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At 26 years old, Argentina star Lionel Messi has already led Barcelona to two Champions League titles and been named the world’s top player four times. In 2012, he broke the calendar-year record by notching 91 goals in 69 games for club and country.

But the World Cup remains Messi’s white whale. In two tournaments, he has scored just one goal while failing to take Argentina past the quarterfinals. With Messi in his prime and the tournament on South American soil, is it time for the diminutive forward to cement his legacy? Joined in a three-man front line by the ever-dangerous Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain, Messi can’t have any complaints about his supporting cast.

Competing in its first World Cup, Bosnia and Herzegovina is an enticing dark-horse pick. Led by striker Edin Dzeko and midfielder Miralem Pjanic, Bosnia went 8-1-1 in qualifying while scoring 30 goals and conceding six.

Also in contention for a spot in the round of 16 is African champion Nigeria, which flows its attack through central midfielder John Obi Mikel and winger Victor Moses. Group underdog Iran will likely start Vancouver Whitecaps right back Steven Beitashour, who was a fringe player for the U.S. national team before deciding to play for his parents’ home country.

Group G: Germany, Portugal, United States, Ghana

In a group packed with storylines for the Americans, none is more tantalizing than United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann facing a Germany team he helped win the 1990 World Cup as a player, then led to third place in 2006 as its manager.

Running the show for Germany’s high-octane attack is Bayern Munich midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger. Among the myriad weapons at his disposal: overlapping right back Philipp Lahm, silky playmaker Mesut Ozil and 2010 World Cup leading scorer Thomas Muller. And that goes without mentioning veteran striker Miroslav Klose, who is two goals from becoming the World Cup’s all-time scoring king.

The U.S. team’s main opposition for second place is a Portugal squad featuring the inimitable Cristiano Ronaldo. After winning 2013 world player of the year honors, Ronaldo set the single-season Champions League scoring record while carrying Real Madrid to the title. He’s even more of a one-man show for his national team, though the likes of Raul Meireles and Nani do add some balance to the Portuguese offense.

The Americans will open the tournament Monday against Ghana — the athletically gifted team that has eliminated them from the past two World Cups. The U.S. will likely need to end that hex by defeating Kwadwo Asamoah and Co. if it harbors realistic hopes of advancing.

Group H: Belgium, Russia, South Korea, Algeria

The term “golden generation” has been thrown around a lot in reference to Belgium, which is participating in its first World Cup since 2002 but is a trendy pick for an extended stay. At this point, calling it a “dark horse” might be disingenuous.

Pulling from a nation of just 11 million people, Belgium’s roster includes a slew of renowned young players — from goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to winger Eden Hazard and striker Romelu Lukaku. Captaining the team is Manchester City center back Vincent Kompany, an intimidating physical force widely considered to be the English Premier League’s top defender.

Led by former England manager Fabio Capello, Russia caught some eyes by finishing ahead of Portugal to win a formidable qualifying group. Quick and clever midfielder Alan Dzagoev is the player to watch on this Russian team, which will be looking for a strong showing leading into its turn as the host nation four years from now.

Outside of midfielder Son Heung-min, South Korea largely lacks the pure technical quality it has boasted during its recent World Cup runs. That could open the door for Algeria, which offers one of the tournament’s more promising talents in 19-year-old Tottenham midfielder Nabil Bentaleb.