We are but two days away from the start of the 2014 World Cup, and the sports world in buzzing with anticipation. Hosts and tournament favourites Brazil will immediately put their form on display in the opening fixture, and with one of the deepest fields of contenders in the tournament's history, this year's World Cup is shaping up to be one of the best yet.
Let's go over the schedule one last time and discuss the odds and favourites for the tournament ahead of the opening fixture between Brazil and Croatia.
|June 12||Brazil vs. Croatia||9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET||Sao Paulo||Brazil|
|June 13||Mexico vs. Cameroon||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Natal||Mexico|
|June 17||Brazil vs. Mexico||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||Fortaleza||Brazil|
|June 18||Cameroon vs. Croatia||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||Manaus||Croatia|
|June 23||Cameroon vs. Brazil||9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET||Brasilia||Brazil|
|June 23||Croatia vs. Mexico||9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET||Recife||Croatia|
|Group A Odds||Group A Odds|
Everyone seems to be backing the hosts to go all the way in 2014, with Oddsshark.com having assigned Brazil odds of 3-1 to win the tournament.
Apparent from a brief injury scare over star forward Neymar (which turned out to be nothing worth mentioning), preparation for the World Cup has been nearly flawless for Brazil. The Selecao haven't played a lot of friendlies, but they looked more than solid in the ones they did.
Via Selecao Brasileira, the team has looked very healthy and in fine form in training so far:
Neymar scored a goal and made a nice assist in training today. He looked in good form. Marcelo and Hulk played well too. No injury worries.— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStats) June 9, 2014
There were a handful of players who didn't seem to be giving it their all during the team's friendlies, but Barcelona's Dani Alves told the media those players were mainly concerned with avoiding injuries, as shared by Selecao Brasileira:
Dani Alves: "Don't criticize us too much for friendlies, the players didn't want to risk anything to not get injured. It was our main goal."— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStats) June 9, 2014
Brazil will play in one of the more intriguing groups of the World Cup, facing three teams all capable of pulling off an upset. Mexico haven't been in spectacular form lately, but on their day they have the talent and chemistry to go up against anyone.
Croatia are a Cup team, nearly defeating the two finalists of Euro 2012 during the group stages two years ago. The trio of Mario Mandzukic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic would walk into most teams in world football, and the talent backing them up isn't too shabby either.
Cameroon are a bit of a wild card, but their 2-2 draw in Germany showed they aren't afraid of playing with the big boys. If Samuel Eto'o can find his best form and the rest of the team can rally around him, they too could make life hard on the Brazilians.
|June 13||Spain vs. Netherlands||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||Salvador||Spain|
|June 13||Chile vs. Australia||11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET||Cuiaba||Chile|
|June 18||Spain vs. Chile||11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET||Rio de Janeiro||Spain|
|June 18||Australia vs. Netherlands||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Porto Alegre||Netherlands|
|June 23||Australia vs. Spain||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Curitiba||Spain|
|June 23||Netherlands vs. Chile||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Sao Paulo||Netherlands|
|June 14||Colombia vs. Greece||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Belo Horizonte||Colombia|
|June 14||Ivory Coast vs. Japan||11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET||Recife||Ivory Coast|
|June 19||Colombia vs. Ivory Coast||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Brasilia||Colombia|
|June 19||Japan vs. Greece||11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET||Natal||Japan|
|June 24||Japan vs. Colombia||9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET||Cuiaba||Colombia|
|June 24||Greece vs. Ivory Coast||9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET||Fortaleza||Ivory Coast|
|June 14||Uruguay vs. Costa Rica||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||Fortaleza||Uruguay|
|June 14||England vs. Italy||11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET||Manaus||Italy|
|June 19||Uruguay vs. England||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||Sao Paulo||Uruguay|
|June 20||Italy vs. Costa Rica||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Recife||Italy|
|June 24||Italy vs. Uruguay||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Natal||Italy|
|June 24||Costa Rica vs. England||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Belo Horizonte||England|
|June 15||Switzerland vs. Ecuador||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Brasilia||Switzerland|
|June 15||France vs. Honduras||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||Porto Alegre||France|
|June 20||Switzerland vs. France||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||Salvador||France|
|June 20||Honduras vs. Ecuador||11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET||Curitiba||Ecuador|
|June 25||Honduras vs. Switzerland||9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET||Manaus||Switzerland|
|June 25||Ecuador vs. France||9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET||Rio de Janeiro||France|
|June 15||Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina||11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET||Rio de Janeiro||Argentina|
|June 16||Iran vs. Nigeria||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||Curitiba||Nigeria|
|June 21||Argentina vs. Iran||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Belo Horizonte||Argentina|
|June 21||Nigeria vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina||11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET||Cuiaba||B&H|
|June 25||Nigeria vs. Argentina||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Porto Alegre||Argentina|
|June 25||Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Iran||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Salvador||B&H|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||6/1|
Whether or not Argentina have the talent required to become world champions isn't the question—it's whether or not they can come together as a team in time to perform against the other favourites.
