Steven Beacom's World Cup predictions
Brazil 2014 ideal time for big names to light up greatest show on earth
With the 2014 World Cup starting tomorrow, we assess all eight groups and all the sides involved naming their players to watch, their strengths and their weaknesses... and our man Steven Beacom offers his predictions for every single team.
Lionel Messi has scored just one goal in 571 minutes of football for Argentina at World Cup finals.
Given that the Barcelona hero nets virtually a goal per game at club level, it is a staggering statistic.
In the last eight years, Argentina may not have had the players possessed by Barcelona, but the little maestro hasn't exactly been playing alongside a bunch of Average Joes at international level either.
Could this be the World Cup when everything clicks for both player and nation?
It's one of many intriguing questions hanging in the air which will be answered over the next five weeks.
Will Cristiano Ronaldo still be regarded as the best player on the planet post tournament?
Can Luis Suarez inspire Uruguay to a second surprise success in Brazil 64 years on from the first one?
How will Brazil cope with home advantage?
Is Neymar really any good?
Will Louis van Gaal lose focus with the Dutch knowing the Manchester United manager's job is waiting for him come what may?
Can Germany bridge a gap of 24 years of World Cup hurt?
Will Spain win their fourth major tournament in a row?
How will England do?
And will all of Yaya Toure's birthdays come at once with Ivory Coast emerging as genuine contenders?
We are about to find out.
Just one more sleep and then it will kick off with Brazil against a Croatian side determined to spoil the fun and frolics of a host country ready to samba all the way to the final.
I've covered monumental events like the Olympics, the Ryder Cup and European Championships plus huge occasions in other big time sports, but the World Cup is on a different scale with the passion, interest and conversation it generates.
Even people with no interest in football get involved.
There is a growing sense that this tournament could prove to be one of the best ever.
Maybe that's just everyone feeling romantic because it is in Brazil, which always makes you conjure up magical World Cup memories.
For the sake of the tournament the hosts need to perform well and not fall by the wayside early on, swept away by a tidal wave of expectation.
Don't know about you but before every World Cup I check out the groups and work out who will go through to the second round and so on.
If my predictions are right we are in for some sensational clashes in the knockout stages.... like Germany taking on Belgium in the last 16 and Fabio Capello's Russia up against Ronaldo's Portugal.
If all goes to plan the quarter-finals will be even more spectacular.
Brazil and Neymar meeting Uruguay and Suarez.
The French going head to head with the Germans.
World Champions Spain versus England and best of all Argentina and Messi against Portugal and Ronaldo in a shoot-out to savour.
If all that wasn't enough Brazil v Germany and Argentina v Spain in the semi-finals would be mouthwatering before the South American giants lock horns in the July decider in Rio all ready for the party to end them all on Copacabana beach or Messi's crowning glory.
I fancy the latter.
Messi's never been idolised in his homeland the way Diego Maradona is.
How that would change if he guided Argentina to victory over Brazil in an epic final.
Sure there will be some dross in the group games, some ridiculous refereeing decisions and big name players failing to live up to the hype, but the more I think about it the more I'm convinced this World Cup will be a joy.
Get ready for the greatest show on earth.
Manager: Luiz Felipe Scolari
Captain: Thiago Silva
Star Player: Neymar
Strengths: Home advantage, the captain's power and the manager
Weaknesses: Pressure and expectation may prove too much in the end
Previous Best: Winners 1958, '62, '70, '94 and 2002
Beacom Prediction: They'll make the final.
Manager: Niko Kovac
Captain: Darijo Srna
Star Player: Mario Mandzukic
Strengths: Mandzukic's goals and Luka Modric's creativity
Weaknesses: Lack consistency. Good one game, average the next
Previous Best: Third place 1998
Beacom Prediction: Last 16 at best.
Manager: Miguel Herrera
Captain: Rafael Márquez
Star Player: Javier Hernandez
Strengths: Dangerous going forward if they are in the mood
Weaknesses: Lack togetherness and fighting spirit
Previous Best: Quarter-finalists 1970 and 1986
Beacom Prediction: Third in the group
Manager: Volker Finke
Captain: Samuel Eto'o
Star Player: Samuel Eto'o
Strengths: Eto'o. Pity Roger Milla wasn't alongside him
Weaknesses: Eto'o. There is a them and him attitude in the squad
Previous Best: Quarter-finals 1990
Beacom Prediction: Fourth in the group
Manager: Vicente del Bosque
Captain: Iker Casillas
Star Player: Andres Iniesta
Strengths: Been there, done it and know how to win big tournaments
Weaknesses: Brazil may be a bridge too far for Xavi and co
Previous Best: Winners 2010
Beacom Prediction: Semi-final, where they will lose out to Argentina
Manager: Louis van Gaal
Captain: Robin van Persie
Star Player: Arjen Robben
Strengths: When they click, they are devastating in attack
Weaknesses: Always one minor incident away from a major fall out
Previous Best: Runners-up 1974, ‘78 and 2010
Beacom Prediction: Out in group stages.
