Sao Paulo is buzzing with excitement, as the 2014 World Cup is set to kick off when hosts Brazil and Croatia face each other on Thursday.
Punters are as excited as the fans are, with the next few weeks providing plenty of opportunities for upsets, heartbreak and big winnings. A total of 32 teams will be playing for the 2014 World Cup trophy, and while not all teams are created equal, anything can happen over the course of 90 minutes.
Here are the final odds for every team to lift the trophy at the end of the tournament, according to Odds Shark:
|2014 World Cup Final Odds|
The first week of the tournament will give us a total of 20 matches, so let's have a look at the game lines on every one of them:
|2014 World Cup Game Lines|
|Match 1||Croatia||+1139||Match 11||Bosnia-Herzegovina||+904|
|Match 2||Cameroon||+298||Match 12||Portugal||+372|
|Match 3||Netherlands||+309||Match 13||Nigeria||+101|
|Match 4||Australia||+606||Match 14||USA||+200|
|Match 5||Greece||+738||Match 15||Algeria||+1150|
|Match 6||Costa Rica||+1205||Match 16||Mexico||+750|
|Match 7||Italy||+156||Match 17||South Korea||+338|
|Match 8||Japan||+197||Match 18||Netherlands||-400|
|Match 9||Ecuador||+287||Match 19||Chile||+400|
|Match 10||Honduras||+1341||Match 20||Croatia||-125|
Now that we've gotten the odds out of the way, here are a few final predictions for the 2014 World Cup.
France will be the team all of the favourites want to avoid in the knockout stages
Les Bleus will be without star winger Franck Ribery, but the team have hardly skipped a beat without their Ballon d'Or contender during their preparations.
Real Sociedad's Antoine Griezmann has been excellent filling in for the injured Ribery, and the French squad are loaded with talent. Hugo Lloris has talented defence standing in front of him, and Paul Pogba has blossomed into one of the world's top midfielders at just the right time.
Karim Benzema's 2013-14 season with Real Madrid was outstanding, and while the striker hasn't always been at his best when playing for the national team, 2014 could be the year he finally overcomes those demons.
France struggled during qualifiers and were disastrous in South Africa four years ago, but this team has come a long way since then. Their 8-0 demolition of Jamaica looked like something out of a video game, and Didier Deschamps' men appear more than ready for the big stage.
Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras will be their opponents in Group E, and while none of those teams should be underrated, the French squad should qualify for the knockout stages with at least seven out of nine points.
Argentina's struggles during preparations will vanish
La Albiceleste are among the favourites to win a tournament in which they've consistently disappointed since 1986, and their final friendlies before the World Cup didn't go as smoothly as the final scores may have suggested.
Trinidad and Tobago and Slovenia are hardly world-beaters, but both teams were able to put Argentina's back line under real pressure.
The pressure is on for Lionel Messi and Co. to perform this close to home soil, and that pressure looked to be getting to the squad in recent weeks. A group containing Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria will be the perfect cure to take some of that pressure away.
Every team that makes it to the World Cup is worthy of respect, but the Argentines would probably beat a side consisting of those three teams' combined strongest XI. Beating up on lesser teams is a great way to gain momentum, and Argentina will be a different team once the group stages are over.
Germany will struggle
Die Mannschaft are coming into the tournament with the third-best odds for a finals victory, but things couldn't have gone much worse for manager Joachim Loew during the team's preparations.
Marco Reus, Germany's most in-form and versatile attacker, will not be suiting up in Brazil, as reported by the BBC.
Reus is but the latest in a long line of German internationals either struggling with form or dropping out of the tournament altogether, and the squad's lack of in-form players in the centre of the pitch is alarming.
The Germans still have one of the strongest squads present in Brazil, but a team can only take so many hits before momentum starts to take its toll. It doesn't help that Group G is considered to be one of the toughest groups we'll see in Brazil, with Ghana, Portugal and the USA all capable of progressing to the next round.
Germany should still make it to the knockout stages as winners in Group G, but the combination of injuries and three matches against top-notch opponents will hurt the squad once they get there. Unless they get a favourable slate of opponents in the first two rounds after the group stages, Die Mannschaft could exit the World Cup well before people expect.
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