Special to Planet Futbol from OddsShark.com
The world’s top soccer teams are aiming to become part of an exclusive group, which amounts to a global Sweet 16. While 32 teams line up this week for the group stage of the 2014 World Cup, only half of them will advance into the knockout round and have a chance to play for the most coveted trophy in sports.
Favorites aim to emerge from the group stage unscathed while underdogs try to provide this World Cup's biggest surprises and most profitable payouts. Here's a group-by-group look at the odds-on favorites to advance to the knockout stage:
Host Brazil (-500 to win the group) will be a heavy chalk favorite in all three of its games in this group, and should lock up first place barring any major developments. Croatia (+800) and Mexico (+900) will likely be battling for second place, with Cameroon (+2500) figuring to be the group's doormat. This group starts it all off Thursday with Croatia a huge 11-1 underdog in the tournament’s opening game against the host Selecao.
Defending champion Spain is favored to win the group (-125), but La Furia Roja will face some familiar squads in trying to do so. Spain had Chile (+375) in its group back in 2010, and played against the Netherlands (+300) in the World Cup final. Both teams could present Spain with a challenge this year, while Australia (+6600) will struggle to earn a point in this group.
The loss of striker Radamel Falcao makes Colombia a bit more vulnerable of a favorite to win Group C (-105). Ivory Coast (+300) has the talent to make a push for the group and Japan (+400) has the technical game to do so. Greece (+700) will struggle to score goals, but so will its opponents if its historically stingy defense makes an appearance.
Italy (+160), Uruguay (+180) and England (+225) will battle it out in the most evenly matched group in the 2014 World Cup. Evenly matched other than Costa Rica (+5000), that is, which could play a severe spoiler role in this group with any kind of result in its three games while combating injuries to two potential starters.
France (-125) will miss veteran Franck Ribery on offense, but is still favored in this group. Switzerland (+250) is a strong defensive team and Ecuador (+400) is a strong offensive team, creating the potential for some intriguing chess matches. Honduras (+2800) will hope to force low-scoring draws in their David-vs.-Goliath bid to win the World Cup.
This group should serve as a showcase of Argentina's offensive power as the squad is a clear favorite (-500) over Bosnia-Herzegovina (+600), Nigeria (+1000), and Iran (+4000). The head-to-head matchup between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Nigeria figures to decide which team advances out of the group with Argentina.
Germany (-150) will be tested in the group stage by three quality squads in Portugal (+250), Ghana (+900) and the United States (+900). Germany and Portugal are the clear favorites to advance, but both Ghana and the USA will be tough outs, especially for a Portugal team that may have Cristiano Ronaldo at less than 100 percent health.
Belgium (-175) has the squad to make a deep run in the World Cup this year, but it will have some stiff competition in the group stage against a very well-rounded Russian team (+240). South Korea (+700) and Algeria (+2200) are no pushovers, but they look to be a step behind Belgium and Russia on the field.
GALLERY: Scenes in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup