Ladies and Gentlemen, start your printing presses. Now that the World Cup draw is complete, millions of words will be typed in previewing the tournament and thousands of publications will print previews. These are always enjoyable to read but can easily sway your opinion one way or the other.
It really is amazing what can happen over time, how a team can go from nobodies to contenders just by certain people talking up their chances. With that in mind, it is important to remember how you feel about these teams today.
Things will change, players will get hurt and their form will change, for better or worse, so now is not the time to marry yourself to your picks but it is a very good idea to stick to the majority of what you think today. With that in mind, here are my picks from each group to progress, with a few other predicitions thrown in there too.
GROUP A – Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon
Initial thoughts on the draw – Brazil will have wanted this kind of group where they can (and will) win it but be challenged and, in Mexico and Croatia, they have teams that will not be cannon fodder. The problem for Brazil is how tough group B is and that's who they will be paired with in the last 16.
Most anticipated game – Brazil vs Croatia: Opening game of the World Cup. Pressure is incredible on a host starting a tournament (I am surprised so many hosts want to start the tournament off) but in Croatia, they have an opponent who they can beat.
Group Winner – Brazil
Runner-up – Mexico
GROUP B – Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia
Initial thoughts on the draw – I am not a fan of the term 'Group of Death' but if you are looking for the strongest group, this is it – by a mile! Chile were the team no seeded team wanted to face and Spain, much like four years ago, get them again. Throw in the Dutch and you have an absolutely fantastic group. Spain are a wonderful side but their style of winning tight, narrow games could come back and cost them in this very competitive group.
Most anticipated game – Spain vs Netherlands: it is the first match and anyone who loses with Chile still to play will be in massive trouble. Spain cannot afford to start slow again and the road back from an opening game loss is even tougher in 2014 than it was in 2010 with Chile playing in South America.
Group Winner – Chile
Runner-up - Netherlands
GROUP C – Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan
Initial thoughts on the draw – On paper, this does not look like a group to get excited about but we should see some wonderful football on display in this group, featuring three teams who can be expansive and easy on the eye (sorry Greece). For Colombia, this is a dream group to help them build confidence as they move towards the knock-out rounds.
Most Anticipated Game – Ivory Coast vs Greece: The Africans have been harshly treated in each of the last two World Cup draws but now they have a real shot at qualifying. Their final group, up against Greece, will be a stern test to see if they can climb a hurdle they've never jumped before.
Group Winner - Colombia
Runner-up - Ivory Coast
GROUP D - Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy
Initial thoughts on the draw – You will read in the next few months how Uruguay are old and past their prime, finished fifth out of nine in qualifying and can be beaten but this team is built for tournaments like this and they get to play Costa Rica first. England, however, play Costa Rica (which is not an easy game for them either) last and could be out of the tournament by then. Italy need a group where they can be tested early (like 2006, not 2010) and although this is a tough one for them, they are more than good enough to win it.
Most anticipated game – England vs Italy in Manaus: The latest kick off in the tournament will help, but the weather will be hot in the Amazon region. Hopefully, it won't be a tense 0-0 with so much to come afterwards but don't bet against it!
Group Winner – Italy
Runner-up - Uruguay
GROUP E – Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras
Initial thoughts on the draw – France have been dealt a hand they wanted. Questions around their mental state are warranted but these three games, against teams they can beat, will go along way to helping restore the confidence they need to show their talents. Honduras, ironically, gets the E4 slot that a European team so wanted for climate purposes. Seeds Switzerland get a chance to show why they deserved their ranking.
Most anticipated game – Switzerland vs Ecuador: The first match of the group is a true match of confederations that will likely help one team advance over the other.
Group Winner – France
Runner-up - Ecuador
GROUP F – Argentina, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria
Initial thoughts on the draw – Lost on all the debates of what the group of Death is, is the fact that Argentina were handed a fantastic path towards the final stages. Not only were they given an easy group they should win, they were paired with second in E for the last 16 and winner of H or second in G for the last 8. They also went on to the opposite half of the draw than the winner of group A, likely arch-rivals Brazil.
Most anticipated game – Bosnia & Herzegovina vs Nigeria: Another game of contrasting styles that is likely to be a playoff to make the last 16.
Group Winner – Argentina
Runner-up - Nigeria
GROUP G – Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA
Initial thoughts on the draw – Klinsmann vs Germany; Ronaldo vs Ozil, so many storylines in this group but lost in it all will be how Africa's strongest nation got a very difficult draw once again (much like Ivory Coast in 2006 and 2010). For the Americans, it is a nightmare draw, placed in G4, forced to play all three games in the heat of northern Brazil, and against three very good nations.
Most anticipated game – Germany vs Portugal: Forget the Klinsmann Derby, another opportunity to see Cristiano Ronaldo against the Germans (like in Euro 2012) will be magnificent.
Group Winner – Germany
Runner-up - Portugal
GROUP H – Belgium, Algeria, Russia, Korea Republic
Initial thoughts on the draw – Absolutely perfect for Belgium. Handed H1, they avoid any games in the tropical north and get three opponents that they will be comfortable with. Russia, against Algeria and Korea Republic, will also be happy but don't rule them out for failing to deliver on the biggest stage once again.
Most anticipated game – Belgium vs Algeria: Marc Wilmots' side are going to get a lot of love between now and the first game. They were already many people's sleeper pick and that will intensify with this draw and the game against Algeria finally gives the world a chance to see what Belgium do on the big stage.
Group Winner – Belgium
Runner-up – Korea Republic