The 2014 World Cup promises to be one of the most competitive of all time, as no less than 10 legitimate contenders to win it all are among the field of 32.
Eight groups of four will duke it out in Brazil with just 16 spots available in the elimination round. Essentially, anything can happen at that point since any club in this tournament can beat another on any given day.
With the long-awaited 2014 World Cup finally upon us, here is everything you need to know about the format as well as what your favorite team needs to do in order to achieve World Cup glory in Brazil.
When: Thursday, June 12 through Sunday, July 13
Watch: ABC, ESPN, ESPN2
Live Stream: ESPN3
World Cup Groups
Group Stage Rules
The 2014 World Cup's format is quite simple as 32 teams will compete for global supremacy. Two teams will advance from each of the eight groups after round-robin play finishes.
According to FIFA's official rules, tiebreaking procedures are in place if need be. In the event that two teams are tied, a distinction will be made based on goal differential followed by total goals.
In the somewhat unlikely event that a tie still exists, it will then come down to the head-to-head result between those two teams. If they are still tied after that, then the FIFA Organizing Committee will hold a random draw to determine who advances.
The following is an outline of how the knockout play matches will be determined:
|Match||Team 1||Team 2|
|1||Winner A||Runner-up B|
|2||Winner B||Runner-up A|
|3||Winner C||Runner-up D|
|4||Winner D||Runner-up C|
|5||Winner E||Runner-up F|
|6||Winner F||Runner-up E|
|7||Winner G||Runner-up H|
|8||Winner H||Runner-up G|
On-field play usually sorts out everything without extensive tiebreakers being needed, but the procedures are in place, and FIFA is quite prepared for any situation.
Knockout Round Rules
The first knockout round will feature 16 teams who will all face a win-or-go-home scenario. Losses are less than ideal in the group stage, but they don't necessary mean the end of the road.
Draws are not possible following the group stage, per FIFA, as any tie games will require two 15-minute periods of extra time, followed—if necessary—by penalty kicks.
Once the round of 16 reaches its conclusion, the quarterfinals will look like this:
|Match||Team 1||Team 2|
|A||Winner 1||Winner 3|
|B||Winner 2||Winner 4|
|C||Winner 5||Winner 7|
|D||Winner 6||Winner 8|
The field will then be whittled down to four in the form of the semifinals:
|Match||Team 1||Team 2|
|1||Winner A||Winner C|
|2||Winner B||Winner D|
The United States finds itself in a difficult position, as it is stuck in a group with Germany, Portugal and Ghana. Few are giving Team USA a chance to advance past that stage, let alone make a run toward the final.
If the U.S. does manage to make it all the way to the final and win all of its matches en route, it would unquestionably create plenty of buzz in the States. Even if that happens, though, Bloomberg News has determined that Team USA would have a very low percentage chance of beating host Brazil in the final:
If Team USA wins every match at the World Cup, they would have a 13 percent chance of beating Brazil for the title: http://t.co/BDTwIskcvW— Bloomberg News (@BloombergNews) June 3, 2014
It is probably difficult for most to envision that scenario playing out, but it would make for an extremely interesting tournament. Regardless of who advances, the knockout round promises to set the stage for plenty of memorable moments.
Final and Third-Place Rules
Who will win the 2014 World Cup?
Despite the fact that the semifinal losers will have their World Cup dreams dashed, they won't be sent home quite yet. A third-place game will occur as consolation, and it will have the same rules as every other knockout match.
The same is true of the final, although there will obviously be much more on the line. The rules are firmly in place, and there is very little concern about them, but there may be some reason to worry about the host nation itself.
The Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo is one of the premier venues for the World Cup, but it was still incomplete as of June 1. Even so, Sao Paulo organizing committee general manager Tiago Pael was confident that it would be ready, per Vincent Bevins of the Los Angeles Times.
"Everything is going to get better, I have no doubt," Pael said. "By the semifinal match (on July 9), we'll be able to run this place with our eyes closed. Over the next week and a half, we have a lot of work to do."
The World Cup always seems to go off without many issues by hook or by crook, and it will be interesting to see how these developments play out. More interesting than that, though, will be the journey of the 32 competing teams as they attempt to reach the final and win it all.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter