WHO’S THERE? Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon
WHAT’S THE WORD? The opening game of the World Cup can be an uninspiring affair, with both teams desperate not to lose. That’s not how Thursday’s opener went: The host country stormed back from an early own goal to post a 3-1 victory over the Croatians. It would be a major shock if Brazil doesn’t top the group, with Croatia second.
WHO’S THERE? Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia
WHAT’S THE WORD? What a way to kick off Day 2 of the tournament: a repeat of the 2010 World Cup title game between Spain and the Netherlands. Expect the victor to win the group, with the loser going through in second. The Chileans and Australians should both put in strong performances, too.
WHO’S THERE? Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan
WHAT’S THE WORD? What’s probably the weakest group is also one of the most intriguing. There is no favorite: four continents, four styles of play, four evenly matched teams. This is the only group in which all the teams will feel confident they have a chance of making it through. Take Colombia to win it and the Ivory Coast edging Greece.
WHO’S THERE? Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy
WHAT’S THE WORD? The Group of Death has three nations in the world’s top 10: Uruguay seventh, Italy ninth and England 10th. The Italians always seem to do enough to move on, so for me the England vs. Uruguay game June 19 will be the key. I can see the English pulling a (slight) upset and sneaking into second place.
WHO’S THERE? Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras
WHAT’S THE WORD? Another of the weaker sections, with only France considered a serious contender for the title and three others with little or no World Cup tradition. The French have been riddled with internal strife and disputes at recent tournaments, but they have enough quality to top this group. Ecuador is the pick to join them in the knockout round.
WHO’S THERE? Argentina, Bosnia, Iran, Nigeria
WHAT’S THE WORD? Another interesting group symbolizing what makes this the greatest tournament on Earth with a diverse and eclectic quartet of nations. Argentina is the outstanding team and should move on easily. If you assume Iran is an also-ran, then I think the Balkan nation of Bosnia, making its debut on the world stage, will overcome the more experienced Nigerians.
WHO’S THERE? Germany, Portugal, Ghana, United States
WHAT’S THE WORD? Perhaps not quite the Group of Death, but it’s certainly the Group of Serious Injury, with Germany ranked second and the Portuguese fourth. The rest of the planet is expecting these two to cruise through this stage without getting out of second gear, but maybe — just maybe — the Americans can upset the team from the Iberian peninsula. I’ll say it: The Yanks squeeze into the knockout round. Why not?
WHO’S THERE? Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea
WHAT’S THE WORD? Soccer is very Eurocentric, with most of the talent, money and attention focused on the continent that codified, developed and exported the sport. Consequently, at the World Cup, we expect too much from the European teams and underestimate the others, but I can’t see anything other than the Belgians and Russians claiming the top two spots here.