The 2014 World Cup kicks off on June 12. The tournament features 32 teams broken into eight groups of four. The top two teams in each group progress to a 16-team knockout round. Here are our (probably misguided) predictions.

Group A: The country hosting the World Cup almost always lands in a weak group, which almost always fuels speculation about a nefarious FIFA plot to rig the tournament.  (Sadly, such conspiracy theories aren’t as crazy as they sound.)  So I’m certain Brazil will easily win Group A.  Mexico has slumped since beating Brazil to win Olympic gold in London; Croatia, a perennial dark horse, tends to falter in important matches; and Cameroon is wildly inconsistent. –DYB

Prediction: 1. Brazil 2. Mexico 3. Croatia 4. Cameroon

Group B: Group B presents one of the most anticipated matchups in the tournament: a rematch of the 2010 World Cup Final, Spain versus Holland.  Spain will easily roll through without much trouble, but the Netherlands might find some along the way.  Chile’s known for playing attractive soccer and needs only one upset victory to wreak havoc on everyone’s predictions.  Australia, the only team in this group not to advance to the knockout stage in the 2010 World Cup, faces a tough schedule and will struggle to place anywhere but fourth. –MB

Prediction: 1. Spain 2. Netherlands 3. Chile 4. Australia

Group C: This is a hard group to predict, because none of these teams is a pushover.  Colombia has a skillful attack force; Greece, a solid defense; the Ivory Coast, strong and explosive players; and Japan, a great ability to break opponents down.  Yes, Falcao might still be injured for the World Cup, but Colombia can score and survive without him.  Japan and Greece both have strengths, but the Ivory Coast will snatch second, though it should be close.  Ivorian midfielder Yaya Toure has scored 20 Premier League goals this season, and he will help Les Elephants advance with the intimidating presence of Didier Drogba up front. –MB
Prediction: 1. Colombia 2. Ivory Coast 3. Greece 4. Japan

Group D: I’ve peered into my crystal ball, and this is what I’ve seen: an amusing rematch between England goalkeeper Joe Hart and Italy midfielder Andrea Pirlo, who thoroughly embarrassed Hart at the 2012 Euros; a very sweaty Roy Hodgson waving his arms in despair as England collapse in the jungle; and an already-eliminated Costa Rica scoring the last-minute goal that keeps England out of the Round-of-16.  As you can probably tell, I suspect this group will end badly for England.  Which, admittedly, is a pretty safe bet, since international tournaments have ended badly for England every year since 1966. –DYB

Prediction: 1. Italy 2. Uruguay 3. England 4. Costa Rica   

Group E: As long as France doesn’t implode, as it did at the last World Cup, and no one goes all Zidane and starts head butting people, the team has the ability to make a long run this year.  Man for man, France is better equipped than Switzerland, but both will advance from this group.  Ecuador is inconsistent, and Honduras, although strengthening every year, will have trouble beating France and Switzerland.  Ecuador and Honduras are two comparatively weak teams in the group and won’t pick up points, except in the game against each other.  –MB

Prediction: 1. France 2. Switzerland 3. Ecuador 4. Honduras 

Group F: Group F offers viewers with a classic FIFA foursome: one shark and three fish fighting for supremacy in the pond.  Ranked by FIFA 19 places higher than its strongest opponent, world power Argentina will feel safe from an early exit.  Though the team has dropped three places in the rankings over the past year, Argentina’s strike force, led by world-beaters Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero, will steer it to the knockout stage.  Similarly, Bosnia-Herzegovina, spearheaded by Manchester City’s Edin Dzeko, will ride its attacking strength to the next round.  Iran should earn at least three points, as it is ranked eight places above up-and-down Nigeria. –VB

Prediction: 1. Argentina 2. Bosnia-Herzegovina 3. Iran 4. Nigeria 

Group G: A possible candidate for this year’s Group of Death, Group G offers fans some mouth-watering fixtures.  The group’s average FIFA ranking is 14th, with two of the top five nations featured.  Powerhouse Germany leads the group, and has been penned in by odds makers as a lock for the second round.  Prolific Portugal faces similar expectations, though its suspect backline might have a hard time controlling the likes of Clint Dempsey, Asamoah Gyan, and the talented German strike force.  Portugal seems the most at risk of a sudden collapse (which would provide meme-makers with more of Ronaldo’s crying faces), and its match with the U.S. could decide second place in Group G. For the U.S. and Ghana, an uphill battle awaits. –VB

Prediction: 1. Germany 2. United States 3. Portugal 4. Ghana 

Group H: Up-and-coming Belgium headlines what looks to be a competitive Group H.  The Belgian squad, highlighted by players thriving at top English and Spanish clubs, is the fan favorite to advance to the Round-of-16.  Russia also offers a skillful group of attacking midfielders and forwards; however, it may have a hard time handling faster opponents, especially considering the lack of pace within the top Russian leagues.  Feisty Algeria will hope to improve on an impressive 2010 performance: four years ago, Algeria was able to frustrate England in a 0-0 draw and would have eliminated the U.S. if not for Landon Donovan’s late winner.  South Korea will rely on a slew of young talent, notably center back Kim Younggwon, one of the Taeguk Warriors’ rising stars. –VB
Prediction: 1. Belgium 2. Russia 3. Algeria 4. South Korea

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