2014 World Cup: Teams to watch
Brazil -- Home favorites
Neymar, 22, hopes to lead Brazil to a sixth FIFA World Cup title. Brazil has a Soccer Power Index (SPI) of 45 percent and is by far the heavy favorite to win the 2014 World Cup. The last of Brazil's record five World Cup victories came in 2002. Croatia will play the hosting country to officially open the tournament on Thursday, June 12.
Argentina -- 'La Pulga'
Standing at 5-foot-7, Lionel Messi is the holder of the most FIFA Ballon d'Or awards (4). Nicknamed 'La Pulga' (the flea), Messi is one of the most accomplished footballers in the world with a Guinness World Record for the most goals scored in a year (91), four World Soccer Player of the Year awards, and the only ever streak of consecutive goals against every team in a professional league. Messi's Argentina is in Group F, along with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, and Nigeria.
Spain -- Returning champs
Spain enters the 2014 World Cup as the No.1 ranked team, according to FIFA World Rankings. La Furia Roja (the Red Fury) as they are called, won the South Africa 2010 World Cup and 35 consecutive games from 2006 through 2009. Spain is in Group B and plays Netherlands on Friday, June 13.
Mexico -- Chicharito
Manchester United forward Javier 'Chicharito' (little pea) Hernandez will not start in Mexico's opening match against Cameroon on Friday, June 13. The Mexican superstar saw limited action in the team's three warm-up matches. El Tri is ranked No.20 in the world and plays Brazil and Croatia as part of Group A.
Uruguay -- 'El Pistolero'
Uruguay's chances of winning the World Cup may very well rest on the health of striker Luis Suarez. Suarez is recovering from laparoscopic surgery on his left knee, which he had back on May 22. Uruguay faces Costa Rica in the opening match for Group D on Saturday, June 14.
England -- Wayne Rooney
Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney makes his third World Cup appearance with England. The 28-year-old became England's youngest goalscorer at the age of 17. He has scored 39 goals in 91 international matches, but has not scored in eight World Cup games. England, which won the 1966 World Cup, sits at the 10th spot in the FIFA World Rankings with 1,090 points. The Englishmen take on Italy of Group D on Saturday, June 14.
Italy -- Andrea Pirlo
Italy midfielder Andrea Pirlo, 35, will be appearing in his third World Cup. The Italian may not have young, fresh legs anymore, but his passing and leadership ability makes him one of the most gifted and important players for the Azzurri. Italy, which last raised the gold trophy in 2006, is a four-time winner of the World Cup, and plays England in their first match.
Group G -- 'Group of death'
The most difficult group in the 2014 World Cup belongs to Group G, which is comprised of Germany, Portugal, Ghana, and USA. Germany and Portugal are the two teams expected to advance in the tournament. Germany is the No. 2-ranked team (1,300 points) by FIFA, and has won three World Cups.
Portugal -- Cristiano Ronaldo
Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the most popular and highest-paid soccer players in the world. The Portuguese captain began his international career in 2001, and scored his first World Cup goal, five years later in Germany. Ronaldo missed two of Portugal's three international friendlies due to knee and thigh injuries. Portugal joins Germany, Ghana and USA in Group G, aka the 'Group of Death.'
USA -- Chris Wondolowski
Jurgen Klinsmann's Americans open the 2014 World Cup against Ghana on Monday, June 16. Ghana eliminated the USMNT from the World Cup for the second straight time in 2010. However, Team USA comes into Brazil with a ton of momentum - stemming from three straight exhibition wins against Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Nigeria. Although Klinsmann made some headlines for leaving long-time member of 'The Stars and Stripes' Landon Donovan off the final 23-man roster, USA must rest on the shoulders of Chris Wondolowski and 19-year-old Julian Green, if they plan on advancing out of Group G.