With some of the finest players available, Germany will feel that this is their year. A team that has lost just one game since August 2012 and scored in all but two since the last World Cup, they will be out to at least get to the semi finals this year. They will look to build from the back four, working the ball to the three players behind the strikers who will work their magic to get goals for Germany. With a host of attacking talent there is little chance that Germany will find themselves snuffed out. They are not without issues though. Most of their key players have had campaigns disrupted by injury or poor form and the weight of expectation to perform may cause an issue for the German players. Although with a solid defence and rampant attack they should rightfully count themselves amongst the favourites to win.
I predict Germany to progress to at least the semi finals, probably going on to the final.
Best Finish - Winners - Switzerland 1954, Germany 1974, Italy 1990
Germany's 27 man provisional squad
Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Roman Weidenfeller (Borussia Dortmund), Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover)
Defenders: Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Erik Durm (Borussia Dortmund), Kevin Grosskreutz (Borussia Dortmund), Benedikt Howedes (Schalke), Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund), Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), Per Mertesacker (Arsenal), Shkodran Mustafi (Sampdoria), Marcel Schmelzer (Borussia Dortmund).
Midfielders: Lars Bender (Bayer Leverkusen), Julian Draxler (Schalke), Matthias Ginter (Freiburg), Mario Gotze (Bayern Munich), Christoph Kramer (Borussia Monchengladbach), Sami Khedira (Real Madrid), Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund), Andre Schurrle (Chelsea), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich).
Forwards: Miroslav Klose (Lazio), Kevin Volland (Hoffenheim), Lukas Podolski (Arsenal).
Manager: Joachim Low - likely to be his last chance after a disappointing Euros.
Last line up (Germany 0 - 0 Poland):
Rudiger - Mustafi - Ginter - Sorg
Kramer - Rudy
Goretzka - Meyer - Draxler
One To Watch: Julian Draxler (CAM, Schalke)
Despite a brilliant qualifying campaign, Ghana cannot be expected to be the exciting underdogs seen in South Africa. With an aging midfield of Muntari and Essien and inconsistent defence they will likely struggle against strong attacking teams such as Portugal and Germany. However, their counter-attacking style with pacey wingers such as Atsu and Wakaso should be able to catch teams unawares and net them a couple of goals, after which they are generally fairly good at shutting down other team's attacks when they defend as a team. Should they survive the group they will be a match for most teams but it is probable that they will be overwhelmed here.
I predict Ghana to battle it out with USA for 3rd in this group.
Best Finish - Quarter Finals - South Africa 2010
Ghana's 26 man provisional squad
Goalkeepers: Fatau Dauda (Orlando Pirates), Adam Kwarasey (Stromsgodset), Stephen Adams (Aduana Stars).
Defenders: Samuel Inkoom (Platanias), Daniel Opare (Standard Liege), Harrison Afful (Esperance), Jeffrey Schlupp (Leicester), John Boye (Rennes), Jonathan Mensah (Evian), Jerry Akaminko (Kisehirspor), Rashid Sumalia (Mamelodi Sundowns).
Midfielders: Michael Essien (AC Milan), Sulley Muntari (AC Milan), Rabiu Mohammed (Kuban Krasnodar), Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus), Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu (Udinese), Afriyie Acquah (Parma), Christian Atsu (Vitesse, on loan from Chelsea), Albert Adomah (Middlesbrough), Andre Ayew (Marseille), Mubarak Wakaso (Rubin Kazan).
Forwards: Asamoah Gyan (Al Ain), Kevin-Prince Boateng (Schalke 04), Abdul Majeed Waris (Valenciennes), Jordan Ayew (Sochaux), David Accam (Helsingborg).
