FIFA ranking: 3
Best finish: Champions (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
Coach: Luiz Felipe Scolari
Star player: Neymar
Outlook: Brazil will go into the tournament as favourites to win on home soil. The hosts will open the tournament against Croatia expecting all three points. If, as expected, and Brazil tops the group, a possible clash with 2010 finalists Spain or the Netherlands is on the cards for the Round of 16.
Prediction: Expect them to pass through this group with relative ease before the task gets a bit difficult in the knockout stages. Nothing but a World Cup title will be seen as a success – expect them to lift the World Cup Trophy on July 13.
FIFA ranking: 18
Best finish: Third (1998)
Coach: Niko Kovac
Star player: Luka Modric
Outlook: With Brazil expected to top the group, Croatia faces a three-horse race for second place in the group against Mexico and Cameroon. Croatia have not passed the group stage of the World Cup finals since their third-place finish in 1998. With a host of midfield talent including Real Madrid’s Luka Modric, Sevilla’s Ivan Rakitic and Internazionale’s Mateo Kovacic, hopes are high within the Croatian camp. Back in April, Modric said that the opener against Brazil would be their easiest game.
Prediction: Croatia may expect to get through the group stage but a potential slip up against the inconsistent Mexico or Cameroon could be on the cards. However, with their talented squad, Croatia should be able to get through the group before facing a tricky task against the Group B winners, most likely reigning World Champions Spain.
FIFA ranking: 20
Best finish: Quarter-finals (1970, 1986)
Coach: Miguel Herrera
Star player: Javier Hernandez
Outlook: Mexico have qualified through the group stage in their past seven attempts and will look to do so again. A poor qualification campaign had led to questions over squad strength and stability. Mexico will go into the tournament coming off two one-nil friendly defeats to Portugal and Bosnia-Herzegovina respectively.
Prediction: Despite recent poor form, Mexico will be a tough team to beat in the group stage. If the likes of Javier Hernandez and Giovani Dos Santos can fire in the attacking third, Mexico could make it through to the Round of 16. However, the task is tougher than it sounds and Mexico are likely to narrowly miss out.
FIFA ranking: 56
Best finish: Quarter-finals (1990)
Coach: Volker Finke
Star player: Samuel Eto
Outlook: Cameroon go into Group A as the weakest team despite having the likes of Samuel Eto and Alex Song in their line up. It seems that one African side, since Cameroon in 1990, goes on to cause a surprise, however, it does not seem likely the Indomitable Lions will do so.
Prediction: If the African nation gets a result against Mexico in their first game, anything is possible with a squad containing Samuel Eto. Unfortunately those chances are slim – expect Cameroon to be the first team sent home from Brazil.
FIFA ranking: 1
Best finish: Champions (2010)
Coach: Vincent del Bosque
Star player: Andres Iniesta
Outlook: No European nation has won the World Cup on South American soil and Spain look to be the first. Placed in a difficult group with fellow 2010 World Cup Finalists the Netherlands, Spain hope to top the group to avoid a potential clash with Brazil. Featuring now on-loan Melbourne City player, David Villa, Spain by far has the best squad in the tournament.
Prediction: The reigning World and European champions should top the group despite stiff competition. If they manage to avoid Brazil in the round of 16, expect them to make the final against the hosts.
FIFA ranking: 15
Best finish: Runners-up (1974, 1978, 2010)
Coach: Louis van Gaal
Star player: Arjen Robben
Outlook: Three time Runners-up the Netherlands will hope again to go one step further and claim the trophy. Newly appointed Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has gone old school and will play with five defenders at the back anchored by a sweeper – leaving attacking trio Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie to form the creative spark.
Prediction: The Netherlands loom as the biggest potential exit of the group stages in Brazil. However, with their strong attacking third and a technical genius in van Gaal, the Netherlands should reach the round of 16 before getting knocked out by the hosts.
