Thirty-two teams will enter but only 16 will emerge from this summer's World Cup group stage with a hope of going on to win the 2014 title.
Less than two weeks remain until the South American frenzy gets underway, and the eight groups comprising of this year's elite threaten more than the odd shock.
The likes of Spain, Netherlands, Germany, Italy and England all find themselves in tough groups, and here we take a look at each group, considering which two nations look most likely to book qualification.
|June 12||Brazil vs. Croatia||9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET||Sao Paulo||2-0 Brazil|
|June 13||Mexico vs. Cameroon||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Natal||1-0 Mexico|
|June 17||Brazil vs. Mexico||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||Fortaleza||3-0 Brazil|
|June 18||Cameroon vs. Croatia||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||Manaus||2-1 Croatia|
|June 23||Cameroon vs. Brazil||9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET||Brasilia||4-1 Brazil|
|June 23||Croatia vs. Mexico||9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET||Recife||1-1|
Hosts Brazil are tipped to become the first team to win a home World Cup since France in 1998, so it's of no surprise that they also sit as favourites to top Group A above Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon.
Writing in a Guardian column last month, ex-Brazil star Zico backed his nation to ease into the second phase as winners of their pool:
I think the Selecao had a lucky group-stage draw. Both Croatia and Mexico arrived via the play-offs and Cameroon are not as threatening as in previous years. Croatia will play Brazil without Mario Mandzukic, for example, while Mexico were almost edged out by Panama in qualifying. So I think Brazil are in shape to top the group convincingly, which will give the players confidence ahead of the knockout stages.
Croatia came second to Belgium in UEFA qualification's Group A and, as Zico details, Mexico weren't the most confident of qualifiers, relying on an intercontinental play-off against New Zealand to seal their place in Brazil.
Cameroon will be striving to fight against the African curse of no team from their continent having ever made it past the quarter-final stage of the contest, and after winning just three of their last 10 outings, the Indomitable Lions have slim chances of progressing.
Prediction: Brazil advance in first place, Croatia advance as runners-up.
|June 13||Spain vs. Netherlands||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||Salvador||2-1 Spain|
|June 13||Chile vs. Australia||11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET||Cuiaba||3-1 Chile|
|June 18||Spain vs. Chile||11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET||Rio de Janeiro||2-1 Spain|
|June 18||Australia vs. Netherlands||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Porto Alegre||2-0 Netherlands|
|June 23||Australia vs. Spain||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Curitiba||5-1 Spain|
|June 23||Netherlands vs. Chile||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Sao Paulo||1-0 Chile|
Australia have been handed a near-impossible task in this year's most deserving nominee for the "Group of Death," with Spain, Chile and the Netherlands each possessing the capacity to advance.
Title-holders Spain will inevitably be expected to top the group, and while Louis van Gaal's attacking resources are well-backed, it could be Netherlands' defensive shortcomings that prove the Oranje's undoing, as was the case at Euro 2012.
ESPN FC's Sam Kelly supposes that being up against two international powerhouses could eventually work in the Chileans' favour:
Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia. Group of death? Chile could be relieved, in a way; pressure's right off now, surely.— Sam Kelly (@HEGS_com) December 6, 2013
Climate will be a massive factor at this summer's event, as has been well discussed in recent months, giving Chile a strong advantage to build off, combined with a squad that's not short of talented figures.
Prediction: Spain advance in first place, Chile advance as runners-up.
|June 14||Colombia vs. Greece||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Belo Horizonte||2-0 Colombia|
|June 14||Ivory Coast vs. Japan||11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET||Recife||2-2|
|June 19||Colombia vs. Ivory Coast||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Brasilia||3-2 Colombia|
|June 19||Japan vs. Greece||11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET||Natal||1-1|
|June 24||Japan vs. Colombia||9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET||Cuiaba||2-0 Colombia|
|June 24||Greece vs. Ivory Coast||9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET||Fortaleza||2-1 Ivory Coast|
It's not only the most decorated sides that can account for an incredibly tight pool, and the quartet that make up Group C are tough to call.
CONMEBOL's resurgent Colombia finished just two points away from Argentina in qualifying and will be looked upon as favourites to win the pool in South American headquarters, but beIN Sports has suggested Ivory Coast may be a side to watch:
#4 most difficult is Group C (Colombia, Greece, Cote d'Ivoire/Ivory Coast, Japan) Happy for Drogba FINALLY not in Group of Death. Winnable.— beIN SPORTS (@beINSPORTSUSA) December 6, 2013
It seems plausible that the Elephants and Japan will be the two outfits duelling for the runners-up spot, but Greece could pose a stumbling block to others, having made a small point of surprising on the international stage since their shock triumph at Euro 2004.
Prediction: Colombia advance in first place, Ivory Coast advance as runners-up.
|June 14||Uruguay vs. Costa Rica||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||Fortaleza||3-1 Uruguay|
|June 14||England vs. Italy||11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET||Manaus||0-0|
|June 19||Uruguay vs. England||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||Sao Paulo||3-2 Uruguay|
|June 20||Italy vs. Costa Rica||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Recife||2-0 Italy|
|June 24||Italy vs. Uruguay||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Natal||2-2|
|June 24||Costa Rica vs. England||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Belo Horizonte||3-1 England|
England once again go under the microscope this summer, and it will be far from easy for Roy Hodgson's men to even qualify ahead of Italy and Uruguay, never mind taking first place.
One person not endorsing their bid for the World Cup crown is Azzurri striker Mario Balotelli, who doesn't envision his Group D opponents going all the way, per the Daily Mail's Sam Cunningham:
I don’t look at England as a team that can win the World Cup. They have some good players, but they are no real rivals for Italy. I am not saying that Italy are favourites, but we have the mentality and experienced players to surprise people—I don’t think England have that.
We have players who have won the World Cup, I don’t think England have a player who knows what it is like to play past the quarter-final.
Costa Rica undoubtedly go into the competition as viable whipping boys out of the four, but it will be an extremely close race between the other three inhabitants, each of whom have won the World Cup in the past.
Prediction: Uruguay advance in first place, Italy advance as runners-up.
|June 15||Switzerland vs. Ecuador||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Brasilia||2-1 Ecuador|
|June 15||France vs. Honduras||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||Porto Alegre||3-0 France|
|June 20||Switzerland vs. France||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||Salvador||1-0 France|
|June 20||Honduras vs. Ecuador||11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET||Curitiba||2-0 Ecuador|
|June 25||Honduras vs. Switzerland||9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET||Manaus||3-1 Switzerland|
|June 25||Ecuador vs. France||9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET||Rio de Janeiro||2-0 France|
Having required a play-off against Ukraine to take up their spot at the World Cup, France will have been pleased with the group draw, although Switzerland or Ecuador could spring a surprise under the right circumstances.
Didier Deschamps did have some concerns to think about in regard to Franck Ribery's fitness, but ESPN FC's Jonathan Johnson claims the winger will come through any back woes to feature this summer:
French fears re: Franck Ribery's back injury allayed for now. Didier Deschamps confirmed he will feature in final 23-man list. #EDF— Jonathan Johnson (@Jon_LeGossip) June 2, 2014
France, at their best, will be extremely tough to combat, but summoning that form is a significant task in itself, while the hunt for second spot between Ecuador and the Swiss could run in the former's favour thanks to climate familiarity.
Prediction: France advance in first place, Ecuador advance as runners-up.
|June 15||Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina||11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET||Rio de Janeiro||3-1 Argentina|
|June 16||Iran vs. Nigeria||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||Curitiba||2-1 Nigeria|
|June 21||Argentina vs. Iran||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Belo Horizonte||2-0 Argentina|
|June 21||Nigeria vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina||11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET||Cuiaba||3-1 Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|June 25||Nigeria vs. Argentina||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Porto Alegre||1-1|
|June 25||Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Iran||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Salvador||1-0 Bosnia and Herzegovina|
Argentina have failed to make it past the first stage of a World Cup once in their last 10 tournaments (2002), leaving one with the impression that Alejandro Sabella should be able to lead his outfit through once more, tipped as second-favourites to win the whole tournament.
Bosnia and Herzegovina scored an impressive 30 goals in UEFA qualifying but have lost four of their last eight matches. It seems likely that they will jostle with Nigeria for second place, with the BBC's Stuart Rowson in agreement that Iran are favourites to finish bottom of Group F:
Have bet son's Iranian friend that his country will finish bottom of Group F. He's convinced they can take Nigeria and Bosnia #WorldCup2014— Stuart Rowson (@StuartRowson) May 31, 2014
Prediction: Argentina advance in first place, Bosnia and Herzegovina advance as runners-up.
|June 16||Germany vs. Portugal||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Salvador||3-2 Germany|
|June 16||Ghana vs. United States||11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET||Natal||3-2 Ghana|
|June 21||Germany vs. Ghana||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||Fortaleza||2-0 Germany|
|June 22||United States vs. Portugal||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||Manaus||3-1 Portugal|
|June 26||United States vs. Germany||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Recife||3-1 Germany|
|June 26||Portugal vs. Ghana||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Brasilia||3-3|
Another potentially tight assembly will see 2010 quarter-finalists Ghana attempt to slay European giants Germany and Portugal in Group G, with the United States looking to make it past the group stage in successive tournaments for the first time in their history.
Joachim Low once again leads Die Mannschaft into a World Cup with high hopes of causing a stir among the favourites, and while one might debate their title credentials, the Germans haven't failed to top their first-round grouping since 1986.
Portugal have talent thriving among their ranks, but they have a certain pressure on their shoulders to surpass Ghana and the U.S.A., something they haven't always dealt with well in the past.
Prediction: Germany advance in first place, Portugal advance as runners-up.
|June 17||Belgium vs. Algeria||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Belo Horizonte||3-1 Belgium|
|June 17||Russia vs. South Korea||11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET||Cuiaba||1-0 Russia|
|June 22||Belgium vs. Russia||11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET||Rio de Janeiro||2-0 Belgium|
|June 22||South Korea vs. Algeria||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Porto Alegre||1-0 Algeria|
|June 26||South Korea vs. Belgium||9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET||Sao Paulo||3-0 Belgium|
|June 26||Algeria vs. Russia||9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET||Curitiba||2-1 Russia|
Belgium's reputation as being a dark horse to launch a surprise in Brazil is now so well-founded that one could debate as to whether they can even be termed as dark horses any longer.
Marc Wilmots has come upon a generation of genuine stars with the likes of Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen just being a few, but Russia will also be a staunch presence in Group H, as supposed by the Mirror's Greg Johnson:
Russia winning Group H, Chile pipping Spain, Ecuador in Ro16: come gather round & laugh at my World Cup predictor: http://t.co/nOcYsK4yUQ— Greg Johnson (@gregianjohnson) May 30, 2014
Algeria and South Korea are far from incapable, but each may fall to their European counterparts this summer in what could be a challenge just outside of their reaches.
Prediction: Belgium advance in first place, Russia advance as runners-up.