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(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Clint Dempsey (8) of the U.S. tries to round Honduras' Juan Pablo Montes (4). USA defeated Honduras 1-0 at the half during their World Cup soccer qualifying rematch Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
World Cup: Host Brazil favored, but has a nation on its back
Analysis » Germany, Argentina, Spain also should be in mix, while the U.S. is hard-pressed to emerge.
First Published Jun 10 2014 01:42 pm • Last Updated Jun 10 2014 10:45 pm

Thankfully the last four years are behind us. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil promises to be a spectacle, both on the field and throughout one of the world’s most soccer-crazed countries. The expectations will soar for the host country, which has one of its more talented teams in over a decade, led by emerging superstar Neymar.

The beauty of a World Cup is seeing the best the globe has to offer going head-to-head every day for nearly five straight weeks. This summer’s round will be no different as Cristiano Ronaldo will look to put Portugal on his back after winning the UEFA Champions League final with Real Madrid. Same goes for Lionel Messi, who’s received criticism from the Argentina press for not being able to deliver the same magic he does with club FC Barcelona.

At a glance

World Cup opener

Brazil vs. Croatia, 2 p.m. Thursday TV » ESPN

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It’ll be up to Spain to continue its dominant reign over the world. Stacked with magnificent midfield talents such as Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and David Villa, the Spaniards have put on clinics on the biggest stage in recent major tournaments. Can the La Furia Roja make it back-to-back Cups as the Brazilians did in 1958 and 1962?

Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez is as mercurial as they come and is hated by fans around the world. A country no experts talk about, Belgium, has a group of players that could carry the country deep in the tournament.

Then there’s the United States and the Group G gauntlet. Can Jurgen Klinsmann lead the Americans out of the fire and past Ghana and Portugal and Germany? It’s possible, but with a revolving door on the back line, the U.S. could be punished by the attacking firepower of Group G.

Group A

Teams: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

Favorite: Brazil

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Sleeper: Mexico

Analysis: This could be Brazil’s most-talented squad since 2002, the last time the powerhouse won the World Cup. But there will be accompanying pressure — and a lot of it — as the host country. The Brazilians are young in comparison to recent rosters, but dominated last summer’s Confederations Cup. The Mexicans backed into the World Cup with the help of a U.S. win at Panama, but have the firepower to contend for the second spot out of Group A. Croatia, led by Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic, will be a tough out.

Player to Watch: Brazilian midfielder Neymar

Advancing: Brazil, Croatia

Group B

Teams: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia

Favorite: Spain

Sleeper: Chile

Analysis: The Spaniards have dominated international soccer for the last eight years winning the last two European Cups and the 2010 World Cup in Spain. But they’re not getting any younger and had a rude awakening in getting a beat-down from Brazil in last summer’s Confederations Cup final. The 2010 runner-up, Netherlands, has star Robin van Persie but could be surprised by a very difficult Chilean group. Chile surprised in South Africa and could surprise again. The Australians will be going home early due to an extremely difficult draw.

Player to Watch: Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal

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