose the strongest challenge to Spain's title, along with some of the latest odds and predictions.
Latest Odds and Favourites
With a familiar climate running in their favour and home advantage likely to be a major benefit in their endeavours, it's of course Brazil who have spent much of this year's buildup pegged as the favourites to win their first World Cup since 2002.
The Selecao are currently 3-1 to claim a third World Cup in six tournaments, and if it's a little more insurance one is seeking, Luiz Felipe Scolari's men can be caught at 6-4 just to make the final.
Defending champions Spain are 13-2 to keep their trophy, but Germany enter the competition as the most highly ranked European nation, currently sitting on odds of 6-1 to win in Brazil or 5-2 to make the final fixture.
World Cup 2006 winners Italy are something of an outside bet at 27-1, but they could be worth a look, even with ESPN's James Horncastle quoting coach Cesare Prandelli as not seeing his own side among the top contenders:
As hosts, Brazil had no qualification campaign, so it's slightly more difficult to judge how their defence will stand up to the test. Regardless, Julio Cesar is the favourite to claim the Golden Glove award at 7-2.
It's a fair billing when one considers the Selecao conceded just one goal in their last five games and boasted the best defensive record at the 2013 Confederations Cup, leaking just three goals in their five matches.
If it's not the favourites you fancy, you can back any goalkeeper other than Cesar, Gianluigi Buffon (Italy), Sergio Romero (Argentina) or Manuel Neuer (Germany) to win the award at 7-1.
England's UEFA qualification run saw them bag no less than 31 goals, beaten only by the Netherlands and Germany. Roy Hodgson's men are 37-1 to finish the tournament as the highest-scoring team, but as OptaJoe points out, they're hopes aren't great if conceding first:
In front of a home crowd, Brazil's golden child, Neymar, is 7-1 to be named Player of the Tournament, and a more adventurous gamble is to take the forward at 12-1 for Brazil to win the World Cup and him to finish as top goalscorer.
Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi could be worth taking a risk on, too, despite not ruffling too many feathers in previous tournaments, and he draws odds of 14-1 to lead Argentina to the promised land with top goalscorer credentials.
Group Stage Predictions
|World Cup Group Stage Winner and Runner-Up Predictions|
|Position||Group A||Group B||Group C||Group D||Group E||Group F||Group G||Group H|
|2nd||Croatia||Chile||Japan||Italy||Switzerland||Bosnia and Herzegovina||Portugal||Russia|
The talent has been spread extremely well across this year's group stage, with several pools looking likely to take on a tight and turgid appeal.
Brazil and Croatia look likely to be the two teams advancing from Group A, while one might be wise to bank on Colombia, Argentina and Germany topping Groups C, F and G, respectively.
There are some close to make elsewhere, though. France's 2010 World Cup was a forgettable one, and they'll face a stubborn task from Switzerland and to a lesser extent Ecuador in Group E, but certainly have the talent to prevail.
Sky Sports South American correspondent Paulo Freitas would appear to be of the disposition that Les Bleus' progress is a given, however:
At this stage, Belgium and Russia seem probable to contest for first place in Group H, but South Korea and Algeria both have their reserves of talented assets in what could turn out to be a miniature Group of Death in its own right.
Some of the most intriguing viewing will undoubtedly come from Groups B and D, however.
In the former, we have Spain, the Netherlands and Chile, each of whom have reason to believe they can emerge as pool-stage victors: Spain being the tough juggernaut with reserves deep enough to field two top-class sides, the Oranje being stellar in attack but questionable at the back and Chile sitting as the South American dark horse capable of an upset.
Chile have spared no expense in promoting their push for 2014 glory in terms of marketing, as Channel 4's Jon Snow illustrates:
And in the latter, Italy, England and Uruguay will bounce off one another in what will be a mysterious three-way, one which will really depend quite simply on which team decides to turn up in the brightest form, although the Uruguayans will assuredly be better off in the climate.
All odds provided by Oddschecker.com.
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