2014: What lies through football's crystal ball?

    Story highlights

    • 2014 will see Brazil bid to win the World Cup for a record sixth time
    • The South American country plays host to football's four-yearly showpiece event
    • Bayern Munich bidding to become the first team to retain the European Champions League
    • Manchester City and Arsenal level on points at the top of the English Premier League
    There's nothing like a World Cup year to get football fans buzzing, but there is still plenty to play for between now and June, when Brazil hosts the sport's biggest spectacle.
    While CNN doesn't have a soothsaying octopus at hand -- rest in peace, Paul -- Jonathan Hawkins has taken a look into his crystal ball to predict the coming year's big winners.
    World Cup -- Brazil
    After a draw that served up more groups of death than a December turkey farm, the World Cup in Brazil looks mouth-watering.
    England may be football's birthplace, but this vast South American country can justifiably call itself the game's spiritual home.
    While political controversies and infrastructure headaches are still making headlines, talk of actual football is thankfully now also underway. On the pitch at least, everything points to a classic tournament.
    Climate and logistics will play their part in deciding this World Cup's winners.
    Brazil's steamy, equatorial north will present a demanding physical challenge to those unaccustomed to the conditions, while lengthy travel times between venues will challenge fans and players alike.
    Of the European contenders, cracks are evident in Spain's football fortress -- some of which were exposed in last summer's Confederations Cup.
    Nevertheless, the Iberians will believe they can retain their crown -- especially if they are successful in their bid to naturalize their very own Brazilian, Diego Costa.
    Germany, like Spain, face a brutally tough qualifying group; but this side may actually be a better prospect for glory than the current holders.
    The country's recent dominance of European club football has been carried on some immensely talented and relatively young shoulders, players who now have the experience to match their promise.
    Elsewhere in Europe, while Italy looked impressive at the Confederations Cup, the emergence of Belgium has captured the imaginations of fans and commentators alike.
    The likes of Vincent Kompany and Eden Hazard could light up the tournament; but the question is whether Marc Wilmots' young squad has the depth to cope with the rigors of a World Cup.
    No European team has ever taken the crown in South America.
    The prospect of an African winner has been talked about for decades, and this year the Ivory Coast's star-studded team has a decent chance of progressing from one of the weaker looking groups.
    Beyond that, however, they will need to reverse their habit of under-performing at major tournaments to have any hope of success.
    As in the Confederations Cup, Japan should represent Asia admirably, but are a long way from being contenders.
    As for the Americas, Argentina's attacking fulcrum needs no introduction, but while Lionel Messi will be tormenting opposition defenses, his team's propensity to leak goals is a concern.
    Elsewhere, Chile present an intriguing prospect with the likes of Claudio Bravo, Matias Fernandez and Alexis Sanchez, while Uruguay's Luis Suarez -- in the form of his life at Liverpool -- and Edinson Cavani will tax even the best defenders.
    A spirited Mexico will also be more than capable of pulling off the odd shock.
    The hosts, while not without their flaws, will be the favorites.
    Brazil hit their compellingly impressive stride at the Confederations Cup, while a season in Europe will only have helped the prodigious Neymar, whose fleet feet and razor-sharp shooting should see him thrive at home.
    If last year's rehearsal is anything to go by, the locals' enthusiasm for the game will also help power their side. The pressure will be immense, but this robust and skilful team should still be equal to it.
    Champions League -- Bayern Munich
    The UEFA Champions League has its detractors, with its drawn-out format, Europa League parachutes, and fat TV contracts drawing criticism from those hankering after a simpler age of football; but once the competition reaches its knockout phase it is hard to beat for both quality and excitement.
    This year the draw for the last 16 has thrown up some fascinating encounters, while the domestic form of the likes of Arsenal and Atletico Madrid brings an extra layer of intrigue into what has the makings of a classic year.
    Of the traditional giants, Real Madrid should dispatch Schalke 04 with relative ease, while Borussia Dortmund will fancy their chances of rejuvenating their disappointing season by beating Zenit.
    Manchester United too should progress against Olympiakos, but the Red Devils' stuttering domestic form has made that tie harder to call.
    Barcelona, meanwhile, saw their worst nightmares realized with a draw against Manchester City, who look to be finally finding their feet in Europe.
    Chelsea will have studied Juventus' failure to beat Galatasaray with interest. They will be hoping to withstand the Turkish side's assault in Istanbul, and banish the European jitters that plagued the Londoners in the group stage.
    Paris Saint-Germain should be favorites to beat Bayer Leverkusen, and will be hoping to surpass their 2013 achievements after their unlucky exit at the quarterfinal stage last term.