Project Management: Is It The Field For You?

Project management plays a very important role in maintaining the efficiency of an organization’s operations. Unlike business managers who are in charge of overseeing specific functional areas, project managers are responsible for every aspect of the company’s time-limited projects. Project management involves coordination between all departments for the pooling of resources along with supervision of the entire process. This includes maintaining quality control and evaluating the performance of a process against a certain benchmark or standard.

In response to the changing trends related to project mgmt, several online universities have now begun to offer online degree programs that cater to the requirements of the field. These programs prepare students by equipping them with the right skills to do well as project mrgs.

Before stepping into the field of management, however, it is important to be aware of its requirements and what will be expected of you as project mrg. Below are some of the factors that need to be taken into consideration:

What You’ll Be Doing
As project manager, you will be responsible for planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating of a particular project. You will also be responsible for managing a team and making sure that they are supplied with all relevant materials and information needed to execute the project. Defining the scope of the project, determining the project’s budget and creating and updating the project schedule, as it evolves, are just some of the other tasks that define a project mgr’s job description.

To perform these tasks effectively, many people are turning towards online degree programs that include relevant theoretical and practical training. Through an online university program, professionals wishing to penetrate the management field are able to benefit from quality learning practices while balancing a hectic work schedule.

Requirements
To become a Project Mgr., certain educational requirements need to be met. For example, people who wish to work on high-tech projects will need to complete a Degree Program in either electrical engineering or computer science. Apart from these qualifications, they will also need to be equipped with strong leadership skills, strong analytical thinking and strong communication skills.

An online university program, such as at the ones offered by MUST University, provides students with all of the above-mentioned skills and learning in order to help them carve a niche for themselves in the field.

Prospects
The field of managing the project is currently booming; the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts excellent job opportunities for project managers in the construction sector all through 2014. The complex nature of construction projects on offer could, however, drive demand slightly average. The outlook is equally strong for people wishing to move into the bio-tech and high-tech areas of business.

Looking Ahead: SMB IT Trends for 2014

For hundreds of years, mankind has dreamed about the future; we’ve written books, we’ve made movies, and we’ve even engaged with those among us who have the ability to predict the future. There have been several notorious seers over the years but none more famous than the legendary Jeanne Dixon who was counsel to the stars and even a certain First Lady over 40 years ago. Reportedly, she was on the mark with predicting the assassinations of both John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert, Martin Luther King and Gandhi. She also foresaw the launch of the first satellite Sputnik and the historic defeat of Dewey by Harry Truman. Another well-known seer was science fiction author Isaac Asimov who wrote about solar power, the rise of automated work tasks, and visual phone calls; all things we find commonplace now. Clairvoyance, as illustrated in the two examples above, is extremely rare, and while I am not a gifted seer, I certainly do have insight into SMB technology trends for 2014.

Before delving into my predictions for 2014, it’s wise to review the highlights from this past year. 2013 proved to be a year of social media, mobile technology adoption, cloud computing, virtualization, and collaboration solutions. These technologies trends were pretty much on par for what I was predicating back at the end of 2012, though the sheer volume of cloud adoption amongst the SMB community may have been a bit of a surprise.

While we will see a lot of the same technology trends in 2014 as we did in 2013, this coming year foresees increased technology expansion and adoption rates. The continued growth of cloud solutions will continue unabated, with more workloads moving off-site. At the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference this past July, CEO Steve Ballmer reiterated the company’s message as they are transitioning into a devices and services company. Nowhere will this be more evident than in the expansion of Windows Azure for the SMB marketplace. Azure was first introduced in 2009 as a suite of products in the cloud that allowed users to create enterprise-class applications without having to build out their own infrastructure.

To this point, the majority of workloads and solutions leveraging the Azure fabric were products of the enterprise community. However, Microsoft envisioned the power of Azure in the SMB space and is crafting offerings to make that happen. Some of those applications will be around something called big data, which I will explore further later.

