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One Random Man's Extremely Late World Cup Cheat Sheet, Guaranteed To Increase Knowledge and Cure Cancer*!

*Not yet proven in lab studies.

Presented without comment, the most writing I've done in a long time. Also, hi. New here.

Group A

Brazil

Who are they?

They're Brazil. They're the guys who brought you the likes of Pele, Socrates, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, etc. They also happen to be the hosts of the 2014 World Cup. Even if you don't know much of anything about Brazil, you know they really like soccer. And Carnival.

Who should I watch?

Neymar, the guy from Barcelona who looks like a tall kid and will most likely have a weird haircut. Neymar is a winger with a lot of skill with the ball, and he loves showing off. The group Brazil is in should allow for plenty of that. On the downside, he also loves falling on the ground and rolling on it for a good two or three minutes. He's gained a reputation for flopping and he does it so often that it can at times hinder his team and his game more than it helps. Either way, it'll make him interesting to watch.

Who's the X-Factor?

Bernard, who currently plays for Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk. He's a short, quick dynamo who always seems to head straight for goal, and oftentimes creates good chances for himself or his teammates. Like Neymar, he also has tricks up his sleeve, but he uses his less for humiliating opponents than for getting closer to a goal scoring opportunity. If he sees time off the bench, he can provide a massive spark on a team that is already stacked with playmakers.

Who are they missing?

They're probably one of maybe three teams that from top to bottom don't seem to have any problem areas. You can make arguments for Atletico Madrid's defenders Felipe Luis and Miranda for being or for why Fluminese forward Fred shouldn't be on, but if anything goes wrong for Brazil, it will more likely come down to tactics and team chemistry.

What is their best-case scenario?

They're Brazil. They're five time champs. They're playing in Brazil. It's not rocket science.

What is their worst-case scenario?

In the 1950 World Cup, also hosted in Brazil, the Brazilians were one game away from winning their first ever World Cup. All they had to do was get a result against Uruguay after handily beating Spain and Sweden 6-1 and 7-1 respectively, and they'd be heroes. Brazil would win their first World Cup in 1958 in Sweden. DON'T LET HISTORY REPEAT should be emblazoned on the Maracana stadium, where the final will be held (Also where the 1950 final was held). Their chances of winning the Cup are great, but don't be surprised if Brazilians start heading for the hills if they somehow meet up with Uruguay again.

Cameroon

Who are they?

A collection of some of the top African players of a few years past, Cameroon certainly has some experience on their side. The question is if they have enough talent and tactics to help them finish over Croatia and Mexico for second in group A.

Who should I watch?

Samuel Eto'o. The man formerly of Inter Milan, Barcelona, and Chelsea has been the icon of his national team for a while now. He's older now, and has lost a step or two, but he's got desperation and a chip on his shoulder that could help him stave off time for a while. He's currently looking for a new team, and is hoping to prove critics (including former manager and near universally reviled genius Jose Mourinho) wrong about his age and fading scoring ability.

Who's the X-Factor?

Cameroon's defense. Henri Bedimo (Lyon), Aurelien Chedjou (Galatasaray), Nicolas Nkoulou (Marseille), and Benoit Assou-Ekotto (Tottenham Hotspur), are all competent defenders, but they need to be consistent in order to stay around. If they can hold off Croatia's and Mexico's attacking talent, they'll be in a good place. If they can hold off Brazil's, they could become a team that can cause some real trouble.

Who are they missing?

Attacking strength in the midfield. Nearly every player in the Cameroon midfield is a defensive minded type, or -in the case of Schalke's Joel Matip and QPR's Stephane M'bia- defenders who sometimes are midfielders for their clubs. The team is heavily dependent on wing play, which can turn into just simply lobbing crosses into the box, and does not always lead to the best chances.

What is their best-case scenario?

The defense holds strong, Eto'o and the rest of the strike force get the goals they need, and they live to fight on in the next rounds.

What is their worst-case scenario?

No wins, and either draw themselves to a third place finish or a 0 point fourth place finish. Eto'o looks too old, and he retires.

Croatia

Who are they?

A group of very consistent, very tactical players headed up by two consistent, tactical minds in their manager/brother duo, Niko and Robert Kovac. Tough to break down on defense, and creative on offense, they would like to make some noise in the Cup.

Who should I watch?

Luka Modric. The Real Madrid midfielder doesn't always stand out in a play, but he's usually in the middle of them. He's not quick, he doesn't show off, and I can't recall the last time I saw him make a run into the box, but he's still one of the best playmakers in the world. His ball control is outstanding, his passing is pin-point accurate, and when need be, he can shoot from distance.

Who's the X-Factor?

Mario Mandzukic. The Bayern Munich striker will probably be on the move to another after the World Cup wraps up, so he should be looking to impress. Unfortunately suspended for the first game against Brazil, he'll need to help his Croatian teammates with goals in the Cameroon and Mexico games, or they could be heading home early.

Who are they missing?

Finishers. Croatia didn't score a lot of goals in World Cup qualifying, but luckily their defense didn't give up a lot either. With Mandzukic out for the first game, don't watch it thinking you'll be seeing a thrilling attacking display from Croatia. If they get a draw out of the first game, they'll be happy. If they get a win, they'll be ecstatic.

What is their best-case scenario?

They make it out of the group and compete in the next round, injury free and looking to upset whoever they end up playing.

What is their worst-case scenario?

They don't make it through, get banged up, and are looking upset as they enter the airport.

Mexico

Who are they?

The luckiest SoBs on the planet. Horrendous through World Cup qualifying they seemed doomed to stay at home and watch Panama play in their first ever Cup until last second goals by the US ended Panama's chances, and helped Mexico sneak in. Now playing in a group that is arguably easier to get out of than their American counterparts', Mexico is looking to ride its luck out of group A and into the later rounds

Who should I watch?

Miguel Herrera. You won't see Mexican manager Miguel Herrera on the pitch, except maybe at the end of the game or if he goes crazy. Both are likely. Miguel Herrera looks like Chris Farley, emotes like Chris Farley, and has so far righted what looked like the biggest shipwreck in the history of Mexican soccer. Even if the Mexico games are terrible, it might be worth it just to watch the slow motion replays of Miguel Herrera's sideline expressions.

Who's the X-Factor?

Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez. The Man U striker has been in a goal-scoring funk for a while now, and he's starting to be supplanted as the go-to forward by Santos Lagunas striker Oribe Peralta. But these things happen to guys who rely on poaching loose balls and rebounds like Chicharito does, and it only takes one good bounce to get a streak going.

Who are they missing?

The original answer to this question would've been Mexico's flighty love intrest, Real Sociedad's Carlos Vela, but due to recent injury Mexico will be missing Leon's Luis Montes. The midfielder was dominant in Mexico's warm-up game against Ecuador, including a rocket of a goal from well outside the penalty box. He looked primed for a good World Cup until later in the game he collided with Ecuador's Segundo Castillo, seriously breaking his leg. He'll now have to stay home and hope that Mexico can fight on without him controlling the middle of the field.

What is their best-case scenario?

Lady Luck keeps Mexico on her good side, they get good results against Cameroon and Croatia, and maybe score an upset or two in the later stages.

What is their worst-case scenario?

Lady Luck closes up shop, Mexico leaves early, Chicharito continues to fade, and Carlos Vela somehow joins the Panamanian national team.

Group B

Australia

Who are they?

Recently featured in an episode of Modern Family, Australia is a country that may best be well known for its interesting menagerie of animals, their incredibly deadly menagerie of animals, and their lack of ozone protection. Soccer is not their strong suit, but their recent inclusion into Asia's World Cup qualifying and relative ease in qualification shows that they aren't the worst at it either.

Who should I watch?

Tim Cahill. Probably the best player in Australia's soccer history, this will also likely be Cahill's last. The New York Red Bulls forward is still essentially the same type player he was earlier in his career. He's a skillful opportunist with an uncanny ability to head the ball into the net, despite his general lack of height. He's the oldest player on Australia's team, but he's also the most likely to score.

Who's the X-Factor?

Youth. 11 of the players are 23 or younger, a lot of these guys will be trying to show off their potential and get the attention of a well-backed club. Quite a few members of the team are part of the fairly young A-League, like Adam Taggart (Newcastle Jets), Eugene Galekovic (Adelaide United), and Ivan Franjic (Brisbane Roar). A good showing by some of the A-League players could indicate that the league isn't a flash in the pan and help attract more talent and increase development of Australia's younger soccer players.

Who are they missing?

Talent. Put simply, it doesn't look on paper that Australia has enough talent to get by Spain, the Netherlands, and Chile unless there is something special that every scout and expert have been missing. They are certainly talented enough to get through some of the other groups, but not this one.

What is their best-case scenario?

They shock the world and are able to compensate their lack of individual brilliance with great tactics and youthful exuberance. They make a big impact on how group B's standings end up, and make people wary of them for the next World Cup.

What is their worst-case scenario?

They already are in their worst-case scenario. They got grouped with the defending champs, the runner-up, and one of the dark horses who no one wanted to face. They have nothing to lose and the possibility to spoil someone's chances. There's nowhere to go but up.

Chile

Who are they?

The third-place qualifier for South America, Chile is an intriguing team with a solid defensive line and a strong attack-first mentality. Their style is entertaining, unrelenting, and brings a certain flair that the other teams in their group either can't or too often refuse to show. If they were in an easier group or didn't have the immediate prospect of facing Brazil in an elimination game, they'd be a dark horse contender. They still are, but the odds aren't as much in their favor.

Who should I watch?

Arturo Vidal. Juventus, while dominant as they have been in Italy for recent years, have not been as lucky when it has come to European club competition. That has not been the fault of Arturo Vidal, a do-everything midfielder with a proclivity for long, powerful shots and the always useful ability to force turnovers. His aggressive pressing and willingness to do whatever his role requires makes him a threat throughout an entire game, both on offense and defense.

Who's the X-Factor?

Alexis Sanchez hasn't had the best of seasons with Barcelona, but Barcelona in general didn't have the best of seasons. Sanchez seemed to have lost a bit of the speed he had prior to injury, but he can still be an effective finisher, which Chile will need in order to progress.

Who are they missing?

Luck. This is probably the best line-up Chile can come into the World Cup with, and they haven't had to replace someone due to injury. They have their game plan down pretty pat, and they have the players to pull it off. The only thing they lack now is the results. If they get them, they could go far.

What is their best-case scenario?

Their best-case scenario is that they get a result from their games against the Netherlands and Australia, which is pretty probable for Chile. A result against Spain would be ideal for them too, as it could probably allow them to avoid Brazil in the next round. If everything works out in their favor, the sky could be the limit.

What is their worst-case scenario?

Third place in the group. It seems highly unlikely right now that Australia could end up with a better group record than Chile, and that would be the ultimate Chilean World Cup disaster. But third place in this group is just as likely for them as second or first place in group B. It really will come down to what the outcome of the game against the Netherlands.

Spain

Who are they?

The reigning champs of the World Cup and the reigning champs of Europe. Once a country that was always the bridesmaid, but never the bride, Spain has become a team notorious for its control of the game, sometimes to the point where they can become extremely dull affairs. Don't mistake their controlling style as compensation, though. They can just as easily turn up the pace and quickly take care of their opponents as well.

Who should I watch?

David Silva. One of the few regular starters that isn't on either Barcelona or Real Madrid, Manchester City's playmaker is, like the rest of the Spanish midfield, an excellent passer. His ability to line up anywhere along the midfield is equally fantastic, given his relatively slight frame. What makes him stand out a bit more is ability to make something out of nothing. He is one of a few on Spain's team that can create chances for himself, and, while he's not as invaluable to Spain as he is for his club, he's still a very important cog.

Who's the X-Factor?

Diego Costa. If it weren't for all his recent injury trouble, Diego Costa would be the guy to watch and his former Atletico Madrid (now NYCFC) partner, David Villa would be the wildcard. But the Brazilian-born Costa seems to be having issues staying on the pitch due to injury, even to the point where it may have cost his team the Champion's League final. If he's healthy, he's a threat in the air, in the box, essentially every time there's a soccer ball in his vicinity. But recently, that has become a mighty big "if."

Who are they missing?

Alvaro Negredo. If there is a position where Spain is lacking it's the forward position. Their manager, Vicente Del Bosque, has even at times resorted to formations without forwards. Part of that has to do with Spanish strikers not named David Villa oftentimes not showing enough good form (like Tottenham's Roberto Soldado) or not even doing a thing (Chelsea's Fernando Torres). Negredo hasn't always done great for Spain, but he played well for Manchester City and would've brought some size to a group of Spanish forwards where size is lacking, aside from injury-plagued Diego Costa.

What is their best-case scenario?

The last time there was a repeat World Cup winner was when Brazil retained the title in 1962. Spain will be trying to update that record in more difficult circumstances (there are now twice as many matches in the Cup than there were in '62), but this team was built for the long haul.

What is their worst-case scenario?

Their group isn't the toughest, but it also isn't the easiest. A communication mix-up here, a shock upset there, and the title retention could be over before it begins. Chances of a group stage elimination are slim to none, but stranger things have happened.

The Netherlands

Who are they?

A group of nut-jobs. Their current manager (soon-to-be Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal is a guy with a big ego, their main striker (Man United's Robin van Persie) is a guy with a big ego, and their midfield playmaker (Galatasaray's Wesley Sneijder) has a big ego. When van Gaal wasn't managing the team, they were 2010 World Cup runners-up and turned into a 2012 European joke. When he started managing the Dutch, they went undefeated in World Cup qualifying. Who the hell knows what they'll do in this tournament.

Who should I watch?

Wesley Sneijder or Arjen Robben. Two of the old guard that comprise most of the attacking strength of the Dutch, Sneijder and Robben (from German champs Bayern Munich) are dynamic in different ways. Sneijder has two styles of play: either every play must at some point come through him, or he must be the one scoring. Both somehow tend to work out for him. Robben is the more predictable one. He always plays on the right, cuts left towards the middle, and shoots with his left foot. The amazing thing is that few people are able to stop it. Both are amazing to watch by themselves, but when they work together it jumps to a different level.

Who's the X-Factor?

The two strikers. Robin van Persie is very good, but very injury prone. Schalke's exquisitely named Klas-Jan Huntelaar is just as good, and just as equally injury prone. The rest of the forwards prefer to play out on the wings. If both van Persie and Huntelaar get injured, there could be a big gap in the front of the Dutch attack.

Who are they missing?

Kevin Strootman. The Roma midfielder suffered a major knee injury in March and has been rehabbing since then. The injury means that the Netherlands will be without their best young talent, a midfielder who can pass unselfishly, shoot when necessary, and defend aggressively, all at a very high skill level. The quality that the Dutch will miss the most will be his defending, as their defense has not always been the strongest.

What is their best-case scenario?

Spain and Chile slip up at some point and the Dutch get the top spot of Group B, making them play the second place team of Group A, and avoiding the Brazilians , giving the Dutch enough time to recoup from injuries and make a push for their first ever World Cup title.

What is their worst-case scenario?

A reprisal of Euro 2012, where they get no points, they fight each other, and are once again a mess and without a manager.

Group C

Colombia

Who are they?

In the early 90s, Colombia looked like it was going to be the next South American soccer power, but very quickly things went south, partially from bad luck in games and partially due Colombian soccer being backed by drug dealers. Now it seems that the Colombians have sorted their issues out and are back to their first World Cup since '98.

Who should I watch?

Jackson Martinez. The Porto striker isn't the guy who was expected to lead Colombia's attack, but he's not a bad replacement. Martinez has had a great year with Porto, being their top goal scorer and playing in as many games as possible. He seems to be in his prime, and this could be the perfect stage for him to get that last big money contract before his skills (and he certainly has skills) begin to wane.

Who's the X-Factor?

The central defense. With Jackson Martinez up front, the forward position is pretty solid. Colombia's midfield depth is very strong as well, with the likes of Fredy Guarin (Inter Milan), James Rodriguez (Monaco), Juan Guilermo Cuadrado (Fiorentina), and Juan Fernando Quintero (Porto). The unknown for Colombia is who will anchor their defense. It could be any combination of Mario Yepes (Atalanta), Cristian Zapata (AC Milan), Carlos Valdes (San Lorenzo), or Eder Alvarez Balanta (River Plate). Safe bet is probably on Zapata taking one of the two center back positions, but even that isn't set in stone as of yet.

Who are they missing?

Ramadel Falcao. The Monaco forward just a year ago was supposed to boost Colombia's status from a World Cup Qualifying hopeful to a full-on contender, and had just made a big money move to a team owned by a Russian oil baron billionaire. Then he got injured in the middle of the season, with just enough time to make people think that he could make it back in time to work his way into the World Cup. His rehab didn't progress quickly enough and Colombia were forced to move on without him. They're still a dark horse to make it, but their chances have significantly slimmed without Falcao.

What is their best-case scenario?

Group C is a tough group, but not an unbeatable one. They should be able to get through without much trouble. After that, they should be able to let loose and see how far they can make it.

What is their worst-case scenario?

What they should be able to do, and what actually happens could be two entirely different things. Just as easily as they could coast through the group stage, they could also be unprepared and bottom out quickly. It'd be stunning if that happened, but Colombia have done it before in their history.

Greece

Who are they?

Much like the romantic notion of ancient Greece, the team is philosophical, comprised of more than a few old heads, and notorious for their tough, stalwart defense. Also, there's a good bit of beard action going on. They once surprised their continent by winning the 2004 European Championship and have been a fairly consistent thorn in their European opponents' sides ever since.

Who should I watch?

Whoever is playing in the other game on TV. Greece is a good team, but they aren't terribly fun to watch. They are very patient, they rarely make risky plays, and aren't usually playing on their attacking half. They know their strength and it is mainly their ability to shore up defensive holes and weather the storm. If you feel you must watch one Greek player, watch Giorgos Karagounis. The Fulham midfielder is one of the last remaining players from Greece's 2004 Euro Champions, and looks to hold the Greek captaincy for a few more years, despite being 37.

Who's the X-Factor?

The opponent's desperation. If their opponents are willing to throw everything and the kitchen sink at Greece for the chance at a goal, then Greece is equally willing to sneak forwards behind their enemies attack and steal a goal or two. They know that the more bodies the opposition brings forward for a goal the better their chances for a successful Greek counter attack. And with their defense, they usually only need one goal to get a result.

Who are they missing?

Attackers. Greece simply doesn't have the types of players to able to maintain consistent attacking pressure. If they did, they certainly would be considered a much more dangerous threat than they are now, but no one is really intimidated by guys like Dimitris Salpingidis (PAOK), Giorgios Samaras (Celtic), or Kostas Mitroglou (Fulham), despite their impressive facial hair.

What is their best-case scenario?

Like the Spartans at Thermopylae, the Greeks hold their ground against the oncoming hordes and become heroes, possibly even getting a chance to head into final stages.

What is their worst-case scenario?

Someone informs the Greeks that the city-states lost at Thermopylae, and that one of the reasons Xerxes was fighting the Greeks was to end slavery and religious persecution. That same someone informs them of this as Greece finishes their early exit from the Cup.

Ivory Coast

Who are they?

Only a few years ago, the Ivory Coast was primed to be Africa's first world power in soccer, but bad results in World Cups never allowed them to live up to the hype. Now many of that so-called golden age are greying and most likely in their last chance to prove that the Ivory Coast is a team on the rise in world competition.

Who should I watch?

The Toure Brothers. Yaya (Manchester City) and Kolo (Liverpool) are two of a few where it seems as if this could be their last chance in the World Cup. They will both be looking at making major impacts in different ways. Yaya Toure was a do-everything midfielder this year who led his team to a league championship and led them with 20 goals. Even at 31, he is one of the best players in the world and possibly the best at his position. Kolo, on the other hand will likely want to make an impact by not being in the limelight. A normally solid defender, he is gaffe prone, and the 33 year-old would like to avoid something like that ruining his and his brother's chances at World Cup glory.

Who's the X-Factor?

Swansea's Wilfried Bony. Didier Drogba (Galatasaray) has been the talisman and star of the Ivory Coast for a long time, but this will be his last World Cup. Enter Wilfried, a forward with remarkably similar skills to Drogba, with slightly less experience. Drogba will likely be conceding quite a few minutes to Bony, so this will be the best time to see if he can take up the mantle, or if it will take more time.

Who are they missing?

Consistent goalkeepers. The Ivory Coast's goalkeepers aren't terrible, but they aren't the best, either and if there is one thing that can destroy World Cup hopes, it's bad goalkeeping. With luck, the defense won't commit many turnovers, but when they do the keeper needs to be prepared, whether it's Boubacar Barry (Lokeren), Sylvain Gbohouo (Sewe Sport), or Mande Sayouba (Stabaek) at the back.

What is their best-case scenario?

They get out of the group stage for the first time in the World Cup, get a game against one of the Group D teams that got through, and see how the rest of the Cup plays out.

What is their worst-case scenario?

They are once again stuck in the group stage, and swan song for Ivory Coast's golden age is awfully melancholy.

Japan

Who are they?

A well-blended team that have some superstar players in Europe, and a solid group of players from Japan's own J-League. They also have a bit of a home field advantage, as there is a sizable contingent of Japanese fans in Brazil. The Japanese have got skilled players in most positions, easily breezed through qualifying, and look to have another respectable World Cup performance.

Who should I watch?

Keisuke Honda. The AC Milan player is arguably the most talented player on the Japanese side. His size allows him to fight for possession in ways some of his smaller attacking teammates can't, he has a ton off skill when he does have the ball, and can shoot from anywhere on the field, especially when it comes to free kicks in scoring positions. When Japan last played Brazil in the Confederations Cup, Honda put in an excellent performance that was somewhat overshadowed by Brazil's overall dominance. Against weaker competition, he could really get to strut his stuff.

Who's the X-Factor?

Shinji Kagawa. The Man U midfielder didn't have a great season with his club, but Manchester United in general didn't have a great season. Whether this is just a blip on Kagawa's career or a major dent remains to be seen. For Japan, Kagawa doesn't play the same role as he does for his club, which at times seems to make him disappear from the play. If Japan can find a way to keep him involved within their system, he (and consequently, the Japanese) should do well.

Who are they missing?

A physical defensive midfielder. Japan is fairly well set in most of their positions, but they could do with a strong, physical presence in the back of the midfield. Honda is a big body, but he's not defensive-minded, and isn't known for tracking back to win the ball. If they had a guy with the defensive talent equivalent to Honda's offensive skills, they would be a force to be reckoned with.

What is their best-case scenario?

It'll be tough to get through Colombia and the Ivory Coast, but Japan could do it. Second place in their group would probably be their best hope, but it certainly won't be easy.

What is their worst-case scenario?

Their defense has more holes than it shows on paper, that even Greece puts some goals in the Japanese net and the Japanese end up last in the group.

Group D

Costa Rica

Who are they?

The guys who really got pissed off by the US scheduling a qualifier in the middle of a Colorado snowstorm. Costa Rica went undefeated at home during qualifying, but have also recently been beaten badly in recent international friendlies. Put bluntly, they aren't expected to do much, especially in this group.

Who should I watch?

Bryan Ruiz. The Fulham forward was lucky in that he didn't have to play for the nightmare that was this year's Fulham squad. He is very talented, able to score from up close or from distance, and able to swing in accurate crosses. He's not strong defensively, but with Real Salt Lake's Alvaro Saborio out due to injury, Ruiz is their Costa Rica's best (and maybe only) scoring threat.

Who's the X-Factor?

Roy Miller. If anyone has watched the New York Red Bulls, they may know who Roy Miller is. If that person is a Red Bulls fan, they may shudder at the mention of his name. Roy Miller is the definition of a Jekyll/Hyde defender. When he's on his game he can be dominant, playing shut-down defense and making tactical runs on offense. When he's off, he's a defensive sieve and is more likely to contribute to an own goal. The entire defense will have to be on their A-game if Costa Rica wants to make noise, but Roy Miller at his best would be a good start.

Who are they missing?

Alvaro Saborio. Saborio wasn't their best player, but he might've been their most important. He's been the most consistent Costa Rican player for both club and country, and if there is one thing that is tremendously important in the World Cup is consistency.

What is their best-case scenario?

The other Group D teams all go to the same restaurant, Costa Rica decides to stay in that night, and England, Uruguay, and Italy all get food poisoning. Really, as long as they stay competitive and have entertaining games, it's all good.

What is their worst-case scenario?

They play ugly soccer, play boring, slow games, and drag out the inevitable. Best to keep it short, beautiful, and ready up for the continental tournament in a few years.

England

Who are they?

They are the inventors of the sport, and (along with Wales) home of probably the most well-known league in the world. Despite that, the English team has long been a force of over-hyped mediocrity, in part because of their own media's overeager expectations, as well as their lack of success in penalty kicks.

Who should I watch?

Wayne Rooney. The perpetually balding Manchester United forward is quite clearly the most dangerous person on a pretty talented England team. In his career he's played every forward and most midfield positions with loads of skill and killer's instinct. Without Rooney, Man United's season would have been an unmitigated disaster instead of just being massively disappointing. He's England's greatest force, and he needs to be great if they want to capture their second World Cup title.

Who's the X-Factor?

Ross Barkley. The Evertonian midfielder has been considered a bright, young talent for some time, but this recent season has shown just how good he is. Out of all of England's midfielders, he and Arsenal's Jack Wilshere are the most creative, and both are still young. Barkley has a slight edge, though, as Wilshere has recently had some minor injury issues that have hindered his progress, while Barkley seems to just keep improving from game to game. He could very quickly establish himself as a key cog to England's long term plans.

Who are they missing?

Andy Carroll. The West Ham forward isn't really needed depending on what style England wishes to play, but Carroll is still a good target forward with some interesting skillsets. Very rarely do you see a person head a ball as accurately as Carroll, even to the point where he can (and has) head the ball perfectly onto a teammate's foot, leading to a goal. He's also good on the ground, able to beat defenders off the dribble and can successfully hold the ball and wait for teammates to move into attacking positions. He wouldn't necessarily be a starter, but Carroll could have been a good late substitution, especially as a target for free-kicks.

What is their best-case scenario?

All the English sports magazines finally get real evidence that their nationalistic bias may not be unfounded, as the founders of the sport finally return to the top of soccer's biggest stage, and take home the Cup.

What is their worst-case scenario?

Just as easily as they could win the Cup, they could also not make it out of the group. It's important to remember that just four years ago the British press thought England would breeze through a much easier group than this one, only to be biting their nails as they barely made it through the group on the last day.

Italy

Who are they?

A hodge-podge of some Italian players almost all from Italy's Serie A. Their squad includes Italian players who are already legends (Juventus's Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo, Roma's Daniele De Rossi), some who are already infamous (AC Milan's Mario Balotelli, Parma's Antonio Cassano) and some who are young, but have the look of becoming world-beaters (Ciro Immobile [Borussia Dortmund], Lorenzo Insigne [Napoli], and Marco Verratti [Paris Saint Germain])

Who should I watch?

Andrea Pirlo. The 35 year-old midfielder has probably never looked better than he has in the past few years. Despite usually playing just in front of the defense, he is Italy's go-to playmaker in most situations. Italy usually doesn't make their move until he touches the ball. And there's a good reason why- he's probably the best passer in the game. Any pass he makes, short or long, tends to find its target. Every free-kick he takes is dangerous. The man simply knows what works for him and does it at will.

Who's the X-Factor?

Mario Balotelli. It really couldn't be anyone other than the AC Milan forward. He's temperamental, subject to racist chants from some of his country's own supporters, and also happens to be the most talented forward in Italy's arsenal. When he's free of distractions (that he doesn't himself cause), he can be the most lethal striker in the world, destroying defenses, rocketing balls into the net, and helping Italy steamroll opponents. When he's off his game, he can be a detriment to himself and the team.

Who are they missing?

Francesco Totti. Like Andrea Pirlo, Roma's Francesco Totti has made himself into an ageless wonder. The forward has turned from a straight-up scorer to a slightly withdrawn playmaker and he still plays at an insanely high level. His age (37) and the already packed forward position is almost certainly why he wasn't included, but he still was one of the best forwards in Serie A in this and previous years. It would've been nice to see him return to the national side for a farewell and possibly another World Cup victory.

What is their best-case scenario?

They win the World Cup. They may not be odds on favorites, but they should still be considered as having a great chance. They have talent, experience, and they have their style down to a science. If everything goes their way, the Cup could be theirs.

What is their worst-case scenario?

If everything doesn't go their way, it could get nasty. They're probably too talented to get stuck in the group stage, but sometimes luck factors in more than talent, so who knows.

Uruguay

Who are they?

Two time World Cup champs, the first one they over won happened to be in 1950 in Brazil, at the Maracana, upsetting the Brazilians in the final. In South Africa, they had a successful fourth place finish after not qualifying for the previous Cup in Germany. If they can build on their return to World Cup prominence, they'll look to repeat what happened in 1950.

Who should I watch?

Luis Suarez. The Liverpool forward used to make headlines by doing things like biting opposing players, or using his hands to block shots. Now the strange antics seemed to have stopped and his insane goal-scoring ability is able to take center stage. Suarez ended Liverpool's season as one of two top goal-scorers in all of Europe, and he did it with a lower quality team around him than his co-leader Cristiano Ronaldo (of the European club champion Real Madrid). Look for Suarez to add more than a few goals to his resume.

Who's the X-Factor?

Diego Godin. The Atletico Madrid defender was minutes away from being a hero for his club and make them European champions over there Real Madrid rivals. Unfortunately, Atletico's defense fell apart and the rest was history. But make no mistake, it wasn't Godin's fault they lost. He is an excellent defender, and has shown a proclivity for being in the right place at the right time on corners and free-kicks to head in a goal. If he can help out offensively half as much as he does defensively, that would and another weapon to a Uruguayan offense that's already fully loaded.

Who are they missing?

No one, really. They have the players they want, they are confident, and as long as they get out of the group, they could be in a good position. Maybe you could make a case for someone like New England Revolution player Diego Fagundez, but he just graduated high school, so that jump would be a bit ridiculous. Uruguay's good where they are now.

What is their best-case scenario?

They should feel confident getting out of the group. They have the players, and they usually play well on South American soil. They have an outside chance of winning the Cup, but it wouldn't be the first time they did it in Brazil.

What is their worst-case scenario?

They get the injury bug against Costa Rica, and get weak results Italy and England that lead to an early exit. Kind of unlikely, though.

Group E

Ecuador

Who are they?

A snake-bitten group, Ecuador is the weakest of the South American teams in the tournament. They haven't looked great during the build-up to the Cup, and are most likely just looking for a few respectable results. Luckily for them, this group isn't the toughest group in the World Cup. Unfortunately, they'll probably have the toughest time.

Who should I watch?

Antonio Valencia. The Manchester United winger is the only "big name" on the squad. There's a good reason why he's a big name though. He's been a fairly consistent attacking talent for Man U over the years. He can create his own shot, or send the ball in for someone else to get the goal. At 28, he should be at his peak now, and he'll want to show his stuff on the biggest stage, no matter how short his time will be.

Who's the X-Factor?

France. If France have another World Cup breakdown, then Ecuador has a chance to shoot for one of the top spots. If France don't start fighting each other, then Ecuador will probably have a quick trip.

Who are they missing?

Christian Benitez. Benitez was supposed to be the head of Ecuador's attack, and in all likelihood would've dramatically improved their chances. Unfortunately, Benitez died of cardiac arrest after his first game playing in Qatar, one of the first indications that Qatar would not be an ideal host for a World Cup. Ecuador have had time to adjust to his absence, but they haven't yet found anyone who can replicate his skill.

What is their best-case scenario?

Another French implosion occurs, possibly freeing up a spot into the next rounds. It would still be a dogfight, but it would give Ecuador a chance that they don't currently have.

What is their worst-case scenario?

They don't score any goals and get steamrolled. They should put up a bigger fight than that, but their worst-case would be no fight at all.

France

Who are they?

It's tough to say. About eight years ago, France was the World Cup runner-up. Four years ago, they imploded, had players suspended, and walked out on their manager on the way to a group stage elimination. They have gone from world power to complete X-factor. No one knows if they'll implode or win the whole thing.

Who should I watch?

Paul Pogba. The young Juventus midfielder is a relative newcomer to the international scene, but he's been making waves in Serie A and in the Champion's League for his play style.

Who's the X-Factor?

Mathieu Valbuena. The little man from Marseille has established himself as an important cog in France's system in qualifying, and is a person they now seem to have to have on the wing with Samir Nasri (manager's decision) and Frank Ribery (injury) out. Valbuena can't replace Nasri's all-out attack or Ribery's overall dominance of the wing, but he brings tenacity and playmaking ability that some of the younger French wingers haven't shown with the same consistency. Valbuena is a tough matchup for whoever he goes against, but he'll have to have proper support inside the box if France want to take advantage of his skillset.

Who are they missing?

Frank Ribery. It's easy to forget how great the Bayern Munich winger is when he's the third wheel behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for best in the world. He's not as much of a scorer, and he doesn't always show off his skills, but he's hard to get off the ball and is more than willing to set up goal scoring chances for others. France will definitely miss him patrolling the wing.

What is their best-case scenario?

With Ribery out, it's tough to see a way that they could win it all. Even with him, it would've required some massive results that they haven't really shown since Zidane retired. For France, getting through the group would be good. They should probably just aim for getting their young players some World Cup experience, and keep building for the next Cup in Russia.

What is their worst-case scenario?

The infighting becomes a French tradition, they lose focus and lose games, and either Ecuador or Honduras sneak past them for the second in the group. France once again needs to scrap their team, and realize that the issue may have been more than just an annoyed Samir Nasri.

Honduras

Who are they?

A group that includes some former and current MLS players, Honduras might have the best chance out of all the CONCACAF members (the US, Mexico, and Costa Rica being the other three) in Brazil. If they get a result against France, they could set themselves up for a less bumpy ride than their fellow North Americans have to go through. At worst, they could still ruin someone else's Cup.

Who should I watch?

Oscar Boniek Garcia. The Houston Dynamo mid is probably the best player in the squad, and Americans get to see him play every MLS season. He's a complete playmaker. If he's not the guy assisting, he's the guy who sets up the guy assisting. He's a bit of a multi-purpose mid, willing to move anywhere and do anything required to help his team. One minute he's a defender, the next he's taking a shot on goal.

Who's the X-Factor?

France. Again it really comes down to what France shows up to the Cup. If it's drama queens all the way down, Honduras will be licking their chops. If France comes in with a mission and cohesiveness, Honduras will be licking their wounds.

Who are they missing?

No one. They have their best possible players on the squad. Honduras hasn't been struck with the injury bug, so if they had better players, they'd already be on the squad.

What is their best-case scenario?

If France slips up bad, and Ecuador doesn't get any shock results, Honduras could see themselves into the next round and maybe turn some heads. There weren't any expectations for them going into the Cup, so anything more than a good showing will be fine.

What is their worst-case scenario?

Unless they somehow put on the worst performance ever seen in a World Cup (which nowadays is near to impossible), they should be fine. There's slim chance they get out of the group, so their priority should be to just be a dream-crusher for one of the other teams.

Switzerland

Who are they?

The top team that no one is talking about. Switzerland has somehow been a team that qualified easily, has won consistently, is loaded with talent, and still has been able to stay so far under the radar that France -a team ranked lower than the Swiss- are considered favorites over them. People are probably taking them too lightly, which could be very, very dangerous for other teams.

Who should I watch?

Xherdan Shaqiri. The Bayern Munich midfielder may not see a lot of time on the field with his club, but he is scary good when he does get his minutes. Back when he was playing in Switzerland he could single-handedly take over games in a way few can. He's got an accurate shot, he can out-maneuver most defenders. He helps bring a flair that the otherwise methodical and mechanical Swiss team often could use a bit more of.

Who's the X-Factor?

Josip Drmic. It will be either Leverkusen's Drmic or Haris Seferovic of Real Sociedad up front, and good money would likely be on the Bundesliga's third best goal scorer. The only thing about that is that he scored them for his former Nürnberg side, who were relegated, and quite a few came late in games already wrapped up. He could be the scorer they need, but he's still a bit of an unknown.

Who are they missing?

Goals. Switzerland hasn't scored more than two goals in a game in a while, normally that's not bad, but it's also not great. And there's a chance they run into Argentina, a team which doesn't seem to do anything but score tons of goals. If Switzerland can start putting in 2-3 goals instead of 1-2, they could be more than just dark horses, and be full-on contenders.

What is their best-case scenario?

If they win the group, they get to dodge Argentina and could set themselves up for a deep run. They have the talent and potential to win the Cup. They need some luck to get that far, but if we're talking best-case, it's Switzerland's first ever World title.

What is their worst-case scenario?

Facing Argentina in the next round. It's hard to say this Swiss team won't make it out of the group, as they're the only ones who likely won't have to depend on France's relative insability. The real problem for Switzerland is if they run into a powerhouse too early, they may not be able to get the upset they will most likely need for a serious run. An early matchup against Argentina would kill that dream quick.

Group F

Argentina

Who are they?

The other South American team that everyone knows. They also happen to have probably the best goal scorer of all time, maybe the best player of all time on their team, a team so top heavy it wouldn't be surprising to see a 5-2 or 6-4 game at some point. They also have a passion for spoiling Brazilian soccer's dreams, almost as much as Uruguay does. They also haven't won a Cup since 1986. They really want this one.

Who should I watch?

Lionel Messi. Even in a team this stacked with attacking talent, only one name matters: Messi's. The man who makes his money in Barcelona is essentially the face of modern soccer. He scores seemingly at will, he's impossible to get off the ball, misses seem rarer for him than makes, and he does this all while being undersized, underweight, and under massive expectations. He's never been as good for his country as he is for his club, but that's been changing recently, which should make everyone playing Argentina terrified.

Who's the X-Factor?

Martin Demichelis. The Man City defender will likely be one of the starting center backs for Argentina, which may not be the best plan. Demichelis can be solid, but has made some serious mistakes recently and has started to show that his age has slowed him (and he wasn't the quickest to begin with). Whoever is lined up next to him, either Inter Milan's Hugo Campagnaro or Ezequiel Garay from Benfica, will have to at some point help support Demichelis, which could leave gaps in an Argentinian defense that certainly isn't the strongest.

Who are they missing?

More solid defenders. Argentina's defense is probably around average, or slightly above. It's good for what it needs to be, but could be better. It might have to be better when Argentina starts running into teams with title aspirations

What is their best-case scenario?

They win. Messi becomes the next messiah, because you can't spell messiah without, well, you know. Argentina also no longer has to deal with the fact that Diego Maradona, renowned loudmouth, was their last World Cup winner.

What is their worst-case scenario?

Not winning the Cup. They get stuck running into a more in form squad or they have a stroke of bad luck that dooms them to trying again in Russia.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Who are they?

First timers as an independent nation, Bosnia actually has a pretty good soccer history. Most of the old Yugoslavian teams were primarily made up of Bosnians. They're being somewhat overlooked because they haven't gotten this far in their country's short history, but they're in a mostly beatable group and they have lots of talent.

Who should I watch?

Asmir Begovic. The Stoke City goalkeeper is Bosnian by way of Canada. He also may currently be the best goalkeeper in the world. His commanding presence keeps his defense in line, his saves can vary between simple to unimaginable. He is quite simply an immovable force in front of the net, and will probably be making more than a few opposing forwards punch the ground in mixed emotions of disbelief and frustration.

Who's the X-Factor?

Edin Dzeko. The Man City forward has all the tools needed to be dominant. He's big, but has excellent footwork, he's able to score up close or far away, with his feet or with his head, and he's not afraid to distribute the ball for a better chance at goal. The only problem for him is consistency. It's always been a bit of a problem for him, but seems to have improved. If he can get on a run, there may be no defense in the Cup that could stop him.

Who are they missing?

Defenders. Asmir Begovic can only do so much in the net. There are holes in the defense that could be exposed, most likely during the match against Argentina. Unfortunately, there was really no way for Bosnia to fix that before the Cup without a whole rearrangement of their system, which would be even worse at this point.

What is their best-case scenario?

Second place in the group will probably be the goal, then on to upset someone and make a name for Bosnia in the soccer world. Simple as that, really.

What is their worst-case scenario?

Last place in the group would be worst. Losing to Iran would be a surprise, and would probably make Bosnia take a step back, destroying all the potential they have built up in recent years.

Iran

Who are they?

Good question. Many of Iran's team plays in Iran, making a good amount of them relative unknowns. Unless you watched their qualifying (and few did), you probably know as much about them as most media outlets. At the very least, they couldn't possibly be the joke that North Korea in 2010 turned out to be. Probably.

Who should I watch?

Steven Beitashor. An American with Iranian parents who plays for the Vancouver Whitecaps, Beitashor is one of the few known commodities on the team. He's a competent outside back who likes coming forward and loves to send in crosses. That's basically his specialty. It wouldn't be surprising in the least if that was one of Iran's primary tactics, and frankly, it wouldn't be a bad decision on the manager's part.

Who's the X-Factor?

Ashkan Dejagah. Anyone who watched Fulham towards the end of the season should know this forward. At some points towards their end in the Premier League it seemed as if he was the only one trying to score. At the Cup, he'll probably be trying to show his entire skillset to get a move from Fulham, and back into a top league.

Who are they missing?

