Groups A & B: Inside the numbers
Host nation Brazil is the headliner of Group A, which features teams from four continents. The other three teams aren't considered title contenders, and history agrees. No Brazil opponent has ever emerged from its group to win the World Cup. Here's a note on each Group A country and Soccer Power Index projections for which teams will advance to the knockout round:
• Five-time champion Brazil is the only nation in World Cup history to have appeared in every edition of the tournament. This year's host has won its group at eight straight World Cups. No player on this squad has won a World Cup title, making this the first time Brazil is bringing a squad to the tournament without a World Cup winner on it since 1994.
• Samuel Eto'o has been the face of Cameroon soccer for over a decade, scoring 57 times in 118 appearances. Eto'o, who has risen to the rank of Cameroon's captain, was the first man to be named African Footballer of the Year four times. Although Eto'o has scored his country's last three goals in World Cup play, Cameroon hasn't won a game in the tournament since 2002. Eto'o just turned 33, so this may be his last chance.
• Croatia failed to get out of the group stage at both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and did not qualify for the 2010 tournament. Mario Mandzukic, Croatia's top qualifying scorer, is suspended for the team's opener against Brazil after receiving a red card in Croatia's final qualifier against Iceland.
• The good news for Mexico is that El Tri have reached the knockout round at five straight World Cups; only Germany and Brazil have longer active streaks. The bad news is that Mexico has lost in the round of 16 at five straight World Cups, last winning a knockout game at home in 1986. Mexico's 15 World Cup appearances are the most of any country never to win the World Cup.
• Home-field advantage is significant at an international tournament like the World Cup, but perhaps even more so for the No. 1-ranked team's hopes of holding off the other strong contenders. The Soccer Power Index gives Brazil a 99.5 percent chance of advancing to the knockout round and a 95 percent chance of winning Group A. Mexico has the second-best odds to advance from Group A at 40.4 percent, but only a 2 percent chance to win the group.
Group B features Spain and the Netherlands, the finalists from the 2010 World Cup. That makes this the first time the two previous World Cup finalists have met in the ensuing group stage. Here's a note on each Group B country and Soccer Power Index projections for which teams will advance to the knockout round:
• Australia has advanced past the group stage in only one of its previous three World Cup appearances, losing to Italy in the 2006 round of 16. New York Red Bulls star Tim Cahill is Australia's career scoring leader with 32 goals for his nation.
• Chile is in consecutive World Cups for the first time since 1962 and 1966. Its best result was in 1962 when it finished in third place on its home soil. "La Roja" finished their World Cup qualifying campaign strong, going unbeaten in their last six games (5-0-1).
• The Netherlands has won 22 games at the World Cup, the most of any nation without a title. In 2010, it added another chapter to a history of Dutch heartbreak in major finals, losing to Spain just four minutes from penalties. It was the third loss in the World Cup final for the Oranje, with the others coming in 1974 and 1978. No other country has made three finals without winning multiple World Cup titles.
• Spain is looking to be the first country to win four straight major titles and the third to win consecutive World Cups -- the first since Brazil did it in 1958 and 1962. Spain returns 16 players from its 2010 World Cup-winning side, the most ever by a reigning world champion. Ten players in the squad were in all three of Spain's recent major tournament wins.
• The defending champions, returning a strong squad, have a 79 percent chance of advancing from the group, according to the Soccer Power Index. Chile has the second-best odds of advancing from Group B (70 percent), with Netherlands the third favorite (43 percent) and Australia a long shot (8 percent).