Although the World Cup began on Thursday with the host nation of Brazil taking center stage against Croatia, the action now begins in earnest. There will be at least three matches per day over the next two weeks as the drama of group play unfolds.
Perhaps the most intriguing factor heading into the tournament was the lack of a clear favorite. There's a strong group of contenders, led by Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Spain, but no dominant side. That outlook may change by the time the group stage ends.
Above all else, the high number of sides capable of reaching the knockout rounds should lead to some outstanding matches over the next 14 days. Knowing that, let's check out complete predictions for how the groups will play out, followed by a Day 2 preview.
|2014 World Cup - Group Outcome Projections|
|F||Argentina||Bosnia & Herzegovina||Nigeria||Iran|
Day 2 Preview
Mexico vs. Cameroon
Brazil is almost universally expected to advance from the group stage on home soil. The other spot out of Group A is very much up for grabs, though. This is one of the matches that will play a key role in determining which side moves on.
El Tri had a lackluster qualifying campaign, but they played better following the arrival of Miguel Herrera. The head coach has remained supremely confident about his squad's chances in Brazil, as highlighted in comments passed along by BeIN Sports:
The question for Mexico is whether it has enough attacking firepower. Javier Hernandez was expected to carry the offensive load for much of the past four year, but he's been relegated to bench duty. It puts the pressure on Giovani dos Santos and Oribe Peralta to create consistent chances.
Cameroon has the opposite concern as its defense has struggled against top competition, which should create an interesting contrast of styles. While Samuel Eto'o headlines a deep attack, Alex Song and Co. in the midfield are the crucial factor as they try to control play and keep the heat off the back line.
Spain vs. Netherlands
Four years ago, Spain and the Netherlands battled in a memorable final as Andres Iniesta etched his name in World Cup history with a late winner in extra time. As luck would have it, the sides now start their journey with a rematch of that championship clash.
The outlooks are different, though. La Furia Roja remain one of the top choices to win the tournament, thanks in large part to their continued strength in the midfield. The same can't be said for the Oranje, who have seemingly taken a step back since 2010.
Furthermore, the Dutch have been hit with a couple of key injuries in the likes of Rafael van der Vaart and Kevin Strootman. Those key absences paired with Louis van Gaal's return to more standard Netherlands tactics leads Michael Cox of ESPN to believe Spain is in good shape in the opener:
Holland's strategy four years ago was highly controversial—they made little attempt to play football and instead took a highly aggressive approach, which very nearly worked. This time around, the Netherlands are more classically Dutch under Louis van Gaal, and Spain might teach them a footballing lesson.
Spain has actually received less attention leading up to the tournament than Argentina, Germany and, of course, Brazil. A convincing victory in this match could bring the reigning champions back into the spotlight right away.
Chile vs. Australia
This encounter will either showcase Chile illustrating why it's one of the World Cup's most underrated sides or Australia displaying why people were too quick to write it off. The Socceroos have been very much an afterthought in a very tough Group B.
Alexis Sanchez is the player to watch. He's a supporting cast member for Barcelona at the club level, but he'll serve as the leader of the Chile attack in Brazil. Judging by his performance when thrust into a larger role with Barca, he's ready for a breakout onto the international stage.
If Australia is going to exceeded expectations it will need two things to happen. First, Tim Cahill, Mark Bresciano and their fellow veterans must be in prime form. Second, Mathew Ryan needs to make a couple of game-changing stops in each match.
Both squads know the margin for error will be extremely thin if they want to survive a group with Spain and the Netherlands. Getting all three points in this match would be a huge step in the right direction. Chile is the more likely side to grab them.