FIFA ranking: 14
Best finish: Third (1962)
Coach: Jorge Sampaoli
Star player: Alexis Sanchez
Outlook: A dark horse for the tournament, Chile has not been given the kindest of draws having both 2010 World Cup Finalists in the group stage followed by a possible clash with Brazil. Midfield maestro Arturo Vidal has made their 23-man squad despite injury concerns in a boost for Sampaoli’s side. Chile need all three points against the lowly ranked Socceroos in their first game if they are any chance to qualify for the knockout stages.
Prediction: Chile are no walkover and should be in contention to qualify from the group right up until their final game against the Netherlands. Despite having the likes of Vidal and Alexis Sanchez, expect Chile to finish third in the group.
FIFA ranking: 59
Best finish: Round of 16 (2006)
Coach: Ange Postecoglou
Star player: Tim Cahill
Outlook: The Socceroos go into the tournament being given no chance by the pundits. Under the guidance of Postecoglou, Australia will hope to cause a shock in their first game against Chile. With the Asian Cup on home soil in six months time, the Socceroos hope for a good showing on the world stage.
Prediction: It looks like all doom and gloom for a young Australian side who are expected to finish last, possibly without scoring a goal. However, do not overlook the Socceroos, who shocked the world back in 2006.
FIFA ranking: 8
Best finish: Round of 16 (1990)
Coach: Jose Pekerman
Star player: James Rodriguez
Outlook: In a massive blow to the South American side, star player Radamel Falcao has been ruled out of the World Cup through a knee injury suffered in January for French side Monaco. The Colombians would still like their chances of progression without any world class opponents in their group.
Prediction: Even without Falcao, Colombia should still pass the group stage. However, a potential slip up is on the cards if they cannot replace the attacking threat a player like Falcao possess.
FIFA ranking: 12
Best finish: Round 1 (1994, 2010)
Coach: Fernando Santos
Star player: Giorgos Karagounis
Outlook: Don’t ask me how – but, Greece comes into the tournament as the 12th-best ranked nation in the world. Greece will go into their third World Cup Finals and hope to cause a surprise like they did at Euro 2004. By avoiding the powerhouses in the group stage, they will hope to qualify for the knockout stages.
Prediction: Greece have every chance to make the round of 16. However, both Japan and Cote d’Ivoire have stronger squads and enough quality to eliminate Greece in the group stage.
FIFA ranking: 23
Best finish: Round 1 (2006, 2010)
Coach: Sabri Lamouci
Star player: Yaya Toure
Outlook: Ivory Coast will fancy their chances to do well in their third straight World Cup. Both Colombia and Greece are new opponents for the African nation having never faced them before. The Elephants are not short of goal-scoring abilities with forward options including Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Gervinho and Wilfred Bony along with Yaya Toure in the midfield – however, their defence is a major worry.
Prediction: Ivory Coast may be on the verge of having their best result at a World Cup to date after being placed in the Group of Death in their two previous tournaments. Japan will look to spoil their party.
FIFA ranking: 46
Best finish: Round of 16 (2002, 2010)
Coach: Alberto Zaccheroni
Star player: Keisuke Honda
Outlook: The Blue Samurai enter Brazil having won all four of their lead-in games in 2014. High on confidence, Japan will hope that Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa can light up the tournament with their free-flowing football.
Prediction: Coming in as Asia’s strongest side, Japan should be able to scrape through the group. A positive result in the first game against Ivory Coast is all important. If, as predicted, they are to progress to the Round of 16 a potential clash against Uruguay, Italy or England awaits.
FIFA ranking: 7
Best finish: Champions (1930, 1950)
Coach: Oscar Tabarez
Star player: Luis Suarez
Outlook: The one and only time the FIFA World Cup Finals were held in Brazil, Uruguay shocked the host nation to claim the title. Uruguay go into the tournament hoping to replicate 1950. Liverpool star Luis Suarez goes to the tournament with an injury cloud and hopes to be fit. His potential clash against England is one to watch out for in the Group Stage.