Other cloud applications that will continue to rise include off-site backups, business continuity, disaster recovery, and managed security. While backups have been on the rise for a few years now, there are still fewer than one in ten small to mid-sized businesses that utilize a remote backup or backup-as-a-service solution. VSR Magazine states that according to the “2013 State of Cloud Backup” study commissioned by Intronis, “A large percentage of SMBs do not purchase backup and disaster recovery (BDR) solutions from their IT service providers until after they have experienced a data disaster.” (VSR Magazine, 2013) The chances of a small to mid-sized business recovering from a catastrophic data loss is not good, and in fact, within two years after the loss more than 50% will have gone out of business if they didn’t close their doors immediately after. So the continued push to grow cloud-based backup and disaster recovery solutions will be steady along with related solutions like cold standby domain controllers and off-site virtualized cold servers.

When it comes to actual data generated by SMBs, the need for storage required to archive it has exploded. According to the SMB Group, “(of the) 2.5 quintillion bytes of data (already created), 90% of it has been generated in the last two years alone.” (SMB Group, 2013) All of this data is not only held onsite, but in large repositories in the cloud. This point dovetails nicely into my next point of big data and predictive analytics which has historically been limited to large enterprises. However, in 2014 there is expectation that the need to drill into this mountain of information will filter down into the SMB space. The SMB Group goes on to explain that finding usable data among the mounds of information that encompass big data is like finding a needle in a haystack. Consider all of the disparate types of data being moved into cyberspace: photos on Instagram, videos on YouTube, tweets on Twitter, e-receipts from POS applications, and much more.

SMBs have shied away from the thought of big data analysis because of the sheer volume of information, but there will be tools and specialized partners who will be more visible and available to help navigate that massive sea of information. According to a blog post by Brock Clauser, “By analyzing an enormous amount of data in real time, organization will become quicker to make decisions on competition, internal efficiencies and customer insight.” (Clauser, 2013) You may have noticed on some social media sites that the advertisements along the sides are often something you may have looked for in the past. These ads are no accident rather the work of predictive analytics of big data you have unknowingly provided via the public Internet. The SMB community, likely retail outfits initially, will be leverage big data and predicative analytics to better understand what their customers want and expect from them. Using that same thinking it’s easy to see how business of all types will benefit from usable information delivered via big data predicative analytics.

Mobility should continue to be a hot topic as well especially around BYOD (bring your own device). There are still some major potential pitfalls to the growing trend of letting workers use their personal devices for work. The rate of intrusion into the company network through these devices has been rising, and the data loss from lost or stolen devices continues to be an issue. There will be an ongoing push to secure any device with access to the network via data protection and if necessary data destruction. According to IT Business Edge, “Through 2014, employee-owned devices will be compromised by malware at more than double the rate of corporate-owned devices.” (IT Business Edge, 2013) The addition of a management tool, whether onsite or in the cloud, is necessary and will make the difference between a crippling breach and smooth sailing.

Another technology trend I will be following closely through 2014 is the demise of the PC. Personally, I don’t believe that desktops and laptops will disappear from the business or personal landscape like the dinosaurs who once roamed the earth. That being said, the way we use, share and access information is ever evolving. 2013 was the year of the cloud, and public clouds, private clouds and hybrid clouds were everywhere. Well, for 2014 we’re now talking about personal clouds which is basically the ability to have information and applications in one central repository and accessible from a variety of devices including desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. While the idea of the personal cloud is not yet widespread, there is a segment of the SMB community that wants to remain lean and agile and the personal cloud concept will likely help them do that.

One final topic I’d like to touch on is the increased focus on security and forensics. I attended a Cyber-Security forum in mid-November sponsored by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. The keynote speaker, IBM Chief Privacy Officer Christina Peters told the audience, “Security and privacy go hand in hand. You can’t be secure without considering privacy.” More and more incursions are happening to small entities as well as large ones. In fact, there are many attackers with bad intent that are specifically targeting the SMB in order to gain access to their much-larger vendors and suppliers. So the focus on being safe and secure is going to continue to increase. With the news of insider misdeeds, having the ability to detect and contain threats from the human side will continue to rise. Specific firms are more suited to this work, such as Evestigations of Malvern, PA, stocked with certified security specialists and forensic analysts. They may not be someone the typical SMB would have on speed dial, but would be invaluable once something goes awry!

Mine is only one opinion as to what will be on the SMB radar in 2014. Heaven knows there will be other things that appear, with the constant acceleration of technology innovation. Will it be so “sci-fi” as to give us teleportation devices or flying cars? Maybe not in the short term, but I will never rule anything out. Maybe some of those Hollywood blockbusters might not look so far-fetched after all!