Who knows? There are so few names that aren't from the Iranian leagues, and international friendlies aren't going to help figure out the big picture. Maybe there midfield could use strengthening, but since no one outside the Iranian leagues has seen these midfielders play, maybe not.

What is their best-case scenario?

They get out of the group. It would be a hell of a long shot, but a shock result or two could put them on their way.

What is their worst-case scenario?

They become a joke like North Korea. Just because a lot of people don't study Iran's team, doesn't mean their opponents haven't. They could quickly be steamrolled if they make too many mistakes.

Nigeria

Who are they?

The former golden boys of African football, Nigeria recently won their continental championship. It seemed like they were set to restore their former glory, until arguments about wages and unpaid bonuses quickly ruined that storyline. Now, it seems like survival might be their best hope.

Who should I watch?

Victor Moses. The Liverpool winger is best known for one thing, and one thing only: speed. He has speed in bunches, which makes him a dangerous threat on the side. He's also not a bad scorer when the opportunity arises. He's also not a bad supplier, but that isn't always his primary concern. He prefers running past defenders on the wing, cutting inside, and dropping in a quick goal.

Who's the X-Factor?

Peter Odemwingie. The Stoke City forward isn't the best around, but his name always seems to pop up when his team needs a clutch goal. He can get emotional, but he is a good guy to have in the middle of the offense, setting the pace and aiding the wingers when the need arises.

Who are they missing?

Obafemi Martins. Martins isn't a young guy, but as Seattle Sounders fans will tell you he's still got quickness and an insane ability to score from anywhere, including the end lines. Martins up until recently been a mainstay for Nigeria, so it was a bit of a surprise when he was left out. Nigerians will hope they don't regret that decision.

What is their best-case scenario?

Nigeria could make a good case for second in the group. They could get a result against Bosnia and Iran, and make it through to possibly cause an upset.

What is their worst-case scenario?

No one in this group will want to lose to Iran. If there is one team that could lose to them, it'd be Nigeria. Nigeria, clearly, would like to prevent this from happening, but one slip-up could ruin it.

Group G

Germany

Who are they?

In the last few Cups, Germany has finished second, third, and third in the last three World Cups. They were primed to be one of the favorites for this Cup, and then they got slotted into quite possibly the most difficult group in World Cup History. But if there's on team you don't want to piss off, it'd be the Germans.

Who should I watch?

Miroslav Klose. Klose needs only two more goals to become the top World Cup scorer of all time. That alone should be reason to watch him. The Lazio forward has always made the Cup his center stage, oftentimes being more successful for his country than his club. The man could make history in the early stages of the World Cup. Klose getting the record would be a great way to kick off a World Cup watching experience.

Who's the X-Factor?

Mesut Ozil. The Arsenal midfielder may be the only pure playmaker on a team full of multi-purpose position players. His specialty is setting up teammates for easy goals, and it's something he does extremely well. The only problem is if he gets isolated by the defense, it can cause some problems in the German attack, something Germany doesn't need to happen in a group this difficult.

Who are they missing?

Stefan Kießling. Kießling has been probably the most dominant German forward in the last few years but has rarely been seen on the international stage. This is due to a feud between Kießling and German manager Jogi Löw. It also means that Germany will not be bringing their top forward to the Brazil, which is good news for everyone who isn't a German fan.

What is their best-case scenario?

Despite the lack of forwards and being stuck in the group of death, Germany will still be looking for the title. They have to be sick of always being the bridesmaid at this point. It's time for them to become the bride.

What is their worst-case scenario?

As with every other team in the group, there is the possibility that they don't make it to the next round. It would be disastrous for Germany, who should have the best chance of escaping, but disaster has been in the air since the groups were drawn.

Ghana

Who are they?

Africa's best team and -before being put in group G- dark horses for the World Cup. They were a Luiz Suarez goal line handball away from being the farthest an African team had ever made it into the World Cup, and might've had a chance to win it. Now they're stuck thinking about survival and how they could possibly ruin the US's dreams for a third straight Cup.

Who should I watch?

Kwadwo Asamoah. The Juventus winger is just one of many Ghanaian midfielders who can make the opposition's life miserable. He's got pace, a good shot, has great distribution, and can run up and down the field non-stop. Not to mention, he's been a two-time Italian champion during the two years he's been with Juventus. And at 25, he may not have peaked yet, something the rest of group G dreads.

Who's the X-Factor?

Asamoah Gyan. The Ghanaian forward is best known for two things; the goal that ended the USA's World Cup 2010 run, and the missed penalty kick that helped continue Uruguay's. Since then, Gyan moved to Al Ain, a team in the United Arab Emirates. While he's kept up his scoring, he's been doing it against weaker defenses than what he'll see in group G. If they want to get through, Ghana will need Gyan at his best.

Who are they missing?

No one. Ghana could do with a higher profile keeper than Strømsgodset's Adam Kwarasey, but he is capable enough and the defense should be solid enough. The one thing they'll need is the right results, and no one knows how they'll end up until after the games.

What is their best-case scenario?

They get through and play deep into the Cup. They were dark horses before the group of death. If they get out intact, no one will want to play them.

What is their worst-case scenario?

Like the rest of group G, they could just as easily end up last as they could be first.

Portugal

Who are they?

Cristiano Ronaldo and ten other guys. Hard luck has been Portugal's roommate since World Cup qualifying. They barely made it into a playoff with Sweden for the last spot, only to get stuck into the group from hell. Now they have to claw their way through again, or risk getting upended like they did in 2002, when they were stunned by the US in South Korea.

Who should I watch?

Cristiano Ronaldo. Up until this year, the best in the world rankings always had Real Madrid's Ronaldo as two to Messi's one. This year, the roles were reversed, with Ronaldo topping his rival in both goals, trophies, and nude pictorials with his supermodel girlfriend. Ronaldo shoots rockets and only rockets, does tricks to set up other tricks, and is a jerk who also happens to be the best jerk in everything he wants to do. And he does it all without messing up his perfectly coifed hair.

Who's the X-Factor?

Pepe. For as stylish on the field as his Real Madrid teammate is, defender Pepe is as ugly. Quite possibly one of the dirtiest players in a Cup that includes a 20 year-old who's already a notorious flopper and a guy who twice bit someone, Pepe is also a good defender. His tackles have a lot of force and his positioning is great. The problems come when he takes tons of cheap shots, or flops and writhes on the ground for what feels like hours. He could be Portugal's saving grace, or he could be their curse holding them back.

Who are they missing?

Goalkeeping. All of Portugal's goalkeepers are just average. They'd be head over heels if they could grab Ghana's keeper, or Germany's or the US's backups. A game could come down to a goal mouth incident, and if it goes against Portugal, it could be disastrous.

What is their best-case scenario?

If they get through, they could ride Ronaldo to the Cup. Their qualifying debacle never made them considered as contenders, but if they get out of G, they could be.

What is their worst-case scenario?

Ronaldo has played a lot of games already this year. Eventually this could weigh him down, and with that Portugal's chances. Worst case, it happens in their first game against Germany, essentially putting the writing on the wall.

USA

Who are they?