Manager: Jorge Sampaoli
Captain: Claudio Bravo
Star Player: Alexis Sanchez
Strengths: Best XI are brilliant to watch with their fluent passing
Weaknesses: Squad is not strong enough
Previous Best: Third 1962
Beacom Prediction: They'll stun Holland and qualify before Brazil knock them out
Manager: Ange Postecoglou
Captain: Mile Jedinak
Star Player: Tim Cahill
Strengths: Spirit, never say die attitude and young goalkeeper Matthew Ryan
Weaknesses: Players are willing but not wonderful. Plus, have you seen their group?
Previous Best: Last 16 2006
Beacom Prediction: Fourth place in group
Manager: Jose Pekerman
Captain: Mario Yepes
Star Player: Teofilo Gutierrez
Strengths: Conditions in Brazil will suit them
Weaknesses: Not having injured star striker Radamel Falcao is a huge blow
Previous Best: Last 16 1990
Beacom Prediction: Lucky to be in a poor group. Out in last 16
Manager: Fernando Santos
Captain: Giorgos Karagounis
Star Player: Georgios Samaras
Strengths: Hard to break down. They don't concede many goals
Weaknesses: Can be dull as dishwater, lacking creativity
Previous Best: Group stages 1994 and 2010
Beacom Prediction: Going home early
Manager: Sabri Lamouchi
Captain: Didier Drogba
Star Player: Yaya Toure
Strengths: If Toure fancies it, he is unstoppable
Weaknesses: The manager and highly influential striker Drogba don't always see eye to eye
Previous Best: Group stage 2006 and 2010
Beacom Prediction: Last 16
Manager: Alberto Zaccheroni
Captain: Makoto Hasebe
Star Player: Keisuke Honda
Strengths: Manager is a wily campaigner, plenty of guile in midfield
Weaknesses: Vulnerable at set pieces and can be dodgy in defence
Previous Best: Last 16 2002 and 2010
Beacom Prediction: Colombia will just beat them to runners-up spot
Manager: Oscar Tabarez
Captain: Diego Lugano
Star Player: Luis Suarez
Strengths: The brilliance of Suarez plus fiercely determined to win in Brazil like 1950 compatriots
Weaknesses: Suarez's fitness, or lack of it
Previous Best: Winners 1930 and 1950
Beacom Prediction: Quarter-final defeat
Manager: Jorge Luis Pinto
Captain: Bryan Ruiz
Star Player: Bryan Ruiz
Strengths: Minnows have little to lose and believe they can create at least one shock
Weaknesses: Rarely impress away from home and in a tough, tough group
Previous Best: Last 16 1990
Beacom Prediction: Bottom of the group
Manager: Roy Hodgson
Captain: Steven Gerrard
Star Player: Wayne Rooney
Strengths: Lower than usual expectations and kids ready to explode on world stage
Weaknesses: Manager may be too cautious
Previous Best: Winners 1966
Beacom Prediction: Quarter-finals (knocked out on penalties of course)
Manager: Cesare Prandelli
Captain: Gianluigi Buffon
Star Player: Mario Balotelli
Strengths: Andrea Pirlo's ability to control a game
Weaknesses: Italian teams are normally strong at the back. This one?
Previous Best: Winners 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006
Beacom Prediction: Can't believe I'm saying this – third in the group and out early
Manager: Ottmar Hitzfeld
Captain: Gökhan Inler
Star Player: Xherdan Shaqiri
Strengths: Shaqiri is a real talent and they'll be out to deliver for soon to retire Hitzfeld
Weaknesses: Defensively they are shaky and have unproven forwards
Previous Best: Quarter-finalists 1934, 1938 and 1954
Beacom Prediction: Last 16
Manager: Didier Deschamps
Captain: Hugo Lloris
Star Player: Karim Benzema
Strengths: Benzema is shining in a new look French attack and Paul Pogba has genuine quality
Weaknesses: Not having the injured Franck Ribery and potential internal squad politics
Previous Best: Winners ‘98
Beacom Prediction: Quarter-finals
Manager: Reinaldo Rueda
Captain: Antonio Valencia
Star Player: Antonio Valencia
Strengths: Have a goal threat and the dangerous Jefferson Montero on the wing
Weaknesses: Everyone should score goals against them. Awful at the back.
