1. The injuries. There are a ton of world class players that won't see the field in Brazil, we're talking super stars that can't be replaced easily. Players such as Columbia's Radamel Falcao, France's Franck Ribery, who finished third in FIFA's football player of the year award, and Germany's Marco Reus to name a few. Not to mention several other players who are fighting to be fit as well. In the United States group G alone you have Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo battling thigh and knee problems, his health will determine how far Portugal goes.
2. The Stars. Soccer is the essential team sport, 11 on 11 for 90 minutes, it's hard for one particular player to really dominate on the field. Yet we want to take a look at the stars. There are several huge stars who will be looked upon to really make a difference on the field to their teams. Attacking minded players who will be counted on to make goals happen, either by putting the ball in the net themselves, like the aforementioned Cristiano Ronaldo, Argentina's Lionel Messi, England's Wayne Rooney, Belgium's Eden Hazard, the controversial Uruguayan Luis Suarez, and Brazil's Neymar, who may be looked upon to make the biggest difference by the host country. Don't forget the guys who provide the ball to the strikers, Italy's midfield ageless maestro Andrea Pirlo, the Spaniard Xavi, Chile's Arturo Vidal, Bosnia's Miralem Pjanic, and the United State's Michael Bradley. Last but not least, the defense. The back of the line, the defensive stars must be masterful, goalkeepers like Iker Casillas of Spain, Brazil's Julio Cesar, and Germany's Manuel Neuer will be all be counted on to keep a clean sheet consistently in Brazil, and defenders like Sergio Ramos of Spain, Mexico's Rafa Marquez, and Dani Alves of Brazil will be key to their team's title run. The stars of the World Cup will all hope to shine until the end, rather than flame out in the group stage.
3. The Fans. World Cup fans take their game to another level. You think you know passion and undying love and support, but wait until you see the fans of Brazil, Italy, England, Argentina, Holland, and so on. The elaborate taunts, the belted anthems, the unbridled joy after a victory, and the fury and potentially volatile fans after a loss. There could be riots in home countries, fires in stadiums, flares, smoke bombs, security will be at a max and it will be tested by some of the crazed football fans.
4. The Format. There are four teams to a group, and 8 groups. Each team plays the other teams in their group once, you notch 1 point for a tie, 3 points for a win, and 0 points for a loss. After 3 games the two teams with the most points in the group advance. After that it's essentially a single elimination tournament March Madness style. Expect there to be some shock scores. There will be a few surprise eliminations in the group, but mostly expect the favorites to advance. The round of 16 is where things get fun, with potential match ups between rivals Columbia and Uruguay, two title contenders in Brazil and the Netherlands, and Italy possibly playing African powers the Ivory Coast. It's gonna get crazy.
5. Brazil. The host country will be under ridiculous public scrutiny from the moment they kick off, to their eventual championship or elimination. I can't think of a time where there were higher expectations for Brazil, and that's saying quite a bit. They are favored nearly every time they step on the field, and 2014 will be no exception after winning last summer's World Cup warm up, the Confederations Cup against 2010 champ Spain. After a year of starring for Barcelona, Neymar will be front and center for Brazil. He must score and score often and will be a favorite for top goalscorer in the tournament. Defenders Dani Alves, Marcelo, Thiago Silva, and David Luiz bring a star studded back line boasting depth, offensive talent, and potential red cards. Goalkeeper Julio Cesar will look to prove he hasn't regressed after a controversial move to MLS team Toronto FC before the World Cup. A Seleção is a heavy favorite, and anything less than raising their 6th cup will be considered a failure.
6. The USA. The US brings a mix of unproven youth, and heady experience to their 6th consecutive finals appearance. Coach Jurgen Klinnsman's decision to drop his all time leading goalscorer and face of soccer in America Landon Donovan will be harshly judged if the Americans fail to make it out of their group. Don't sleep on the players he is bringing however. Midfielder Michael Bradley, or The General as he was dubbed by Roma fans is peaking at the right time, he will be relied upon to start the attack and bring intensity to the field. Attackers Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore will have to score in order to get the US into the round of 16, Altidore finally broke his 6 month goalless streak for club and country and will look to stay hot in Brazil, and Clint Dempsey will want to prove he hasn't taken a step down after leaving England for Seattle. Longtime US goalie Tim Howard will be the rock in the back, and he will need to as he has an inexperienced and unsettled back-line of defense in front of him. The US must not concede late goals like they have in warmup games.
7. Group of Death. Group G, Germany, Ghana, Portugal, and the US make up the "group of death" in this World Cup. Any other group and the US and/or Ghana would be expected to make it out, not this one. World power Germany and dangerous Portugal will be the favorites, the US must make use of their fitness and athleticism and Ghana must find a way as well if they plan on moving on past the favorites.
8. Mexico. Our neighbors to the south uncharacteristically limped through qualifying, barely making it in after a playoff against New Zealand. They will be still be expected to do well thanks to their pedigree, especially after their younger players won Olympic gold two years ago in London. Star striker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez is not expected to start, but look for him to come off the bench and try and provide late goals.
9. Belgium. The young Belgiums are looked at as a dark horse candidate this year. They are filled with a number of young stars such as goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, midfielder Adnan Januzaj, and striker Romelu Lukaku, along with more experienced players like defender Vincent Kompany, and the stalwart Marouane Fellaini. Belgium should make a deep run.
10. Spain. The defending World Cup and European champions. Spain has had a stranglehold on international soccer the last 4 years with their beautiful style of play, expect lots of passing, lots of pressing on defense, and spectacular goals, along with sturdy defending. Spain won several games last WC 1-0, so once they get the lead don't expect them to relinquish it. Spain has many recognizable star players, but keep an eye on striker Diego Costa, he only recently made the switch from Brazil to Spain while scoring 27 goals for his Spanish club team Atlético Madrid, leading them to the Champion's League final.