With the 2014 World Cup less than a month away, national team managers must finalize their squads and finish their preparations for the tournament. Club seasons are coming to an end, which means players are heading for national team camps to prepare for this year’s competition in Brazil.

Quarterfinals:

Brazil vs. Uruguay

How They Got Here:

Brazil: Armed with a huge home field advantage, Brazil should comfortably top their group. There have been worries that Brazil lacks the star-power that was so typical of previous Brazilian national sides (i.e. Ronaldinho, Pele, etc.), but manager Felipe Scolari’s team calmed those fears with a dominant showing at the 2013 Confederation Cup.

Uruguay: Uruguay will have a tough task getting out of Group D, but they should have just enough firepower to finish second, just ahead of an England side that lacks a true identity. Uruguay doesn’t have any noticeable holes and they have one of the most in-form forwards in the world in Barclays Premier League Player of the Year Luis Suarez.

Who Will Win: Brazil

Although Uruguay has plenty of experience playing in South America, Brazil has the world’s best center back in Thiago Silva to cancel out Suarez. The Brazilians have plenty of attacking talent in players such as Neymar and Oscar to break down an Uruguayan backline that can sometimes struggle with pace.

France vs. Germany

How They Got Here:

France: Although much more put together than they were in the 2010 World Cup, France still hasn’t shown themselves to be capable of consistently topping the best in the world. Although they have some of the most talented players in the world (Ribéry, Pogba, etc.), they still struggle to play as one. However, they were blessed with an easy group, as their group is rounded out with Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras. Then, they’ll either come across Bosnia or Nigeria in the second round, both of whom they should topple with ease.

Germany: On the other hand, Germany was placed in one of the most difficult groups. However, the Germans are possibly the most talented squad in the world and shouldn’t have too much trouble winning the group. Germany comes across Russia in the second round, and the Russians don’t have anywhere near enough talent to contain Germany.

Who Will Win: Germany

This one won’t even be a contest, really. From Dortmund center back Mats Hummels to Bayern forward Thomas Müller, Germany has world-class talent up and down the squad. Similar to Dortmund and Bayern, Germany has a rare combination of technical ability and athletic strength that makes for an incredibly entertaining style of play. Ruthless on the break and strong in possession, this team is built to handle absolutely anything. Although France is solid defensively, they don’t have the pace to handle Reus and co. and aren’t dangerous enough going forward to trouble a back line anchored by Lahm and Hummels. Germany’s likely midfield of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Goetze and Toni Kroos should control the tempo of the game.

Spain vs. Italy

How They Got Here:

Spain: Spain has won three straight major tournaments and will head to Brazil brimming with confidence. Spanish sides Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid are set to face off in the Champions League, which shows the good run of form many of Spain’s stars are in. Spain will have a tough match against the Dutch in the group stage, but they should comfortably pick up six points against Chile and Australia and they should at the very least top the group on goal differential. Spain was also boosted by star Atletico striker Diego Costa’s decision to snub Brazil and play for Spain. Costa adds a dangerous dimension to Spain that the possession-based side has lacked in recent years. Spain will ease past Group A runners up Croatia in the second round.

Italy: Italy was drawn in a tough group with Uruguay and England (Costa Rica, the other team in the group, won’t make much noise). Although England is traditionally viewed as a lock to advance from the group stages, Uruguay and Italy are clearly stronger. England has struggled to show cohesiveness and consistency and that simply won’t do against two world powers. Uruguay has only gotten better since the 2010 World Cup (when they lost in the semis) and Luis Suarez is as unplayable as Messi and Ronaldo right now. Italy made the final at the 2012 Euro and finished 3rd at the 2013 Confederations Cup and are one of the most defensively sound teams in the world. Look for Mario Balotelli to carry them past Uruguay and through a second round showdown with a talented Ivory Coast side that has struggled to put it all together.

Who Will Win: Italy

Although Spain has the more talented squad, I think they’re simply running out of steam. The Xavi-Iniesta partnership that has dominated every midfield for the last six years isn’t at full-strength (Xavi hasn’t even been starting with Barca) and the rest of Spain’s Barca stars aren’t in great form. Although I think they’re capable of winning the tournament, they’ve lost the air of invincibility that has been so obvious in recent years. Mario Balotelli has been terrific for Italy and Pirlo is as good as ever. The best way to break down Italy has been with searing pace and dangerous counter-attacks and Spain just doesn’t have that in them. Look for this one to stay 0-0 for at least the first hour, with Italy taking advantage of Spain’s tired legs with a late winner.  Spain’s stars, on both Madrid sides and Barcelona, have been playing for a title for months while Italian players on Juve and Milan have been coasting in.