Works Cited

IT Business Edge. (2013). Top Predicitions for IT Organization and Users for 2013 and Beyond. Retrieved from itbusinessedge.com/slideshows/top-predictions-for-it-organizations-and-users-for-2013-and-beyond.html

SMB Group. (2013, April 30). Is big data relevant for SMBs? Retrieved from smb-gr.com/blogs-laurie-mccabe/is-big-data-relevant-for-smbs-2/

VSR Magazine. (2013, November 26). STUDY: SMBs are Putting Themselves at Risk for Crippling Data Losses. Retrieved from vsr.edgl.com/reseller-stories/STUDY–SMBs-are-Putting-Themselves-at-Risk-for-Crippling-Data-Losses89576

Bull Market: What Does It Mean for Nonprofits?

If you’re like me, you found yourself on January 1 surfing the Internet without much on the agenda. News of the stock market’s incredible 2013 was being heralded seemingly everywhere I looked.

But not all was joyous to start 2014, for with the good news came the inevitable questions about the sustainability of such good fortune. Could the good times last? Which just goes to show, if you look hard enough, there is always someone willing to take the wind out of your sails.

So what does the stock market’s performance in 2013 have to do with nonprofit organizations? If you’re asking that question, you aren’t likely a development professional. Fundraising and the performance of the stock market are directly linked in many ways. Let’s take a look at the three areas of potential support – individual giving, foundation grant making and corporate support.

Individual Giving

WritingCheckOne of the first bits of advice I would give new interns during my time with NYC’s Manhattan Theatre Club was to read the Wall Street Journal every day (or at least the cover) to have some idea of how the market was performing. To learn this lesson, try calling a would-be donor, particularly one in the financial industry, on a day when the Dow has dropped precipitously and asking that person to not only renew, but INCREASE support. Once you’ve gotten an earful, you are likely to avoid making that mistake again.

The stock market’s effect on individual giving is largely psychological. Unless you are sitting down to talk to a donor prospect about a multi-year gift, the exact performance of the market on the day or week you are making your ask is likely inconsequential. What does matter is the state of mind of the prospective donor. Is the individual in a good mood? Does that person feel confident in the future performance of his/her portfolio? In my experience, a person is likely to feel generous during a time when that individual’s financial portfolio is on the rise.

Impact on Individual Giving in 2014: My hope is that many organizations in the Carolinas benefited this past holiday season from end-of-year appeals. With such sizable investment returns, some individuals were likely looking to offset the tax impact through charitable write-offs. But even if your organization only saw modest gains from those appeals, Q1 of 2014 represents an opportunity to continue building on those good feelings… before the other shoe drops on that potential market correction.

Foundation Grant Making

Perhaps no other charitable vehicle is as affected by the stock market as foundations, which typically consist of a mixture of financial assets heavily reliant on the stock market. Best practices call for foundations to allocate 5% of their assets annually based on a three-year rolling average of total assets at year end. That way, foundations can mitigate years with big losses against years with substantial gains.

Using the Dow as an example, 2013 represented the fifth year in a row of positive annual gains after that monster of a loss in 2008. If a foundation were to be invested entirely in assets represented by the Dow (however unlikely), that 33.84% loss in 2008 really hurt the three-year average in 2009, 2010 and 2011. In fact, 2012 was the first year foundations were finally free and clear of 2008 in allocation calculations, and with two big years of double-digit returns in 2010 and 2011, it was a very good year for foundation giving in 2012. However, modest returns in 2011 (Dow finished at 5.5%+) and 2012 (7.26%+) would mean 2013 would need to be a big year to see that giving sustained. And luckily, it was.

Impact on Foundation Giving in 2014: It is going to be an even better year for foundation grant making in 2014. Even with the relatively modest returns in 2011 and 2012, the double-digit returns more than offset previous years in the three-year rolling average. 2014 promises to be the best year for foundation grant making since 2000.

Corporate Support/Sponsorship

When working with nonprofits, I am often surprised by the lack of connection some staff members make between corporate support and the performance of those companies. As if a corporation exists principally to fund nonprofit programming, and whether or not the company is making money is less important than the artfully communicated case for support.

