Factbox on World Cup qualifiers Argentina:
Argentina won the 16-match South American qualifying group, cementing first place during a brilliant 2012 when their first-choice side went unbeaten in nine matches, including friendlies and Messi scored 12 goals, including two hat-tricks.
This year they have suffered a solitary defeat to Uruguay, but key midfielderFernando Gago, who dictates the pace of their game and acts as a supply line for Messi, has missed most of their matches through injury.
The transition from defence to midfield is a weakness, along with dealing with high balls into the penalty area.
This is despite them having an imposing goalkeeper in Sergio 'Chiquito' (little one) Romero, who tends to dally on his line when balls are crossed into the box.
Sabella has kept faith with Romero, who has fallen out of favour at club sideMonaco.
In contrast, Sabella has chosen to call up uncapped or seldom-used defenders for friendlies, to give them a chance of staking claims for World Cup places as he works on the balance of a top-heavy team.
Sabella will be going to his first World Cup as head coach having been to France'98 as Daniel Passarella's assistant. He took charge after Argentina failed to get past the quarter-finals in the Copa America, which they hosted under coach Sergio Batista in 2011.
With Messi in his team, Sabella favours tactics that will bring the very best out of his captain while encouraging his forwards, capable of hurting rivals with quick, precise counter-attacks, to help in defence when the team lose possession.
His choice of Belo Horizonte as Argentina's World Cup base is no surprise. It is thecity of his greatest success as a coach, when captain Juan Sebastian Veron's Estudiantes won the Libertadores Cup there in 2009.
Key player: Lionel Messi
Others say he has already achieved enough at club level to live in their exalted company.
This could be a blessing in disguise, since top players going to a World Cup in the modern era of massive club commitments have often arrived at the finals exhausted at the end of a long season; so injury breaks could stand Messi in good stead.
He could, however, lose the momentum that has carried him to successive FIFA World Player of the Year titles, while breaking scoring records and winning club trophies in the process.
Messi has scored 37 goals in 83 appearances for Argentina. He is second only toGabriel Batistuta (56 in 78) as Argentina's highest scorer, having surpassed Hernan Crespo (35 in 64) and Diego Maradona (34 in 91) this year.
How they qualified: Winners in South American qualifying
Oct 7 Chile H W 4-1 Higuain 3, Messi
Oct 11 Venezuela A L 1-0
Nov 11 Bolivia H D 1-1 Lavezzi
Nov 15 Colombia A W 2-1 Messi, Aguero
June 2 Ecuador H W 4-0 Aguero, Higuain, Messi, Di Maria
Sept 7 Paraguay H W 3-1 Di Maria, Higuain, Messi
Sept 11 Peru A D 1-1 Higuain
Oct 12 Uruguay H W 3-0 Messi 2, Aguero
Oct 16 Chile A W 2-1 Messi, Higuain
March 22 Venezuela H W 3-0 Higuain 2, Messi(pen)
March 26 Bolivia A D 1-1 Banega
June 7 Colombia H D 0-0
June 11 Ecuador A D 1-1 Aguero (pen)
Sept 10 Paraguay A W 5-2 Messi (2 pens), Aguero, Maria, Maxi Rodriguez
Oct 11 Peru H W 3-1 Lavezzi 2, Palacio
Oct 15 Uruguay A L 3-2 Maxi Rodriguez 2
Previous World Cup appearances (15): 1930, 1934, 1958, 1962, 1966, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010
Best: Winners 1978, 1986
Runners-up: 1930, 1990
Odds: William Hill odds to win World Cup (Nov.2013): 5-1
Factbox on World Cup qualifiers Belgium:
Form and Prospects
Competing at their first World Cup since 2002, Belgium have options or at least one back-up in every position, including two of the Premier League's best young strikers in Christian Benteke and Romelu Lukaku, as well as goalkeepers Thibaut Courtois and Liverpool-based rival Simon Mignolet.
Belgium's rise through FIFA's world ranking has been meteoric, going from a lowly 53 in the world when they started World Cup qualifying to fifth when they booked their ticket to Brazil after an unbeaten campaign.
