Four years is a long time and things can change dramatically on the world soccer stage. But sorry, as I reflect on the last Cup, I can't get Spain's incredible dominance of the 2010 event in South Africa out of my head. With many of the same players returning to Brazil, including the dynamic midfielder Andres Iniesta, it surprises me that few people are picking Spain to win it all again. The fact that Spain not only won the Cup but the last two European Championships convinces me this squad is built for these types of events. Why should that change?

Maybe the 3-0 loss to Brazil in the Confederations Cup final has the experts believing the Spanish run of international rule is on the wane, but I'm not buying it. The Spaniards still control the ball better than any team on the planet -- it wasn't even close in 2010 -- and with a roster loaded with players almost exclusively from the very top teams in Europe, this is a deep, complete club that will once again frustrate opponents with its brilliant possession game under Vincent Del Bosque.


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People forget, but Spain scored just eight goals in seven matches to win the Cup in 2010, but only surrendered TWO (both in a meaningless 2-1 loss to Chile after the team was already secure for the knockout round. Nobody scored Spain at all from the round of 16 on. Why? Opponents simply couldn't get the ball to create realistic scoring chances. The Netherlands probably came the closest in the final, when Arjen Robben had a spectacular breakaway chance but wound up being denied by goaltender Iker Casillas (who's back in net). Iniesta, of course, wound up scoring the game-winner in extra time.

I'll be the first to admit I have no idea how European teams will adjust to playing in Brazil. For the very best teams, however, it shouldn't matter by the time they get to the knockout rounds. I only really see five teams capable of winning the Cup -- Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Italy and Spain. Only one of those I am confident can dictate with possession defense, and that's Spain. Moreover, I think Spain can score more goals this time with offensive talents like David Silva, Diego Costa, Fernando Torres, David Villa, Cesc Fabregas and Iniesta. That's another key strength. Unlike a team like Argentina, whose chance to win the Cup depends heavily on Lionel Messi having a great tournament, Spain's scoring can come from myriad angles and positions. The Spaniards don't depend on any one forward because they thrive on opportunism and opposing teams' defensive breakdowns.

Of the other contenders:

  • Brazil: Big-time Cup disappointments in 2006 and 2010, the Brazilians clearly have talent but face incredible pressure playing as the host team. I think they get to the semis but Germany's potent precision scoring will be able to match them.

  • Argentina: I gave it away already. Too much weight on the shoulders of Messi. But they'll give it a good long ride to the semis before running into the Spanish brick wall.

  • Italy: I find it hard to believe the gifted but emotionally edgy striker Mario Balotelli can make it all the way through the Cup without some sort of implosion. The Italians get knocked out by Spain in the quarters.

  • Germany: These guys are going to score goals like crazy early on. They simply have to too much offensive firepower not to. But I wonder about the defense after blowing a 4-0 lead to Sweden in qualifying. That's been awhile, but the Germans still seem leaky on defense. I think they'll simply be able to outscore people until they play Spain in the final, when we'll see a repeat of their 2010 Cup meeting.

    As for the United States, it's just unfortunate they got stuck in this group. I think they'd have had little problem getting to the round of 16 if they were in any other group but Group G, B or D. I believe the U.S. will beat Ghana in a tight match, but they'll get rolled by Germany. The key match is Portugal, but the way Nigeria pressured the U.S. defense in the second half of the last friendly didn't bode well. Save a penalty, the Americans kept the Nigerians out of the net, but I just don't see that against a Portuguese front anchored by the great Ronaldo.

    Anyway, here are my complete picks in advance of the Cup opener:

    GROUP STAGE SURVIVORS

    Group A

    No. 1: Brazil

    No. 2: Mexico

    Group B

    No. 1: Spain

    No. 2: Netherlands

    Group C

    No. 1: Colombia

    No. 2: Japan

    Group D

    No. 1: Uruguay

    No. 2: Italy

    Group E

    No. 1: Ecuador

    No. 2: France

    Group F

    No. 1: Argentina

    No. 2: Bosnia and Herzegovina

    Group G

    No. 1: Germany

    No. 2: Portugal

    Group H

    No. 1: Belgium

    No. 2: Russia

    ROUND OF 16

  • Brazil over Netherlands

  • Spain over Mexico

  • Italy over Colombia

  • Uruguay over Japan

  • Argentina over France

  • Ecuador over Bosnia and Herzegovina

  • Germany over Russia

  • Portugal over Belgium

    QUARTERFINALS

  • Brazil over Uruguay

  • Germany over Ecuador

  • Spain over Italy

  • Argentina over Portugal

    SEMIFINALS

  • Germany over Brazil

  • Spain over Argentina

    FINALS

  • Spain 2, Germany 1