Corporate support is dependent on a number of factors, and one can reasonably assume that if that company is publicly traded on the stock market, it likely had a pretty great 2013. Stock performance is linked to profits, and companies that saw 20%+ growth in 2013 probably posted some pretty significant profits at various points throughout last year.

When companies profit, nonprofits benefit in two ways. Corporations with foundations are more likely to pump increased dollars in, and unlike private/family foundations, they typically don’t use a three-year average and give it all away on a yearly basis. Those companies are also good targets for sponsorship requests. Under-funded marketing efforts in previous years are likely given new budget after a year like 2013, and nonprofits may hold the key to reaching target audiences.

Impact on Corporate Giving in 2014: Without a doubt, 2014 is a great year to submit requests to corporate foundations and submit thoughtful sponsorship proposals. Most companies have some sort of funding focus in both areas, and the 2013 market performance isn’t likely to change that. However, with the future still unknown, striking while the iron is hot is essential.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray: It’s Here and It’s the Best ‘Vette So Far

After all of the rumors, blurry leaked magazine covers and artist renderings, the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette C7 is finally here. OK, so is the Corvette Stingray (as it is officially called) worth all the hullabaloo surrounding it? Short answer, yes. Long answer, absolutely, positively, without a doubt, yes. But, as LeVar Burton was fond of saying in Reading Rainbow, you don’t have to take my word for it. The design and specs can speak for themselves.

Let start with the most important bit, the powerplant. The 2014 Corvette Stingray is still powered by a 6.2 liter LT1 V8 engine, but now it is churning out an estimated 450 horse and 450 lb-ft of torque. 450 & 450 for the base Corvette. Yeehaw! At 2,000 rpm when other cars, such as the Ferrari 458 Italia and the Porsche 911, are putting out about 200 lb-ft, the Corvette’s LT1 is cranking at 400, an increase of about 50 lb-ft over the C6. That’s quite a bit of grunt. While there’s no word on the base C7 Corvette’s weight, we do know that it will sprint from 0 to 60 mph in under four seconds. The prevailing wisdom puts that number closer to 3.7 or 3.8 seconds. Yeehaw, again! And, you can have flawless 0-60 runs all day long because the 2014 Corvette has launch control. Yeehaw, a third time!

And, it sounds good too. The exhaust diameter has grown from 2.5 inches to 2.75 inches over the last generation and is far less restrictive to the tune of a 13 percent improvement on the standard exhaust and 27 percent on the active exhaust system. A pair of butterfly valves refine the exhaust note further when cruising in V-4 mode through the cylinder deactivation. By the way, I’m not entirely sure that true cylinder deactivation has ever really played well with a manual transmission. I look forward to seeing it work here.

Did I mention it should get nearly 30 mpg? Not too bad for a car that will give the Millenium Falcon a run for its money. The fuel efficiency comes due to the integration of a few new-to-Corvette technologies. For the first time, Active Fuel Management, cylinder deactivation, continuously variable valve timing, an advanced combustion system that will deliver more power with less fuel, direct injection, less overall weight and better aerodynamics all contribute to give the Stingray the Corvette’s best ever fuel economy.

All the power, torque and crazy fuel saving technologies mean little if you can’t get the generated power to the wheels. That’s where the new –>TREMEC TR6070 seven-speed gearbox with Active Rev Matching comes into play. There have been a few cars where the engine’s CPU will automatically match the revs on a downshift. It was a big deal with the current iteration of the Camaro a few years back, if you recall. The C7 will actually rev match on both upshifts and downshifts, a first. The Corvette’s brain will actually “sense” which gear the driver is shifting into and match the revs accordingly on the fly. No more throttle blipping. If stick shift isn’t your thing, a Hydra-Matic 6L80 six-speed automatic with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters is also available.

Now that the power is to the wheels, it has to get to the ground and get there in such a way that you stay on the road. In a move that is a bit at odds with the rest of the auto industry, the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette’s wheels and tires are smaller than those on the current base ‘Vette. At 18 inches in the front and 19 inches in the rear, the wheel diameters are unchanged. However, at 8.5 inches in width up front and 10 inches out back, the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires are an inch and two inches narrower, respectively. The helps the car in two main ways, better road feel and better aerodynamics. Overall grip should stay the same due to a stickier rubber on the Pilot Super Sports.

