The 2014 FIFA World Cup is officially underway in Brazil, as the host nation took the pitch on the first day of action to face off against Croatia as part of Group A play.
It's going to be hard for fans to be much more ecstatic than they were on Thursday, as Brazil defeated Croatia to get off to a proper start.
Friday's showcase will see three matches play out, as a number of other clubs are set to kick off their pursuit of international football's ultimate prize. The most notable showdown on tap will transpire during the second fixture between Spain and the Netherlands, who are both thought to be legitimate contenders in this tournament.
Let's take a look at what's on the schedule for Day 2 along with odds and predictions for the upcoming matches:
Mexico (+110) vs. Cameroon (+280)
It seems Mexico are never able to live up to expectations. A lot of managerial turbulence can be attributed to their recent trials and tribulations, but now Miguel Herrera will hopefully serve as the long-term solution at the helm.
El Tri can help extinguish doubts about them by emerging with a victory in a tough tangle with Cameroon. Rafael Marquez leads Mexico on defence in the middle as the centre-back, seeking to stave off the Indomitable Lions' attack.
Kurtis Larson of the Toronto Sun emphasized how vital Marquez, 35, is to Mexico's cause:
Mexico's Rafa Marquez looks set to become the first player in World Cup history to captain his team at four different World Cups.— Kurtis Larson (@KurtLarSUN) May 9, 2014
Now that Brazil has fortified their status as the favorites in Group A, both of these teams need strong results before battling against a home crowd later on.
Captain Samuel Eto'o will spearhead the Cameroon offense and seek to capitalize on a vulnerable opponent. At age 33, this may very well be Eto'o's last opportunity to compete on the World Cup stage. He should be eager to thrive and spur his teammates on as they seek to reach the knockout stage. That's something El Tri has failed to do in their past five tournaments.
The fact that Javier Hernandez has been relegated to Mexico's bench as their top scoring threat is also a discouraging sign. Herrera will have to hope Chicharito provides a spark.
All the pressure rests with El Tri to take care of business, but they have simply been too unreliable in international competition to be trusted. That should culminate in a Cameroon triumph, putting Mexico in a difficult position for the remainder of the group phase.
Prediction: Cameroon 2, Mexico 1
Spain (-125) vs. Netherlands (+400)
In Bloomberg's World Cup power rankings, Spain and the Netherlands rank fourth and sixth, respectively. That offers some insight as to how much is at stake in this match despite how early it occurs in the tournament.
Since two squads per group advance to the next knockout stage, neither have to worry much about getting through. However, falling behind with a loss with Chile and Australia potentially securing three points would put one of these teams in an unwanted hole to start out.
This is a rematch of the 2010 World Cup finale that Spain won, so the Dutch will be seeking vengeance. Football-oranje.com highlights how well the Netherlands have started in previous World Cups:
Worth noting that Netherlands are unbeaten in the World Cup group stages since a 1-0 defeat to Belgium in 1994 (10 games)— Dutch Football (@football_oranje) June 9, 2014
Spain manager Vicente del Bosque implied that his side won't be intimidated despite the stellar track record of their adversaries.
"We don't have any fear," said Del Bosque, per Yahoo! Sports' Martin Rogers. "But we do have respect. They are runner-up from the last World Cup so we have full respect for [the Netherlands]. We are very optimistic. We are confident heading into the World Cup."
It will be interesting to see which club is able to ramp up its intensity the most in such a critical opening fixture. Although the Netherlands are going to long for the win, they might press in their effort to do so, leading to the superior Spaniards to assert their will.
In what should be the most thrilling match of the first two days, look for both of these formidable clubs to become deadlocked in a draw.
Prediction: Spain 2, Netherlands 2
Chile (-250) vs. Australia (+750)
What makes Chile such a dangerous dark horse is that they have the personnel to rotate seamlessly into different formations over the course of 90 minutes. That should give Australia headaches as they try to overcome La Roja as severe underdogs.
Big news that will make Australia's task even more difficult is the fitness of Chile star midfielder Arturo Vidal. Thought to perhaps be lost for the group stage due to a knee injury, Vidal is back in training ahead of Friday's opener, just five weeks after a procedure to address his ailing limb, per the Daily Mirror's Jack Lang.
Vidal is such a big part of what Chile does in the midfield and transitioning to the attack, with his physical style of play being a key element in setting the tone for his favored side. With or without him at his best, though, Chile figures to get a key three points on Friday.
Which Friday underdog is the best bet to win?
The Socceroos have played in only 10 World Cup matches, winning just two of them. History isn't on their side, yet it should lead to them to play with little to lose. Australia's defence isn't quite as strong as it's been in the previous two years in the qualifying stages, though. That's another reason for alarm regarding their chances to pull off this upset.
Barcelona forward Alexis Sanchez and La Roja's rush will be too much for Australia to handle, culminating in a dominant romp by Chile to live up to their hype.
The trick for Chile will be finding a way to get around Spain or the Netherlands in Group B. That will certainly be easier said than done, but it will be aided—regardless of the two titans' opening match outcome—as long as La Roja secures a win.
Prediction: Chile 3, Australia 1
Looking ahead to what Saturday will hold, another eight teams will take the field for the first time in this year's World Cup. To open, Greece and Colombia are slated to butt heads as the two top candidates to emerge from Group C. What should be a hotly competitive Group D has England and Italy squaring off as the premier fixture of the day thereafter.
Odds are courtesy of OddsShark.com.