Prediction: There is no hiding what Uruguay’s strength is – an attacking trio of Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan. Although placed in a difficult group alongside Italy and England, Uruguay should go through to the knockout stages where they will be more than a handful.
FIFA ranking: 28
Best finish: Round of 16 (1990)
Coach: Jorge Luis Pinto
Star player: Bryan Ruiz
Outlook: It looms to be a horrid few weeks for Costa Rica, placed in a group with three former World Champions. Everton defender Bryan Oviedo was ruled out of the tournament in January after breaking his left leg against Stevenage in an English FA Cup fixture. Costa Rica will hope to put on a good show for him and their fans despite having little chance of progression past the group stage. Former Johnny Warren Medalist Carlos Hernandez was cut from Costa Rica’s preliminary 30-man squad late last month.
Prediction: Much like Australia, Costa Rica will have a difficult time in Brazil. Having never beaten Uruguay or Italy, expect them to finish on the bottom without a point.
FIFA ranking: 10
Best finish: Champions (1966)
Coach: Roy Hodgson
Star player: Steven Gerrard
Outlook: In typical English fashion, their media has put the hopes of the nation on one single player – Ross Barkley. The 20 year-old Everton midfielder will play in behind either Wayne Rooney or Daniel Sturridge. The Three Lions go into the tournament hoping to re-live their 1966 glory, but with both Italy and Uruguay in their group, they could be in for a major let down.
Prediction: If England manage to keep their cool against the likes of Luis Suarez and Mario Balotelli, they have a very good chance of doing well in the tournament. However, a lack of defensive quality may be their undoing if their attack fails to fire. England are in for the rude shock of a first-round exit.
FIFA ranking: 9
Best finish: Champions (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006)
Coach: Cesare Prandelli
Star player: Mario Balotelli
Outlook: In true Italian fashion, the Azzurri enter the tournament short of form with two 1-1 draws against Ireland and the 119th ranked Luxembourg. Expectations are still high for Italy who will hope to equal Brazil’s record five World Cup Championships. A good mix between youth, such as Mario Balotelli, Marco Verratti and Mattia De Sciglio along with experience of Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini, make Italy a difficult prospect.
Prediction: After a disappointing defence to their title in 2010, Italy should fare better this time around. An opening game victory against England could be key to their success. Expect Italy to scrape through this group and cause some damage in the knockout stage.
FIFA ranking: 6
Best finish: Quarter-finals (1934, 1938, 1954)
Coach: Ottmar Hitzfeld
Star player: Gokhan Inler
Outlook: If you think Greece ranked 12th in the world is a stretch, scratch your head at Switzerland who are 6th. With the luxury of being seeded in the draw, Switzerland were handed a favourable group and will like their chances to progress. With an experienced Ottmar Hitzfeld at the helm, Switzerland look to prove why they are so highly ranked.
Prediction: Switzerland should be able to finish in the top two and may even top the group if France implode like they have in recent tournaments. However, a potential match-up against Argentina in the Round of 16 may be their undoing.
FIFA ranking: 26
Best finish: Round of 16 (2006)
Coach: Reinaldo Rueda
Star player: Antonio Valencia
Outlook: The weakest South American nation in the draw, Ecuador have put themselves against quality opposition in the lead-up to Brazil with fixtures against the Netherlands, Mexico and England. They will see anything bar qualification to the Round of 16 as failure and will hope Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia is at his best.
Prediction: France seem to be a tad too strong for the South Americans and Switzerland work very well as a unit. Surprisingly, Ecuador have only beaten Honduras three times in 13 attempts. A first round exit is likely.
FIFA ranking: 17
Best finish: Champions (1998)
Coach: Didier Deschamps
Star Player: Karim Benzema
Outlook: Les Bleus fans fully expect them to stream roll their way to the round of 16. However, after their catastrophe at the 2010 World Cup – anything could happen. Franck Ribery has been ruled out of the tournament in a major blow with Real Madrid star Karim Benzema now needed to be at his very best. Young Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba could be the breakout star for them at the World Cup.