On the road, Chevrolet has added the creatively named Drive Mode Selector that tailors 12 vehicle attributes (active fuel management, automatic shift points, throttle, steering effort, Magnetic Ride Control suspension compliance, exhaust note and stability/traction control intervention points, etc, etc). to the driver’s driving needs and wants at any particular moment. The Drive Mode Selector has five modes, Weather, Eco, Tour, Sport and Track. Each has differing and customizable degrees of vehicular freedom and electronic nannying. The Drive Mode Selector is operated through a twitsty knob very conveniently located just aft of the gear shift lever.

In keeping with the 2014 Stingray’s trend of trying to anticipate a driver’s needs, the Drive Mode Selector also changes the information the driver gets on their gauge cluster. In Tour, Eco and Weather modes, the display shows info for trip data, audio and navigation. Sport mode shows traditional sports car gauges. Track mode is trying to be straight up racecar with a lap timer and everything.

The 2014 Corvette Stingray is quite the handler, too. It will hit 1g on the skidpad. That is thanks to some serious thought put into the cars overall design as it relates to handling. The new Corvette’s wheelbase is about an inch longer than the C6 with its front a rear tracks stretching about an inch each. Not only does this offer a more stable feel on the road, but the turning radius has shrunk about two feet. The new Corvette is a model of maneuverability.

As standard, the C7 comes equipped with 35mm-piston Bilstein monotube shocks that connect to dual-path aluminum shock mounts. Opt for the Z51 Performance Package and you get 45mm-piston Bilstein dampers. For those who go all in, the Z51 is available with the third-generation Magnetic Ride Control that is 40 percent faster reacting than in previous generations, enabling improved ride comfort and body control.

The new electric power steering system allows for variable effort, feel and ratios depending on driving situation. Also, due to a steering column increase in stiffness of 150 percent and a shaft torsional increase in stiffness of 600 percent, the new steering system is five times stiffer overall, and hopefully more precise, than in the C6.

Going faster means you need to be able to stop. The 2014 Chevrolet Corvette comes standard with Four-piston fixed caliper Brembo brakes derived from racing. Up front, 13.3 inch rotors and 12.6 inch in the back. Stopping distance has been improved by nine percent from the C6 to the C7. With the Z51 Performance Package and you get dual-cast, slotted 13.6-inch front rotors and 13.3-inch slotted rear rotors.

It can pretty much go without saying that the past few generations of Corvettes have had somewhat lackluster interiors. As a matter of fact, they were downright cheesy. Thankfully not anymore. The designers were given a blank slate to change all that. The new interior is a very driver oriented spaces full of Napa leather with fine stitching, carbon fiber, micro-suede, real aluminum trim (not that painted plastic crap) and is fully-wrapped in soft surfaces. So much better. As a matter of fact, according the GM, the new interior tested better in focus groups than that of the Audi R8 and Porsche 911.

The seats are better too. Two options of seats are available, both on ultra-light magnesium frames. The GT seat is designed for all-around comfort and the Competition Sport seat has serious bolsters to finally offer support on the track commensurate the Corvette’s performance. So far, the 2014 Corvette’s interior can come in black, gray, red and Kalahari brown.

Outside, yes, it still looks like a Corvette, but it finally looks like the Corvette we’ve been dreaming of. The headlights, are far more detailed and visually dynamic than those of the past. They are almost Ferrari-like with the LEDs running up the sides. The dual-element taillights are sure to be a point of controversy for quite a while. The squared-off, tightly spaced lamps are a departure from the tradional lamps of old but a departure in a good direction. The sculpted lenses stand up well to the angular and sculptural shape of the new body.

Under its beautiful beautiful skin, the Corvette is completely new. Lightweight materials and components like the carbon fiber hood and removable roof panel, composite fenders, doors and quarter panels, carbon-nano composite underbody panels and an aluminum frame (that is 57 percent stiffer and 99 lbs lighter than that of the C6) give the ‘Vette and ideal 50/50 weight distribution.

Hopefully the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette be as good in the real world as it is on paper. We’ll just have to wait and see. The Stingray is scheduled to hit dealerships sometime around September.