Manager: Kwesi Appiah - 62.5% win ratio, mostly against crap teams
Last line up (Montenegro 1 - 0 Ghana):
Opare - Boye - Akaminko - Addy
Essien - Agyemang-Badu
Mubarak ----------------- Atsu
Waris - Ayew
One To Watch: Mubarak Wakaso (RW, Rubin Kazan)
Featuring a core set of trusted players, Portugal will be amongst the more settled sides at the World Cup. Unsurprisingly much of the hype around Portugal is focused on Ronaldo, a player who will either cause direct damage to teams at this World Cup or draw away defenders allowing for his team mates to exploit the space. Single-handedly dragging them through the play-off against Sweden and coming off the back of a brilliant league campaign, Ronaldo will be out to impress at this World Cup and no doubt the motivation will be there to outperform Messi. Portugal do, of course, have other excellent players with Pepe and Bruno Alves constituting a solid centre back pairing whilst Joao Moutinho is one of the best passers of the ball around. With a lack of a decent out-and-out striker they will lean heavily on Cristiano Ronaldo for goal scoring duties, however.
I predict Portugal to comfortably finish second in this group, probably going on to the quarter finals by which point Ronaldo will be unable to singlehandedly dismantle teams.
Best Finish - Third - England 1966
Portugal's 23 man squad
Goalkeepers: Beto (Sevilla), Eduardo (Braga), Rui Patricio (Sporting).
Defenders: Andre Almeida (Benfica), Bruno Alves (Fenerbahce), Fabio Coentreo (Real Madrid), Joao Pereira (Valencia), Neto (Zenit), Pepe (Real Madrid), Ricardo Costa (Valencia).
Midfielders: Joao Moutinho (Monaco), Miguel Veloso (Dinamo Kiev), Raul Meireles (Fenerbahce), Ruben Amorim (Benfica), William Carvalho (Sporting).
Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Eder (SC Braga), Helder Postiga (Lazio), Hugo Almeida (Besiktas), Nani (Manchester United), Rafa (Braga), Varela (FC Porto), Vieirinha (Wolfsburg)
Manager: Paolo Bento - tends to picking his favourites and getting the best out of them
Last line up (Portugal 5 - 1 Cameroon):
Joao Pereira - Neto - Rolando - Fabio Coentrao
Joao Moutinho - Raul Meireles
Ivan Cavaleiro ---------- Rafa Silva
One To Watch: Cristiano Ronaldo (LW, Real Madrid) - can he lead them to glory?
Despite a decent qualifying campaign, the USMNT will have lost a lot of confidence after seeing the draw for their group. Despite a fairly decent group of players, it will seem almost impossible for the USA to progress from Group G with many expecting this to be a 0 points tournament. The US defence is worryingly shaky at the moment with Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler only recently cementing their places at centre back and the full back positions in a state of flux. Much of the time at the training camp will surely be spent deciding who will be taken for these positions, with panic over the pacey wingers in this group clearly setting in with the inclusion of De-Andre Yedlin, a player who is little more than his athletic ability, in the provisional squad. Where the US excel, however, is in their midfield and forward players. Expected to play a 4-2-3-1 they will be able to incorporate strong, experienced central midfielders in Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley, the latter of which has a very good eye for a pass. Going forward the likes of Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey are proven quantities, whilst Jozy Altidore will no doubt be able to prove he is far better at the slower paced international game than in the Premier League, as his previous US form has shown. With several relatively unknown quantities on the international stage in Johannsson, Boyd, Davis and Zusi, the latter two in particular who should be able to impress from set pieces.
I predict the USA to finish 3rd, able to use their underdog status to shock a couple of teams. Although this is me going with my heart and my head tells me that 3 losses is far more likely.
Best Finish - Third - Uruguay 1930
USMNT's 23 man squad
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake).
Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Nuremberg), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders).
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Jermaine Jones (Besiktas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes).
Manager: Jurgen Klinsmann - probably the best manager of the USMNT in recent years, has a massive challenge ahead of him in this group.
Last line up (USA 2 - 2 Mexico):
Beltran - Gonzalez - Besler - Parkhurst
Zusi - Davis
Wondolowski - Dempsey
One To Watch: Aron Johannsson (ST, AZ Alkmaar)