The World Cup is upon us, and all 32 countries participating will feel they have a chance to hoist the trophy in Rio de Janeiro.
While that is obviously a bit overly ambitious for certain nations, this year's tournament does feel especially wide open. There are, of course, the favorites, but there are also a slew of South American sides that will prove dangerous in Brazil, a few others with transcendent individual talents and plenty more that have looked strong during qualifying and recent friendlies.
At least half of this year's field is comprised of sides that could legitimately make a quarter-final or semi-final run without it serving as a major surprise, making this a potentially scintillating tournament.
That said, let's attempt to rank each country from 1-32 (according to their chances of winning the 2014 World Cup), along with a look at the top favorites.
|14||Bosnia and Herzegovina|
You will not find a squad more exciting on the attack than Brazil.
It all starts with Neymar. There were some concerns about the 22-year-old's form after an up-and-down season with Barcelona, but he was transcendent during Brazil's title run at the 2013 Confederations Cup and further put to rest any concerns during a June friendly against Panama. Feint Zebra provided a look at a particularly extraordinary moment from the latter:
For those that missed it - Neymars lovely freekick for Brazil: http://t.co/fH4CbY8Xff— Feint Zebra (@feintzebra) June 3, 2014
The electrifying dribbling maestro just seems so much more comfortable when able to operate in space, and he gets plenty of that in manager Luiz Felipe Scolari's wide-open system.
Whether it's Jo or Fred up front, Brazil lack a dominant striker—a very unusual Brazilian trait. However, that's quelled thanks to the creativity and versatility of attacking options like Neymar, Hulk, Oscar and Bernard in the midfield.
Go a step further back on the pitch and some combination of Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho, Fernandinho and Ramires will be shielding the back four. All of them have speed and can cover a lot of ground, making Brazil incredibly dangerous on the counter-attack.
There may be some defensive miscues, as David Luiz and Thiago Silva are prone to making errors from time to time, but it may not matter. Brazil has the makeup to simply outscore their opponents.
Tiki-taka is not dead. It became convenient to argue the opposite when Spain lost to Brazil, 3-0, in the Confederations Cup final and then Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich side was easily thwarted by Real Madrid in the Champions League.
But rest assured, no one wants to play Spain.
La Roja have a rock-solid back four with Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and Cesar Azpilicueta (or Juanfran), and with a midfield that consists of options such as Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Xavi and Andres Iniesta (to name a few), they won't be giving up much possession.
Finding a consistent striker has developed into a valid concern for Vicente del Bosque's side, but as long as Diego Costa is fit, that shouldn't be a problem. The former Brazilian international poured in 35 goals in 44 appearances (La Liga and Champions League) for Atletico Madrid this season and is working hard to put his thigh injury behind him, via the Associated Press:
I didn't think they would let me train from the start but we did some tests and I'm well. I think I can be fit for the match against the Netherlands, even for the friendly in Washington.
I've had a very good year with my club and the idea is to keep it going here, to repay those who have faith in me. I'm very motivated and the pressure won't affect me, I've already played in a lot of high-pressure games so I know what to expect.
The defending champions may be "boring" to the casual onlooker—especially compared to Brazil's galvanizing pace—but their blend of talent and experience is untouched across the world.
A consistent threat on the international scale, Germany has advanced to the semi-finals in the last four major tournaments (two World Cups and two Euro Championships). None of those have produced a title, but along with Spain, the Germans have the been the most consistently dominant side of the past decade.
In Brazil, that won't change.
Much like Brazil, there are question marks at the very front. Miroslav Klose is the only true out-and-out striker on the squad, and while he is a historically prolific marksman at the World Cup, he's 35 years old and unlikely to consistently handle 90 minutes.
That means Joachim Low will have to turn to a false-nine formation at some point, something Germany isn't exactly comfortable with.
Nevertheless, when you have the wealth of riches in the midfield that Germany possess, lacking a true poacher isn't the biggest concern.
Mesut Ozil is one of the finest facilitating No. 10s in the world, and although his form dipped down the stretch with Arsenal, he remains a dangerous playmaker. Thomas Muller, the 2010 Golden Boot winner, was one of the most prolific players in the Bundesliga this season. Mario Gotze scored in three of Germany's last four World Cup qualifying matches.
The loss of Marco Reus undoubtedly hurts, but having guys like Lukas Podolski and Andre Schurrle for depth makes it an injury that the Germans can withstand.
How far will Germany advance?
Even if Germany is forced into a false-nine formation, there isn't a defense in the world that won't dread having to stop four of the above attacking options on the same night.
Moving along the pitch only finds more strengths. As long as everyone's healthy, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira can shield the back four as holding midfielders, leaving Philipp Lahm to right-back where he is most needed on this roster.
Throw in Manuel Neuer, one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and this squad features more depth and more talent from top to bottom than any other country in the world.