With preparations for the 2014 FIFA World Cup nearing completion, soccer fans across the region can turn their attention to what really matters: their national team’s chances of winning on the world’s biggest stage. Although European teams have won four of the last six competitions, South American teams have historically fared far better when playing at home.
The World Cup draw last December placed the 32 qualifying teams in eight groups of four. From June 12 to June 26, each team will play the other teams in its group in a round- robin format. The top two teams from each group will advance to the elimination round. Not all groups are created equal, so here are some predictions for the hemisphere’s 10 qualifying teams.
Host country Brazil will likely take top spot in Group A and is a favorite to win this year’s competition. After a convincing 3–0 dismantling of Spain in the Confederations Cup last June, Brazil—and its 22-year-old phenom, Neymar—has once again found its winning stride. Cameroon also stands a strong chance of emerging from the group, sending Mexico—which barely qualified—packing.
The star power of Argentina’s Lionel Messi, Uruguay’s Luis Suárez and Ecuador’s Antonio Valencia will help their teams make a deep run in the tournament. Unfortunately, while Chile has a talented squad, La Roja faces World Cup defending champion Spain and the 2010 runner-up, the Netherlands, in Group B.
Colombia, which failed to qualify for the last World Cup, was expected to finish first in Group C this year, until a season-ending injury to star striker Radamel Falcao tempered expectations. Nevertheless, Los Cafeteros will likely advance to the next round.
After making a convincing qualifying run, the United States was rewarded with the “Group of Death” (Group G), which includes European powerhouses Germany and Portugal, as well as Ghana, the country that eliminated the U.S. in the 2010 World Cup. The U.S. and conference rivals Honduras and Costa Rica may be doomed from the start.
Despite the stiff competition, at least five Latin American countries are sure to make it to the Round of 16: Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador, and Colombia. Expect to watch one of the region’s powerhouses playing in the World Cup Final on July 13.