Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon
Brazil will come under enormous pressure — Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari can expect daily advice from all 200 million citizens — to not only win a sixth title, but to do it with the style. The rest of the group is wide open: Croatia and Mexico needed to navigate regional playoffs last month while Cameroon is Africa’s fourth-best team.
Picks to advance: Brazil, Mexico.
JUNE 12: Brazil vs. Croatia in Sao Paolo.
JUNE 13: Mexico vs. Cameroon in Natal.
JUNE 17: Brazil vs. Mexico in Fortaleza.
JUNE 18: Cameroon vs. Croatia in Manaus.
JUNE 23: Cameroon vs. Brazil in Brasilia.
JUNE 23: Croatia vs. Mexico in Recife.
Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Austrailia
A delicious foursome, although Australia has surely lost its appetite. Based on history and roster strength, 2010 finalists Spain and Netherlands are clear favorites, but Chile advanced to the knockout stage four years ago, features Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez and will take comfort playing in South America.
Picks to advance: Spain, Netherlands.
JUNE 13: Spain vs. Netherlands in Salvador.
JUNE 13: Chile vs. Australia in Cuiaba.
JUNE 18: Australia vs. Netherlands in Porto Alegre.
JUNE 18: Spain vs. Chile in Rio de Janeiro.
JUNE 23: Austrailia vs. Spain in Curitiba.
JUNE 23: Netherlands vs. Chile in Sao Paolo.
Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan
Guided by Radamel Falcao, Colombia has returned to world-class form after a decade-plus absence and will benefit from a middling group. The Elephants of Ivory Coast employ the skill and experience of a third consecutive appearance to succeed. Japan continues to rise on the world stage and could provide a surprise.
Picks to advance: Columbia, Ivory Coast.
JUNE 14: Colombia vs. Greece in Belo Horzonte
JUNE 14: Ivory Coast vs. Japan in Recife.
JUNE 19: Colombia vs. Ivory Coast in Brasilia.
JUNE 19: Japan vs. Greece in Natal.
JUNE 24: Japan vs. Colombia in Cuiaba.
JUNE 24: Greece vs. Ivory Coast in Fortaleza.
Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy
Between them, Uruguay, Italy and England have won 7 of 19 World Cups. Luis Suarez, a brilliant but belligerent figure, will need to maintain top form for La Celeste to replicate its 2010 semifinal journey. Italy did not survive group play in South Africa, while England will endure its usual World Cup angst. Costa Rica has little hope.
Picks to advance: Uruguay, Italy.
JUNE 14: Uruguay vs. Costa Rica in Fortaleza.
JUNE 14: England vs. Italy in Manaus.
JUNE 19: Uruguay vs. England in Sao Paolo.
JUNE 20: Italy vs. Costa Rica in Recife.
JUNE 24: Costa Rica vs. England in Belo Horizonte.
JUNE 24: Italy vs. Uruguay in Natal.
Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras
Switzerland is the top seed, based on FIFA’s flawed rankings, but might only be the third-best team. France, which suffered a 2010 meltdown and needed a playoff to qualify this time, will soar or self-destruct. Ecuador finished fourth in South American qualifying, while Honduras is making a second straight appearance.
Picks to advance: Ecuador, France.
JUNE 15: Switzerland vs. Ecuador in Brasilia.
JUNE 15: France vs. Honduras in Porto Alegre.
JUNE 20: Switzerland vs. France in Salvador.
JUNE 20: Honduras vs. Ecuador in Curitiba.
JUNE 25: Honduras vs. Switzerland in Manaus.
JUNE 25: Ecuador vs. France in Rio de Janeiro.
Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria
Seeking a third world title, Argentina might be tested by Nigeria but should otherwise coast to the top position. The Nigerians possess the technical and physical attributes to secure passage. Bosnia is the only first-time qualifier in the 32-team field but in qualifying performed like a veteran group. Iran is a long shot.
Picks to advance: Argentina, Nigeria.
JUNE 15: Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina in Rio de Janeiro.
JUNE 16: Iran vs. Nigeria in Curitiba.
JUNE 21: Argentina vs. Iran in Belo Horizonte.
JUNE 21: Nigeria vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina in Cuiaba.
JUNE 25: Nigeria vs. Argentina in Porto Alegre.
JUNE 25: Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Iran in Salvador.
Group G: Germany, Portugal, United States, Ghana
At first glance, the United States faces very long odds of advancing. At second glance, given the Americans’ steady rise, there is hope. Nonetheless, Germany, a top-four Cup finisher 11 times, and Portugal, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, are the front-runners. Ghana, which should’ve gone to the semifinals in 2010, is primed to disrupt Europe’s grip.
Picks to advance: Germany, Ghana.
JUNE 16: Germany vs. Portugal in Salvador.
JUNE 16: United States vs. Ghana in Natal.
JUNE 21: Germany vs. Ghana in Fortaleza.
JUNE 22: United States vs. Portugal in Manaus.
JUNE 26: Portugal vs. Ghana in Brasilia.
JUNE 26: United States vs. Germany in Recife.
Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea
The least-intimidating group, by far, eases Belgium’s return to the World Cup after 12 years away. This is the Belgians’ golden generation, but inexperience on the global stage could become an issue in the later stages. Russia had not qualified since 2002, while South Korea and Algeria are two of the weakest teams.
Picks to advance: Belgium, Russia.
JUNE 17: Belgium vs. Algeria in Belo Horizonte.
JUNE 17: Russia vs. South Korea in Cuiaba.
JUNE 22: South Korea vs. Algeria in Porto Alegre.
JUNE 22: Belgium vs. Russia in Rio de Janeiro.
JUNE 26: Algeria vs. Russia in Curitiba.
JUNE 26: South Korea vs. Belgium in Sao Paolo.