Brazil WC 2014 Teams

Brazil is one of the clear favorites to win the final match – many would say the top favorite. Home field advantage is not the only power factor working for the Cariocas, as they are in a fantastic playing shape at the moment, having crushed everything in their way lately, with the only notable exceptions being a couple of friendlies. Tradition, too, designates Brazil as the favorite: they have won the most Cups – 5 and their playing style has always been spectacular and consistently strong, a feat which no rival can boast.

The Verde-Amarela roster will be quite invincible, with Neymar and Hulk delivering deadly blows to the opponents, joined by the attacking midfielders Oscar and Willian. The midfield will be further strengthened by Ramires, Paulinho and Lucas Leiva, while the defense will become an impenetrable fortress thanks to Thiago Silva, Dante and David Luis. As to goalkeeping, the Brazilian fans hope to see Julio Cesar recover by the next summer, but if that won’t happen, Victor will get his chance to shine.

Spain is poised to unleash the Red Fury this time around as well, currently fortified by the Golden Generation which won the Cup in 2010. Besides that, they are the 2008 and 2012 European champions, a team more than likely to give the Brazilians goose bumps should a direct confrontation occur. Negredo and David Villa will be merciless against any goalkeeper, Xabi Alonso and Iniesta will assist them in midfield and Sergio Ramos will solidify the defense together with Pique. Finally, Spain’s net will be very hard to hit, defended by the legendary Iker Casillas.

Germany’s national football team goes to Brazil with one thing in mind: emulating Bayern’s latest performance of being undefeated and coming out on top in any possible match. It won’t be too hard, since many of their players hail from the Bavarian club. Mario Gotze, Tony Kroos and Thomas Muller will be intimidating their opponents at the World Cup just like they do in the Bundesliga and Champions League, while their Dortmund rivals Sven Bender, Marco Reus and Marcel Shmeltzer will join forces with them in order to power the German winning machine on yet another quest for the world title.

Italy is a serious favorite as well, its star-studded roster featuring valuable Serie A players and a few ones playing in other top-profile leagues. Mario Balotelli stands ready to wreak havoc in the opponents’ defense, while veteran midfielder Andrea Pirlo will be helped by Motta and Diamanti. Everyone knows how tough the Italian defenders are – Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Christian Maggio will all but confirm it. Gianluigi Buffon is expected to play, but in case his shape won’t be as good as it once was, Lazio’s Federico Marchetti will be defending the Azzuri’s goal.

Portugal, despite lacking the general strength which characterizes the above-mentioned teams and having qualified only after a win in the playoffs, has Cristiano Ronaldo on its roster, a player of incontestable value and charisma, bound to lead his nation at least toward a third place finish.

Argentina comes back with high hopes, looking forward to Lionel Messi recovering by February and being able to play in full swing by June. The mega-star will be aided by such talents as Sergio Romero, Pablo Zabaleta, Javier Mascherano and Sergio Aguero, among others, forming a veritable powerhouse able to break their contenders’ fans’ hearts anytime.

Let’s take a look at the other CONMEBOL qualified teams:

Colombia finished two points behind Argentina, the leader, in the qualification group and seems to have regained its once serious contender status. Chile ended up in third, four points behind Argentina, and this time around they hope it won’t be Brazil they’ll have to contend with should they advance to the Round of 16. Indeed, the hosting nation was the Chileans nemesis in both 2010 and 1998 – the last two tournaments where Chile was present.

Ecuador and Uruguay both amassed 25 points, but the latter had to go through the playoffs due to Ecuador’s better goal difference. That they did, humiliating Jordan with a 5-0 score while away and cruise-controlling in Montevideo at 0-0. At any rate, both Ecuador and Uruguay are expected to make it to the Round of 16, but it all depends on who they’ll get to meet in the group stage.

UEFA nations are always highly esteemed due to the difficulty of qualifying out of that region. Here are the other European teams that made it to WC 2014:

France will be guided by 1998 champion Didier Deschamps from the sidelines, a coach who managed to turn the tables in the second leg of the playoffs and send Ukraine’s rest-assured attitude up in smoke. This is in fact the most unpredictable team and one that can make bookmakers sigh anytime – no one knows – will they be magnificent as in 1998 and 2006 or mediocre as in 2002 and 2010. All that can be ascertained is that they have some very valuable players, but it’s up to them to create the much-needed chemistry and make France great again.