‘Murica. Things were going so well for the US. They breezed through qualifying, looked dominant in friendlies, and even took the time out to save Mexico's butt from missing out of going to Brazil. Then Group G happened, and everyone scratched them out of dark horse contention. They went from most talented US squad ever to three-and-out in a lot of people's minds quickly. But they are still very, very good and very, very dangerous.

Who should I watch?

Michael Bradley. The Toronto FC midfielder is the force of everything for the US. He's the best playmaker, the best defender, and many already say the best American soccer player. He's a guy who can start for many top clubs and be on the roster for all of them. He's the general of the American midfield and everything revolves around his play. He's the bald Earth to the US's solar system.

Who's the X-Factor?

Jozy Altidore. There are two different Altidores. One is the guy who was playing at Sunderland, a good playmaking forward who could help set up people, but was snake-bitten when it came to goals, and US Altidore, who couldn't miss a shot if he tried and bulled his way through defenses like they were paper. Altidore recently found his scoring touch again, but it remains to be seen if he can do it in Brazil. If he can, all hell will break loose.

Who are they missing?

No one. Landon Donovan is a big name that was left off the squad, but in retrospect it doesn't change much. He didn't quite fit the system and the others playing where he would've played were younger and had better defined roles than him. It doesn't necessarily mean the end of Donovan's international career, but this move is probably better for the US in the long run.

What is their best-case scenario?

They make it out of the group, bash some heads in, and regain the dark horse status they once had.

What is their worst-case scenario?

Worst case happened when the group was called. Absolute worst-case would mean losing to Ghana and not even showing up against Portugal and Germany, but they have the lowest expectations out of the four teams, so they've got nothing to lose.

Group H

Algeria

Who are they?

Algeria is a team that always seems to show up, but never quite amount to much. They're a collection of French ex-pats and native Algerians. For them getting to the World Cup is the tough part. Anything after that is cake.

Who should I watch?

Sofiane Feghouli. The Valencia winger is probably the biggest name on Algeria, and he's arguably the best player for both his club and country. He's not the fastest, but he's a great passer and a good crosser of the ball. Odds are most of Algeria's offensive creativity will be through him in one way or another.

Who's the X-Factor?

Nabil Bentaleb. The young French mid from Tottenham looks to have a good career ahead of him, but for right now it remains to be seen how solid the foundation is. His club play was sketchy at times (though that could've been due to Tottenham's managerial issues), but he looked strong when he was on his game. These games could show if he has gained some consistency in his play.

Who are they missing?

A whole lot. This is the best Algeria could muster, and for them it doesn't look like enough to get through the group. It looks good as the start of a solid national squad, but it's not complete enough to upset one of the bigger names in the group.

What is their best-case scenario?

They fight hard, take names, kick butt, and claim scalps. Then they play their World Cup opener and have fun.

What is their worst-case scenario?

You can't scalp people in Brazil, Algeria's team gets arrested, and Sepp Blatter doesn't use his slush fund to pay the bail.

Belgium

Who are they?

They aren't dark horses, that's for sure. If everyone's calling you a dark horse, then you're actually a contender. Which is something Belgium, despite its youth and Cup inexperience, most certainly is.

Who should I watch?

Eden Hazard. The Chelsea playmaker is a good choice. He started his career tearing apart teams with his feet and his passing in France, when he then moved into the tougher Premier League, and..... he did the same exact thing. At times, it seems the tougher the competition is, the better Hazard gets. The truly scary thing about him is that he has hit nowhere near his peak and he's already one of Europe's best playmakers.

Who's the X-Factor?

Marouane Fellaini. The Man U midfielder's drop in form has been amazing. The man went from an all-purpose midfielder running into the box and smashing the ball in with his massive body and massive fro, to one of the biggest debacles in the history of Manchester United. And he is an important piece of the Belgium team. They need him to pick himself up and improve quickly if they want that Cup.

Who are they missing?

No one. They are set in every position. This is the best Belgium has looked in a long, long time. They may not have experience, but they've got talent everywhere you look.

What is their best-case scenario?

They're not Cup or bust like other teams, but the Cup should still be their endgame. It'd be solid proof of the talent they have, and be something they rub in the faces of the Dutch.

What is their worst-case scenario?

The hype should not have been believed, and Belgium has an underwhelming Cup display. Their golden age brings them nothing except what-ifs and if-onlys.

Russia

Who are they?

A group of hard-nosed, no nonsense defenders, Russia keeps things simple, with not much flash and just a bit of dash. They aren't the best, but they know what they're doing, and sometimes that's the most important part.

Who should I watch?

Alan Dzgoev. The CSKA Moscow mid has been making a name for himself since the European Cup. A small explosive guy who can out in tons of goals and create just as many for his teammates to get. He's not defensive-minded like his teammates, but that doesn't matter as much when the guys behind you are solid.

Who's the X-Factor?

Yuri Zhirkov. At some point, the Dynamo Moscow mid has to call it a career. The 30 year-old seems like he's been around even longer than he has. He's lost some of his step, but none of his defensive tenacity. The big issue would be if he loses his mark and can't adjust in time. For a defense as strict as Russia's, it only needs one missed assignment to slip up.

Who are they missing?

Roman Shirikov. The Russian captain is out due to injury from what would've been his last World Cup. A constant presence since '08, they'll miss his ability to come from the back to score goals, goals that Russia will have a hard time finding elsewhere.

What is their best-case scenario?

Second in the group, and hope that whoever comes out of group G is tired and wounded. It's tough to say they could overtake Belgium, even tougher to say they could beat first place from the group of death.

What is their worst-case scenario?

South Korea tops them and Russia get sent packing as a topless and disappointed Vladimir Putin looks on, then goes back to planning on his invasion of Brazil.

South Korea

Who are they?

Co-hosts twelve years ago, South Korea had a great run that ended with them in fourth, the best an Asian country has done in the Cup. They haven't been able to replicate their success since then, but they're still one of the better sides to come out of the Pacific. Unfortunately, that's not saying much about them.

Who should I watch?

Son Heung-Min. The Bayer Leverkusen striker is good. Very good. One of the younger players on South Korea's squad, he has still had more than a few games and goals for his country. He's quick, he's got vision, he's a fantastic finisher, and he's got a good sense of timing for his goals. Don't be surprised if he's leading a late charge for a key goal. He's getting a bit of a reputation for those.

Who's the X-Factor?

Ji Dong-Won. The future Borussia Dortmund player has had ups and downs in his short career, but recently has had a major upswing. The forward has shown a lot of skill in a relatively short time in Germany and could make a big impact in the future. South Korea is looking to see if he can make an impact now.

Who are they missing?

A central defense. Their center backs just aren't quite up to snuff for facing teams like Belgium or Russia. They didn't defend all that well in qualifying either, and they were going against weaker teams than what they'll now be facing.

What is their best-case scenario?

Like Russia, South Korea doesn't look right now like they'll supplant Belgium or whoever gets out of Group G, so just getting over Russia is good.

What is their worst-case scenario?

They're lack of depth in the back damages their chances, allowing Russia to get over them, and giving Putin an idea to invade South Korea via occupied Brazil.

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