With six months remaining until the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, the eight groups have been laid out and the match schedule has been set. The 32 teams on the road to Brazil have been placed each into eight groups of four. Seeding for the eight top ranked teams that qualified put each of them in a different group, while geographical separation was taken into consideration so that no group had more than two teams from a single confederation. The groups are as follows:
Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon
Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia
Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan
Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy
Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras
Group F: Argentina, Bosnia, Iran, Nigeria
Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA
Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea
There are two clear groups of death heading into the tournament. Group D features heavyweights Uruguay, Italy, and England, all three of whom have previously won the World Cup. Uruguay won twice in 1930 and 1950 and reached fourth place in 2010. Italy has won four times, most recently in 2006. England has one World Cup trophy, when the country hosted the tournament in 1966. All three are strong teams, however all three teams have recently gone through slumps. Uruguay only qualified for the World Cup through the intercontinental playoff. Italy made an embarrassing exit from the 2010 World Cup finishing last in a group with Paraguay, Slovakia, and New Zealand with only 2 points. England barely made it through the group stage in 2010, winning only one match in what should have been a top placement. Even so, all three teams have a good chance at making it through to the round of 16, but at least one team will have to be left out.
In group B, the other group of death, the 2010 World Cup final will be replayed as Spain and the Netherlands face each other in the first match of the group. This will be the first time in the history of the tournament that the previous winner and runner up will play each other in the group stage. Joining the two Europeans are strong South American side Chile. While not as notorious as Brazil and Argentina, Chile is nonetheless a competitive side. In most other groups, they would be one of the favorites to advance to the round of 16, but with Spain and the Netherlands they could be relatively outshined. However, Chile still has the ability to pull of an upset and send either team home early.
Meanwhile, hosts Brazil drew a fairly lenient group. The only true competition for the Brazilians would normally be Mexico, but the Mexican side struggled in the qualifying campaign barely avoiding being eliminated, and like Uruguay, Mexico only made it to the tournament through the intercontinental playoff. If Mexico plays well they could achieve second in the group and reach the round of 16, but it will be tough and they will almost certainly be eliminated in the round of 16 against whoever tops group B. Like Brazil, Germany and Argentina have fairly easy groups. Group G alongside Germany will be interesting as Portugal, the United States, and Ghana have all presented strong sides in previous World Cups. The match between the United States and Ghana will be a curious rivalry, as in both 2006 and 2010 Ghana defeated the United States 2-1 and knocked the Americans out of the competition. Even if they overcome Ghana, however, the United States still has a rough road out of the group stage, having to contend with Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portuguese.
Finally, we have the two groups that have the most potential for any team to advance; groups C and H. In group C, seeded Colombia is joined by Greece, the Ivory Coast, and Japan. However, the skill difference between any four of these teams is comparatively low. Japan may be seen as the weakest of the four, but not by much. The Japanese team recently drew the Netherlands 2-2 in a friendly in November, and defeated a strong Belgian team 3-2. At this point in time, Colombia and the Ivory Coast are the most probable to move on, but really any of the four teams could finish top or second place in the group. The situation is similar in group H. Here Belgium is a stronger candidate for the favorite among the four, but Russia and South Korea could both give Belgium a run for their money. Algeria is the weakest team in group H and will likely finish last in the group.
However, all of the groups in the 2014 World cup look intriguing, with no group having two teams that are near certain to come out in the top spots. The large chance for upsets in the group stage and the uncertainty surrounding several of the groups is sure to make the 2014 tournament one of the more exciting World Cups in recent memory.