Prediction: The French should finish in first place in the group and avoid Argentina in the Round of 16. After that, anything could happen as the Europeans will hope to avoid blowing up internally.
FIFA ranking: 33
Best finish: Round 1 (1982, 2010)
Coach: Luis Fernando Suarez
Star player: Wilson Palacios
Outlook: With a less than impressive squad, Honduras will struggle in Brazil. However, with a striker named Carlo Costly, other teams will hope their defence is on top of their game.Their 0-0 draw against Switzerland at the 2010 World Cup will give the minnows confidence.
Prediction: Honduras will have a tough time getting out of the group. In their opening fixture, they meet France and a disastrous result could end their tournament early.
FIFA ranking: 5
Best finish: Champions (1978, 1986)
Coach: Alejandro Sabella
Star player: Lionel Messi
Outlook: Argentina go to Brazil as one of the favourites. A squad headlined by Lionel Messi, La Albiceleste should have no problem dismantling their opponents in Group F. If Argentina are seen struggling, questions will be raised to Alejandro Sabella once again on why Carlos Tevez was ignored for selection after his stellar season at Juventus.
Prediction: Argentina should pass this group quite comfortably. Messi will hope to hit form nice and early in the lead-up to the knockout stages. Argentina could well be holding the World Cup Trophy if history repeats itself and a South American nation claims the honours in South America.
FIFA ranking: 21
Best finish: N/A – first time qualified.
Coach: Safet Susic
Star player: Edin Dzeko
Outlook: With the recent floods in the Balkans, Bosnia have plenty to play for in their first World Cup Finals appearance. Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko will be a marked man in the tournament with much of their hopes clinging to his performance. Although having a weak defence, Bosnia will be tough to beat in the group stage.
Prediction: There will be a lot of heart shown by this nation in Brazil and with the talent of Dzeko along with Miralem Pjanic and Zvjezdan Misimovic, Bosnia can qualify for the knockout stage.
FIFA ranking: 43
Best finish: Round 1 (1978, 1998, 2006)
Coach: Carlos Queiroz
Star player: Javad Nekounam
Outlook: Surprisingly, Iran enter the competition as Asia’s best ranked nation. With a squad mainly made of players playing in Iran, the Middle Eastern nation is a relative unknown to their opponents. Iran will be backed in the technical area by Carlos Queiroz, famously known as Sir Alex Ferguson’s right hand man at Manchester United – so expect a compact and well structured team.
Prediction: Iran will fight in every game they have, but unfortunately Nigeria and Bosnia look a bit too strong for them in competition for second spot.
FIFA ranking: 44
Best finish: Round of 16 (1994, 1998)
Coach: Stephen Keshi
Star player: Victor Moses
Outlook: Affectionally known as the Super Eagles, Nigeria will be in direct competition with Bosnia in a battle for second place. With a squad full of experienced Europe-based players, Nigeria will aim to repeat their success from the 1990s. For the fourth time in their five World Cup appearances, Nigeria have drawn Argentina in the group stage. Their previous three clashes ended in losses by a sole goal.
Prediction: Nigeria has the advantage of facing Argentina last, meaning if they can secure results against Iran and Bosnia, they may have qualified by then. But with Bosnia playing with a lot of heart, expect Nigeria to narrowly get knocked out of the group.
FIFA ranking: 2
Best finish: Champions (1954, 1974,1990)
Coach: Joachim Low
Star player: Mesut Ozil
Outlook: Another one of the tournament favourites, Germany, like Spain, will hope to break the European curse in South America. In a cruel blow before the World Cup Finals, Marco Reus was injured in a friendly victory against Armenia. Miroslav Klose will go into the tournament only one goal behind Brazilian record holder, Ronaldo, for the most goals scored in World Cup Finals.
Prediction: Germany’s opening clash with Portugal should determine who finishes on top of the group. Both the USA and Ghana are good opponents, but Germany’s deep squad should be no match for them. Germany should have no problem going deep in the tournament.