Previous Best: Last 16 2006
Beacom Prediction: Group exit
Manager: Luis Fernando Suarez
Captain: Noel Valladares
Star Player: Carlo Costly
Strengths: Won't be bothered by heat and humidity
Weaknesses: Limited quality and indiscipline. Will struggle to avoid red cards
Previous Best: Group stages 1982 and 2010
Beacom Prediction: Home before the knockout stages
Manager: Alejandro Sabella
Captain: Lionel Messi
Star Player: Lionel Messi
Strengths: Messi — desperate that this will be his World Cup year.
Weaknesses: In comparison to the star-studded attack, defensively can be poor
Previous Best: Winners 1978 and 1986
Beacom Prediction: Winners
Manager: Safet Susic
Captain: Emir Spahic
Star Player: Edin Dzeko
Strengths: Dzeko's nose for goal.
Weaknesses: Very little strength in depth. Can be too reliant on Dzeko in attack
Previous Best: Never qualified before
Beacom Prediction: They'll enjoy the experience but it’s an exit at the first stage
Manager: Carlos Queiroz
Captain: Javad Nekounam
Star Player: Ashkan Dejagah
Strengths: Relishing the tag of underdogs. They really do feel they can bite
Weaknesses: They lack a cutting edge and their build up play can be laboured
Previous Best: Group stages 1978, 1998 and 2006
Beacom Prediction: Out at the group stage
Manager: Stephen Keshi
Captain: Vincent Enyeama
Star Player: Victor Moses
Strengths: Keshi can be a controversial boss but his selections can also be inspirational
Weaknesses: If they go behind, confidence can drain quickly
Previous Best: Last 16 1994, 1998
Beacom Prediction: Second round
Manager: Joachim Low
Captain: Philipp Lahm
Star Player: Thomas Muller
Strengths: Experience and quality throughout the side.
Weaknesses: For their ability, this squad seem to lack a mental edge
Previous Best: Winners 1954, ‘74, ‘90 (as West Germany)
Beacom Prediction: Semi-finals
Manager: Paulo Bento
Captain: Cristiano Ronaldo
Star Player: Cristiano Ronaldo
Strengths: Ronaldo... pure and simple.
Weaknesses: Ronaldo may not be fully fit, hampering his performances and Portugal's
Previous Best: Third place in 1966
Beacom Prediction: Quarter-final exit
Manager: James Kwesi Appiah
Captain: Asamoah Gyan
Star Player: Kwadwo Asamoah
Strengths: Are a dangerous attacking side
Weaknesses: Can be erratic and Germany and Portugal are better
Previous Best: Q-final 2010
Beacom Prediction: Knocked out in group after three entertaining games
Manager: Jurgen Klinsmann
Captain: Clint Dempsey
Star Player: Graham Zusi
Strengths: Always arrive full of confidence that they can shock the world
Weaknesses: Klinsmann does not know his best team
Previous Best: Third away back in 1930
Beacom Prediction: Early exit
Manager: Marc Wilmots
Captain: Vincent Kompany
Star Player: Eden Hazard
Strengths: Confident, vibrant and free flowing with lots of quality... could go far
Weaknesses: For all of their class, they don't score as much as they should
Previous Best: Fourth 1986
Beacom Prediction: Exiting at quarter-finals
Manager: Vahid Halilhodzic
Captain: Madjid Bougherra
Star Player: Sofiane Feghouli
Strengths: Feghouli has the qualities to surprise the opposition from distance
Weaknesses: May not have enough self belief to compete with Belgium and Russia
Previous Best: Group stages 1982, 1986 and 2010
Prediction: Knocked out in group stages
Manager: Fabio Capello
Captain: Sergei Ignashevich
Star Player: Aleksandr Kerzhakov
Strengths: Technically strong and on top form can beat top teams
Weaknesses: Northern Ireland beat them in qualifying so on off days they are very poor
Previous Best: Fourth 1966 (as USSR)
Beacom Prediction: Last 16
Manager: Hong Myung-Bo
Captain: Lee Chung-Yong
Star Player: Son Heung-Min
Strengths: Pacy in attack and will never give up. Will fancy beating Russia and Algeria
Weaknesses: Can be predictable. Too predictable.
Previous Best: Fourth in 2002
Prediction: Group stages exit