In part the current crop appears so good because the Belgian team has been so bad for the past decade.
Success has come as a group of players now in their early 20s has strengthened a core with plenty of international experience, but lacking the ability in the past to finish off weaker opponents.
For many in Belgium, a 4-2 defeat of closest rivals Netherlands in August 2012 was the trigger for a change of mentality and a surge of self-belief.
Kompany's susceptibility to injury could also harm their prospects.
A dogged midfielder, dubbed 'Kampfschwein' (fighting pig) by adoring fans of German side Schalke 04 with whom he won the UEFA Cup in 1997. Wilmots scored 28 times in 70 appearances for Belgium and appeared at three World Cups.
After retirement, the 44-year-old dabbled in politics and also began coaching, although his first role at lowly St Truiden lasted just eight months.
Questions were raised when Wilmots replaced Leekens in May 2012, but he has managed to infuse the team with spirit and belief, some tactical nous and formed an ability successfully to adjust his team according to the opponent.
Key player: Eden Hazard
Despite plenty of promise, Belgium have struggled to score in the face of organised defences, but in Chelsea's Hazard they have someone with the skill to dribble through a defensive wall or deliver the last vital pass.
Under former coach Leekens, Hazard struggled to replicate the form he displayed at then club side Lille that twice won him French league player of the season. He made headlines when, after being substituted in a home tie against Turkey in 2011, he was spotted eating a hamburger outside the stadium while the match was still in progress.
In Wilmots, Hazard has gained a mentor and someone who will put his arm around his star talent to confide and encourage him.
Hazard has rewarded the trust placed in him, notably in the home qualifier against a stubborn Macedonia, by creating a moment of magic to score the winner.
Wilmots is thought to be considering him for the playmaking number 10 role, more central than his position at Chelsea, but the jury is still out on his value there.
How they qualified: European Group A winners
Sept 7 Wales A W 2-0 Kompany, Vertonghen
Sept 11 Croatia H D 1-1 Gillet
Oct 12 Serbia A W 3-0 Benteke, De Bruyne, Mirallas
Oct 16 Scotland H W 2-0 Benteke, Kompany
Mar 22 Macedonia A W 2-0 De Bruyne, Hazard
Mar 26 Macedonia H W 1-0 Hazard
June 7 Serbia H W 2-1 De Bruyne, Fellaini
Sept 6 Scotland A W 2-0 Defour, Mirallas
Oct 11 Croatia A W 2-1 Lukaku (2)
Oct 15 Wales H D 1-1 De Bruyne
Previous World Cup appearances: 11 (1930, 1934, 1938, 1954, 1970, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002)
Best performance: Semi-finalists 1986
Odds: William Hill odds to win World Cup (Nov 2013): 16-1
Factbox on World Cup hosts Brazil:
Form and prospects
One year ago it would have been foolish to cite Brazil as one of the favourites for the World Cup, even though they are the only team to win the trophy five times and are playing it on home soil.
After being knocked out of the tournament at the quarter final stage in 2010, coachDunga stepped down to be replaced by Mano Menezes, but the former Corinthians boss never quite got his team playing the pressing, possession game he wished.
His team were knocked out the Copa America at the quarter-final stage byParaguay in 2011 and a year later his under-23 side once again failed to win the Olympic gold in meekly capitulating to Mexico in the Wembley final.
Menezes did a fine job in 'blooding' youngsters such as Neymar, Oscar and David Luiz, but there was always a sense they lacked an experienced leader. 'Felipao' introduced a few older heads and some steel, recalling Julio Cesar, Kaka, Robinhoand Fred, and in doing so gave those players barely out of their teens some experienced heads to turn to.
The team now not only has more experience, it also has an established spine. Julio Cesar is first choice in goal; David Luiz and Thiago Silva are unchallenged as the two main central defenders; Paulinho mans the engine room in central midfield; and Neymar and Fred operate up front.
They have responded to Felipao's promptings, surprising even their biggest fans with a series of fine displays at the Confederations Cup in June. If they were good in the early round, harassing their opponents from the off and scoring nine goals in three games, they really showed their mettle in the semi's, surviving an early scare against Uruguay, before comprehensively beating world champions Spain in an unforgettable final at the Maracana.