The Netherlands are looking forward to shaking off the huge Euro 2012 disappointment, where they lost all three matches in the group of death that also featured Germany, Portugal and Denmark. Still, the Clockwork Orange was very close to winning the 2010 Cup, losing to Spain by 0-1 in extra time. Just like France, this team can produce the greatest surprise, be it positive or negative.

Switzerland is currently in the Top 10 according to FIFA, a roster manned by young talents and coached by the great Otmar Hitzfeld. Anyone can expect them to repeat the 2006 performance, when they reached the Round of 16 and placed tenth overall.

England’s team is full of valuable players, as it was always the case, but the ever-persisting problem is getting them to work well together and carry the Three Lions past the quarter finals, a stage which seems like an impregnable wall, with the only notable exception being the 1966 World Cup, the only championship won by the English.

Belgium is back after a two-tournament hiatus and can indeed put up a performance comparable to that of 1986, when they ended up in fourth place. How about being currently ranked fifth by FIFA and being in an incredible playing shape? The Belgians might upset any big team’s plans by sending them home early.

Russia is yet another squad on the rise, directed by the one and only Fabio Capello and featuring many players from the Russian League – an increasingly strong championship as a result of the huge late investments put into it. Plus, they will try to provide their fans with a reason to celebrate, something that hasn’t occurred in a long time as far as World Cups or European Championships are concerned.

Greece made it to the final tournament by winning the first playoff game against Romania and tying the second one; however, it is a highly-ranked nation by FIFA, eleventh. Despite an overall disappointing World Cup record, they are the 2004 European champions and the 2012 quarter finalists in the same tough (many argue that it is tougher than the World Cup) competition.

Bosnia and Herzegovina will make its first appearance at a final tournament and will do its best to advance to the Round of 16. Croatia, another former Yugoslav nation, has a much richer history – in 1998 they placed third; at the European level, The Blazers were quarter finalists twice.

Now that we have all European and South American teams covered, let’s take a look at the rest of the world. The first thing that comes to mind is the CONCACAF, a region which has experienced significant developments in the last couple of decades. That is especially true when one refers to the USA, a team credited with very low chances even in ’94, when America hosted the World Cup. Nowadays it’s a completely different picture – they are in fact expected to make it to the quarter finals. Aided by Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, two seasoned players who have plenty of WC experience and led by Jurgen Klinsmann, it would come as no surprise if they do in fact advance that far – The Yanks might even be semi finalists in 2014.

Mexico is another CONCACAF powerhouse, despite having to go through the playoffs this time around, which they did by trashing New Zealand: 5-1 at home and 4-2 away. El Tricolor was present in the Round of 16 at every tournament since 1994 – the question is whether the standard will be carried past that stage in Brazil.

Honduras only played at two other World Cups, in 1982 and 2010 and never won a match, a trend it hopes to reverse the next summer. Costa Rica had three previous appearances, the most notable being the one in 1990, when Los Ticos went to the Round of 16.

The African national teams are also a force to be reckoned with, having overturned the odds against powerful squads on numerous occasions. CAF will be represented by five countries at the upcoming WC.

Nigeria was impressive in the ’90s and is looking forward to being that way again, after a decade of lackluster performance at the Cup. The Ivory Coast is the highest ranked among the five and played decently in both 2006 and 2010. Ghana, however, was a quarter-finalist in 2010 after eliminating Team USA in the Round of 16 – will they make it that far in 2014 as well?

Cameroon, just like Nigeria, hopes to recreate its onetime greatness, however tough a task it may be when confronted with top European and South American squads. Algeria, on the other hand, would like to attain such a level for the first time, having never gotten past the group stage.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) will be sending four representatives to Brazil, each standing a real chance at generating surprise results, at least in the groups:

Australia is making its third World Cup appearance in a row and if things work the same way they did in 2006, the Socceroos will be once again contending to play in the quarter finals. South Korea, aka the Taegeuk Warriors, have been present in every tournament since 1986 and in 2002 they placed fourth, utilizing the home field advantage at the max. Japan, a co-hosting nation, only got a taste of the Round of 16 back then, a stage that was also reached in 2010, denoting a good playing shape. Iran participated in 1978, 1998 and 2006, eliminated in the group stage all three times.