Didier Deschamps has rejuvenated the squad since the disaster in South Africa four years ago, but the chances of success still hinge on familiar figures like Karim Benzema and Franck Ribéry. At the very least, the accommodating Group E allows for a smooth path to the knockout stage.
Getty ImagesJohn Berry
Consider this tournament in neighboring Brazil as the last stand for a creaking squad. Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez present a real thrust up front. One of them must recreate the influence of Diego Forlan in South Africa to provide the spark to drive this well-drilled unit through a group including Costa Rica, England and Italy.
Bongarts/Getty ImagesJoern Pollex
The luck of the draw deserted an Italian side more than capable of a deep run into this tournament. Italian boss Cesare Prandelli must find a way to navigate this ambitious side through the thicket presented by Costa Rica, England and Uruguay to facilitate the wider objectives. If Mario Balotelli and Andrea Pirlo can hit their usual heights, then this squad possesses the tools to march deep into the fray.
Getty ImagesMarco Luzzani
Manchester United manager-in-waiting Louis van Gaal faces a true test of his abilities to replicate the runner-up finish from four years ago. Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie supply the rapier thrust, but the pressure falls on the rearguard to hold firm with Australia, Chile and Spain presenting able opposition in Group B.
Getty Images,Dennis Grombkowski
Former star and current manager Marc Wilmots smoothed out any of the usual concerns about chemistry during qualifying. The cushy Group H draw provides this blossoming and talented side with a chance to find its footing in its first World Cup since 2002 and lay the foundation for the knockout stage.
Getty ImagesDean Mouhtaropoulos
Most of Colombia’s will now rest on young playmaker James Rodriguez. His presence outside the penalty area offers the sharpness required to finish outside the penalty area and will supply scoring opportunities to Colombia's attack. If he comes right to Brazil, then the popular darkhorse might actually stampede through.
Action Images / ReutersIVAN ALVARADO
The holders kick off the introduction to the popular quartet of favorites. Their credentials are well established by this stage, but the tiki-taka approach has shown cracks over the past 12 months or so. The arrival of Diego Costa adds a more robust element to supply some variation in the approach play. Expect this group to thrive or wilt based on its tried and tested principles, though
Getty ImagesClaudio Villa
No European side boasts a better chance to winning this World Cup on South American soil. Germany's blend of physical prowess, squad depth and technical ability suits this tournament perfectly. If the Germans can meander through a difficult group including Ghana, Portugal and the United States, then they present a real threat to improve upon their third-place finishes in 2006 and 2010.
Getty ImagesBoris Streubel
Everything starts with Lionel Messi. He is a superlative talent and a figure capable of grabbing the tournament by the scruff of its neck. And he must meet those lofty standards to enable a capable supporting cast – including the potent Sergio Agüero – constructed to complement him and use the favorable draw to fuel a deep run.
Getty ImagesDilip Vishwanat
Forget about half-measures or potential consolations: the Selecao must win the tournament to satisfy the oppressive expectations of playing on home soil. This talented group – guided by World Cup winner Luiz Felipe Scolari and propelled by the precocious Neymar – possesses all of the necessary tools to accomplish the feat and claim a sixth title.