FIFA ranking: 4
Best finish: Third (1966)
Coach: Paulo Bento
Star player: Cristiano Ronaldo
Outlook: With questionably the best player in the world a part of their squad, Portugal will hope to emulate the success of the late Eusebio and their 1966 outfit. Portugal will fear no-one in Brazil. With a heavy Portuguese influence in the South American nation, the Europeans will have plenty of support.
Prediction: Portugal alongside Germany should get through the group with relative ease. If Ronaldo can finally fire in an international tournament, Portugal could be the team outside the favourites to cause a few shocks.
FIFA ranking: 37
Best finish: Quarter-finals (2010)
Coach: Akwasi Appiah
Star player: Kwadwo Asamoah
Outlook: The strongest of all the African outfits, Ghana will go into the World Cup aiming for a shock repeat of their Quarter-Final appearance in 2010. Drawn against Portugal and Germany, the task won’t be easy as they hope the South American curse lands on one of those two teams. In a boost to the Black Stars, Kevin-Prince Boateng has come out of international retirement for the tournament.
Prediction: It is difficult to see Ghana replicate 2010. Although very good in midfield, their defence is shaky and attack is less than threatening. Unfortunately for them, a first-round exit is on the cards.
FIFA ranking: 13
Best finish: Third (1930)
Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
Star player: Clint Dempsey
Outlook: In a shock squad selection, United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann has left our star attacker Landon Donovan. Klinsmann will have the opportunity to manage against former side Germany who he led in 2006. In a crucial first game, the United States will look for revenge against Ghana who eliminated them on penalties in 2010.
Prediction: Much like Ghana, USA will have trouble getting out of the group stage. If they are able to get the three points against Ghana, anything could happen, but it seems that both Portugal and Germany are too strong to overcome.
FIFA ranking: 11
Best finish: Fourth Place (1986)
Coach: Marc Wilmots
Star player: Eden Hazard
Outlook: Seen as the dark-horse of the tournament, Belgium will go in quietly confident of making an impact in Brazil. Nothing but qualification to the knockout stages is expected with a squad full of talent. With the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku reaching their potential – Belgium seem a scary prospect to face.
Prediction: Belgium will have no trouble getting through this group. However, as soon as they enter the round of 16 it gets tricky with a clash against either Germany or Portugal on the cards.
FIFA ranking: 22
Best finish: Round 1 (1982, 1986, 2010)
Coach: Vahid Halihodzic
Star player: Sofiane Feghouli
Outlook: Although not hyped by many pundits, Algeria is Africa’s highest ranked nation. The Fennec Foxes hope to shock the world once agin this tournament and steal points from some of their bigger opponents, just like in their nil-all draw against England in 2010. With a host of young talent, Algeria has the potential to do so again.
Prediction: A first round exit is highly likely. However, if there is one lesser known team to cause a surprise in the group stages, they may be the one.
FIFA ranking: 19
Best finish: Fourth (1966, as Soviet Union)
Coach: Fabio Capello
Star player: Igor Akinfeev
Outlook: Any side managed by Fabio Capello has the possibility of going a long way into a tournament. The only squad made of entirely home-based players, expect them to be well organised. The Russians will believe they not only have the power to top the group, but advance deep into the competition.
Prediction: Russia could surprise Belgium to top the group. However, a potential clash with Portugal or Germany in the round of 16 should end their tournament.
FIFA ranking: 57
Best finish: Fourth (2002)
Coach: Hong Myung-bo
Star player: Park Chu-Young
Outlook: Korea enter Brazil with one of their weaker squads on paper in recent tournaments. They lost a recent friendly at home to Tunisia. A repeat of their fourth place finish in 2002 does not appear on the cards.
Prediction: The opening clash with Russia is crucial, and the Red Devils lost their last game to Russia in late 2013. A bottom two finish looms in the group stage.
Steven Talevski’s predictions
Teams eliminated in the Round of 16
Teams eliminated in Group Stages
• Ivory Coast
• Costa Rica
• Korea Republic