When it comes to the World Cup, any of the 32 nations competing could win it all. Well, In theory, that is. While 32 teams will be competing in Brazil it is almost certain that some will be heading home with nothing but the memories. The major names that usually take home the cup are back in top form. Other contending countries that have fallen in recent years are fighting to reclaim their glory. Some countries that casual fans haven't paid attention to may soon be demanding their time on the main stage. With all this going on, it's only fitting that the sport's most dominant country, Brazil, will be home to all the action.
It will be an interesting tournament that will have many questions. Can youthful talent prevail over veteran squads? Will injured stars be ready to shine, or will the reserves be able to step up on the grandest stage? Which dark horse will cause the most grief in the knockout round? Or maybe which country will go home after the group stage with crushed expectations? The World Cup always has these questions, but this year seems to bring that much more intrigue.
Stars such as Ronaldo, Rooney, Messi and Neymar will be competing against budding players like Courtois, Song, Chicharito, and tons more. This could be a World Cup to go down in history as one of the deepest rosters across the board. There is no clear cut favorite, which only makes the intrigue that much higher.
You've seen the dark horses. Now, it's time to take a look at the contenders. Let's take a look at who could be leaving (Or staying in) Brazil with all the glory. These countries should consider preparing their victory parades.
10 The Netherlands
The Dutch are in search of another finals appearance. A different result this time would be ideal. Looking for a taste of what Manchester United could be seeing a lot of? Look no further than Louis van Gaal and Robin van Persie's attack plans. If this makes any United fan more comfortable, the connection between van Gaal and his attackers created the second-best strike force in the world.
Australia and Chile shouldn't end the Dutch squad's title hopes, but they could cause some headaches. Long range shots could be the life and death of the team. Their offense is exquisite from lang range while the defense has had its lapses at times.
Considered a dark horse by some already, Uruguay faces a similar situation to Colombia. With star Luiz Suarez receiving minor knee surgery recently Uruguay could be out on arguably the best scorer in the world today. Still, with Edinson Cavani up front hope will not be lost.
If Suarez can come back in form defense still is a lingering question. Close-range defending hasn't been a strong point. Neither has coming from behind. If Uruguay lets up an early score or two they could be out sooner than later. If they get it all together, they can escape an incredibly tough group stage and make a run similar to 2010's 4th place finish.
The heavily talented Colombian side face a significant blow to their title odds if star striker Radamel Falcao can't recover the knee injury he suffered while playing for Monaco. To some, this will take them out of the running. Yet, they can still pull it off. If Colombia has to go with other options James Rodriguez, Jackson Martinez and his fellow strikers will be called upon to step up. As long as the offense can continue its potent strike from the central parts of the pitch the squad should be able to create some scoring opportunities.
Two glaring issues for Colombia will be their strikes through the air and lead protection. Colombia ranks almost at the bottom in scores from headers. Their wing play can be suspect at times, making headers even less likely. They should get out of group play but Côte d’Ivoire, Greece and Japan will be right there to score a last minute goal to shake things up.
Filled with youth and fight, Belgium could be the force no team wants to match up against. A dominant squad of youthful scorers compares to their dominant set of defenders. If their defense can reduce their late minute lapses and wing scores they can be the perfect squad.
Belgium should have an easy time in the group stage. However, taking either Algeria, Russia or South Korea lightly could result in an early exit. If they win their group stage, youth may prove to be their strongest or weakest point. A round of 16 matchup against the runners up from the Group of Death will be an early test. If they can win that one, watch out for the Belgians.
Looking to rebound from an early exit in 2010, Italy looks poised to strike early and often. With a killer long range offense game the Italians will keep any team on their toes. Their staunch defense has relented a bit. Lead protection and defending from the flanks have not been their strongest qualities. This could spell trouble if they let up against England or Costa Rica. It could be deadly against Uruguay.
Italy packs a lethal combination of defense and aerial passing. They will need to boost their scoring from outside the box to be a legitimate threat. If they can open up a patented early lead they might be hard to catch.
Pressure is on the attack heavy Argentines. Playing near their home country should give them an advantage when it comes to travel and fatigue. They thrive when scoring early. If they get an early point the match could be over for almost anyone. Once they have the lead they rarely let go of it.
Argentina faces a rather easy group stage. Even if they give up a goal or two, they should be able to recover. Yet, when it comes to pressure, no one could be facing more than Lionel Messi. For all the accolades and achievements he has earned during his career at Barcelona, Messi has been known to falter on the global stage.
The host nation are heavy favorites to win, as they often are. Led by Neymar, striking might be their top talent. However, it's the defense that could be the deciding factor. Brazil has a stingy defense that barely allows a goal from inside the box. If they can sure up the long range scoring, then teams will be finding goals to be rare.
Brazil faces a favorable group stage round. Cameroon is always a team that could pull of an upset. Samuel Eto'o will need a good deal of help to pull off one of his ageless goals against a staunch defense led by David Luiz. Mexico and Croatia came limping into this year's World Cup and shouldn't be much of a threat.
They may have come in to contention at the last moment. Yet, France packs power and consistency that will make any team squirm. Even with a strong team of attackers, led by Franck Ribery, they can be slow to start. Watch out, though. They are known to pile on the goals once they get their legs underneath them.
The powerful offense may need to be in full effect. Defense can be suspect at times, especially from close range and on the flanks. Switzerland should give them some trouble, forcing a low scoring match. Other group opponents Ecuador and Honduras shouldn't be anywhere near as much trouble. Expect a round of 16 appearance at the absolute least.
Young and explosive, Germany's offense will be a handful for any squad. After averaging almost four goals a match, Germany enters the tournament as potent as any country out there. Yet, the numbers can be deceiving. If Germany faces a team that can park the bus, or stifle their inside scoring, things could get messy. That could be trouble when facing Group of Death mates Ghana, Portugal, and the USA.
However, if the Germans live up to expectations they will be onto another knockout stage appearance. As long as the match doesn't come down to attacks from the flank, they should be ok. Aside from an early challenge from Portugal, that defensive lapse shouldn't be too much of a problem until later in the tournament.
The reigning world champions are in for a test in the group stages. If they can make it out, which they most likely will, then all bets are off. The Spanish national team's roster has to be one of the deepest. When striking from the middle, few teams can compare. Their staggering offense is one that can't be taken lightly. When they have the tiki-take working at full force, watch out.
The defense is just as impressive. Aside from a few come from behind victories the defense has been almost as stellar as their striking. While they face their 2010 finals opponent, The Netherlands, Spain should escape the group stage with wins over Australia and Chile.