In Lionel Messi, the team can field one of the world's very best players, and he's surrounded by arguably the team's deepest group of offensive talent.
Angel di Maria, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain are all world-class forwards, and it seems almost unfair to put them all on the same team.
Argentina's biggest concern is the fact their defence doesn't boast the same kind of talent, and despite having excellent players like Ezequiel Garay and Marcos Rojo, the unit hasn't played up to standards in their recent friendlies.
Against the likes of Iran, Nigeria and Bosnia and Herzegovina, this shouldn't be a problem. The Albiceleste will have three relatively easy group matches they can use to build confidence in the abilities of their defence, and if everything goes to plan, the team should be ready by the time the knockout stages begin.
In a single head-to-head, there are few teams that strike more fear into the hearts of opposing players than Argentina. Whether or not they can consistently perform in a tournament they haven't won since 1986 is a different question altogether, and it's one we can't wait to see answered.
|June 16||Germany vs. Portugal||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Salvador||Germany|
|June 16||Ghana vs. United States||11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET||Natal||USA|
|June 21||Germany vs. Ghana||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||Fortaleza||Germany|
|June 22||United States vs. Portugal||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||Manaus||Portugal|
|June 26||United States vs. Germany||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Recife||Germany|
|June 26||Portugal vs. Ghana||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Brasilia||Portugal|
Bleacher Report's Clark Whitney wrote an excellent article on the state of the German national football team recently, and for fans of the World Cup, it's a must-read.
Whitney believes manager Joachim Loew shouldn't be blamed for failing to bring home the trophy should the tournament not go to plan, and he's got a point—everything that could have gone wrong for Die Mannschaft has gone wrong:
However, for Loew to be castigated for Germany's probable failure to win the World Cup would be cruel and unwarranted. Everything that could have gone wrong for the Mannschaft has.
To start with, Germany's path to the title will in all likelihood be extremely difficult. Should they reach the semifinal, their opponents will in all likelihood be Brazil. In the final will be Spain or any team that can manage to oust the reigning world and two-time defending European champions.
Beyond the competition, Germany will face the harshest conditions at the World Cup. Analysis by Bloomberg found that based on historical patterns, the Germans will be subjected to the most extreme weather in their scheduled matches, with Italy the only country that comes close.
And then of course there is the most discussed problem for the German team: injuries and fitness.
Ilkay Gundogan, Marco Reus and Marcel Schmelzer are all absent due to injury—Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Ozil, Miroslav Klose and Sami Khedira all have issues with their form and will most likely not be at their best during the tournament.
No matter how you spin it, that is a lot to overcome, even for a team as deep as Germany.
Group G is every manager's nightmare. Portugal are a dangerous team led by the single greatest player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo. Ghana will play at full throttle for 90 minutes, and even if they can't beat them, their athletic style of play will take its toll on the German players.
As for the USA, they've been one of the most in-form teams during preparation, and in Jurgen Klinsmann they have a manager who knows a thing or two about German football.
Germany aren't just expected to win Group G—they're expected to make a deep run in the tournament. Surviving the group of death will be hard enough, and there's no way the team comes out of the group stages without taking some damage.
Yet for all of these setbacks, people still expect the team to dominate. They're just so talented, and when everything's clicking, they're as close to unbeatable as it gets.
Should Germany overcome the odds and win the 2014 World Cup, it would truly be a testament to the greatness of this team. And for all of their issues, very few people will bet against it happening.
|June 17||Belgium vs. Algeria||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Belo Horizonte||Belgium|
|June 17||Russia vs. South Korea||11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET||Cuiaba||Russia|
|June 22||Belgium vs. Russia||11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET||Rio de Janeiro||Belgium|
|June 22||South Korea vs. Algeria||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Porto Alegre||South Korea|
|June 26||South Korea vs. Belgium||9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET||Sao Paulo||Belgium|
|June 26||Algeria vs. Russia||9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET||Curitiba||Russia|