Felipao's Brazil has come on leaps and bounds over the past 12 months and is now a firm favourite to lift a sixth title next July.
When the Brazilian football federation dismissed coach Mano Menezes in November last year, there was only one man who was ever going to take his place and sure enough within days Luiz Felipe Scolari was unveiled as the man charged with taking Brazil to its sixth World Cup.
Scolari certainly knows the ropes, having led Brazil to its fifth title in 2002. The no-nonsense Scolari was hired not just for his winning record, but for also his reputation as a coach who can whip his charges into shape.
Demanding but fiercely loyal, his 2002 squad became known as the Scolari Family, with Felipao as the 'hard on the outside, soft on the inside' father figure.
In just six months he transformed Menezes' improving, but fragile team into a faster, stronger and more coherent unit.
Scolari is also someone who knows how to play to a gallery and he has worked hard to get Brazil's often fickle fans - and their even more fickle media - behind the team.
Barring a total collapse, his legend shouldn't be at risk in 2014. But he knows the bar is set high and is not shirking from the responsibility.
"Let me be clear," he said on taking over the manager's mantle. "It is our duty to win the World Cup at home."
Key Player: Neymar
Brazilian fans have known Neymar was something special since 2011, when he led Santos to its first Copa Libertadores since 1963, the year a young man called Pele wore the famous white shirt.
But the rest of the world wanted to see him turn it on against the best Europe has to offer. Neymar did that this year: first when he led Brazil to success in the Confederations Cup; and then with a series of impressively mature performances for new club Barcelona, who he joined for a reported 57 million Euros in May.
Neymar will still be only 22 when the World Cup kicks off, but few people doubt he has the maturity or experience, not to mention the wide array of tricks and skills, to lead his compatriots in front of a home crowd that will be as demanding as they are passionate.
How they qualified:
As hosts. Brazil were awarded the right to stage the finals by FIFA on Oct.30 2007 as the only nominated candidate from the South American confederation CONMEBOL.
World Cup record:
Brazil are the only country to have taken part in all of the previous 19 tournaments
Winners: 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002
Runners-up: 1950, 1998
William Hill Odds to win World Cup (Nov 2013): 10/3
Factbox on World Cup qualifiers Colombia:
Form and Prospects
After a shaky start, Pekerman took charge of the team which went on to win five of the next six matches to be on qualification course for Brazil.
The team display the traditional ball possession game of Colombian football, but with a renewed tactical approach.
Colombia are fourth in the FIFA rankings. They will try to go beyond the last 16, their best performance in a World Cup in 1990.
Coach: Jose Pekerman
The 64-year old Argentine took over in January 2012, succeeding Leonel Alvarez, when Colombia were in a precarious situation in the qualifiers after collecting only four points from their first three matches.
His arrival triggered a turnaround and Pekerman developed a strong and confident team that showed a new game built around their attacking strengths.
He did not make wholesale changes and got the best out of his players.
A landmark change was the faith he put in Falcao, who was not a regular in the starting line-up under Alvarez and was criticised for not being as successful as he was with Atletico Madrid, his club at the time.
Key player: Radamel Falcao
The 27-year-old scored nine goals in 13 games in the South American qualifiers.
Falcao initially endured an unlucky spell, with few minutes on the pitch and one goal in five matches at the start of the campaign, but with Pekerman's arrival he transformed into a fundamental part of the team.
A very dangerous forward with great skills and a powerful header, he has scored 20 goals for Colombia in 50 matches, five goals short of the record set by Arnoldo Iguaran.
How they qualified: South American zone runners-up 2011
Nov 11 Venezuela H D 1-1 Fredy Guarin
Nov 15 Argentina H L 2-1 Dorlan Pabon
June 10 Ecuador A L 1-0
March 26 Venezuela A L 1-0
June 7 Argentina A D 0-0
Sept 10 Uruguay A L 2-0
World Cup record:
Previous appearances: 4 (1962, 1990, 1994, 1998)
Best performance: Last 16 (1990)
Odds: William Hill odds to win World Cup (Nov 2013): 16-1