Argentina vs. Belgium

How They Got Here:

Argentina: No squad boasts as many world-class forwards as Argentina. Messi, Aguero, di Maria and Higuain make for possibly the most dangerous front four in the world. Argentina has struggled defensively in the past, but their attacking talent alone will easily be enough to roll through Bosnia, Nigeria and Iran. Switzerland will prove a tough opponent in the second round, but they simply aren’t strong enough to contend with so much creativity. Argentina was blessed with a simple path to the quarters and they should take full advantage.

Belgium: Belgium’s golden generation is finally coming of age and they should roll through the group round against Algeria, Russia and South Korea. Belgium is one of the most physically imposing sides in the world and they have plenty of technical quality to go along with it. Belgium can trot out a lineup featuring Premier League starters such as  Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Thomas Vermaelen, Marouane Fellaini, Mousa Dembele, Romelu Lukaku, Adnan Januzaj, Kevin Mirallas and finally, Chelsea superstar Eden Hazard. Atletico Madrid keeper, 22-year-old Thibaut Courtois has been playing like the best keeper in the world and is backed up by Simon Mignolet, who just completed a fantastic season for Liverpool. A quick look at Belgium’s 24-man squad for the World Cup will show that they have strength all the way through the 18th man at least. They’ll meet a Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal side after the group stage, but Kompany and co. should be able to cope.

Who Will Win: Belgium

Watching Messi and the rest of Argentina’s forwards battle against Belgium’s gigantic backline will be a pleasure to watch, but Argentina simply doesn’t have the defensive strength to deal with Belgium on the counter. Lukaku, at 6’ 3” and 220 lbs, has proven to be too strong and explosive to deal with for most Premier League center-backs and Argentina doesn’t have a defender good enough to deal with him. Hazard, who will most likely play from the 10 spot, will exploit any space allowed to him and should be good for at least one goal. There isn’t a more athletic team in the world than Belgium and they’ll strike against Argentina early and often.

Semifinals:

Brazil vs. Germany

Who Will Win: Germany

Although this is one of the most defensively disciplined Brazilian squads in recent memory, Marcelo and Dani Alves can still be caught a little too high sometimes and Germany will be quick to punish them. I see a lot of similarities in this matchup and last years’ Champions League semifinal between Dortmund and Real Madrid. Real Madrid is similar to Brazil in that they both feature a very fluid and tricky frontline and a very disciplined holding mid. Both have very technical and athletic defenders and seemingly no glaring weaknesses. However, both Madrid and Brazil have a tendency to send too many men forward, leaving them susceptible to pace down the flanks and quick counter attacks. Although last years’ Dortmund and the current German squad are both capable of attacking in any manner they like, they both have deadly pace and can punish a team that isn’t focused for 90 minutes. Look for Marco Reus to be especially dangerous and for Germany to score a couple of early goals.

Italy vs. Belgium

Who Will Win: Belgium

I expect Italy to hold most of the possession and dictate play, but I don’t think Italy will be able to deal with the Belgium’s physicality. Belgium will look to break through Hazard and Mertens whenever Italy loses the ball and Lukaku should be on the end of those breaks. Belgium will look to shadow Pirlo wherever he goes, perhaps with Axel Witsel or Steven Defour, cancelling out Italy’s service. Kompany has experience against Balotelli from super-Mario’s tumultuous Manchester City days and should be able to frustrate him.

Final:

Germany vs. Belgium

Who Will Win: Germany

I see Belgium as I saw Germany in 2010: incredibly athletic and talented, but lacking in experience. Very few of Belgium’s stars play together aside from international breaks and they don’t have much experience as a team on the biggest stage. Germany, on the other hand, after years of international heartbreak, is better prepared after plenty of high-stakes international matches together (2008 Euro, 2010 World Cup, 2012 Euro). Moreover, many of Germany’s starters have experienced the pressure of a Champions League Final in 2013 with Bayern and Dortmund. Lastly, although they are equally athletic, Germany has that extra bit of technical quality that will take them over the edge. Belgium will look to press high up the field, but expect Germany’s midfield three to outclass Fellaini and co.

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