Argentina shapes as the one to beat
IT HAS been a long time between drinks for Argentina, but the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria could well be celebrating a fourth World Cup success for their country after the final on Monday, July 14 (AEST).
The last time the South Americans won the World Cup, in 1986, they literally got a helping hand from Diego Maradona in their 2-1 quarter-final success over England, with the infamous "Hand of God" goal steering them to victory.
They eventually won the Cup with a win over West Germany in the final in Mexico City with Maradona again the key to success.
The cupboard has been bare since and Messi, despite all his fantastic achievements with Barcelona, has been unable to inspire his teammates as Maradona did when he was at his peak.
But what better place for Messi to finally announce himself at the highest level than on the soil of Argentina's most bitter rival?
He is not the only ace in Argentina's pack. Manchester City's Sergio Aguero, Napoli's Gonzalo Higuain and Real Madrid's Angel Di Maria can help Alejandro Sabella's team break its 28-year world title drought.
If Argentina is favourite, then host country Brazil must be a close second.
The biggest problem that Luiz Felipe Scolari's team will have to bear is the expectation of success from the country's football-loving public.
Brazil fans not only expect success at the highest level, they demand it, and the only reason I don't make the Brazilians favourites to win on home soil is the pressure the players will be under.
Reigning champion Spain is also a contender, although the likes of Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez are four years older than they were when the Spaniards won in South Africa and that could count against them later in the tournament.
Italy and Germany always perform well at World Cups, so write them off at your peril. Mezut Ozil and Toni Kroos are top-class performers for Germany, while Italy's Andrea Pirlo was one of the stars of the European Championships two years ago.
The Netherlands need to shake off that 'nearly' tag and will be desperate to go one better than their three runners-up spots, but do look a little off the pace.
France, too, has good individuals, but whether they can gel as a team is another story.
England could easily be out in the group stages with Italy and Uruguay to play.
Uruguay is a roughie with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani sure to scare a few defences.
Belgium, with the likes of Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas in its squad, is another outside chance.
All in all this is a tough one to pick, but Argentina looks the one for me this time round.
Lionel Messi (Arg) $7.50
Neymar (Bra) $12
Cristiano Ronaldo (Por) $13
Sergio Aguero (Arg) $13
Tim Cahill (Aus) $251