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Your World Cup Primer

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From the Plaza de Mayo of Buenos Aires to the Tivoli Gardens of Copenhagen, from the banks of the Amnok River in North Korea to the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue in Austin, an outpouring of emotions and misspent work-time is about to commence as the 2010 World Cup gets underway.

Here’s your down-and-dirty list of things to know, ponder and perpetuate:

The Basics:

32 teams broken down into eight groups of four will begin play Friday, June 11. A very spiffy, interactive guide to the represented nations can be found here.

The Money Team, The Favorite Team, And the Go-Farther-Than-We-Thought Teams.

Money Team: Brazil. They’re ranked Number One in the world so the odds aren’t going to be great, but if you’re putting money down, Brazil’s the team. This isn’t the team of Joga Bonito, and in fact, Brazil hasn’t played The Beautiful Game since 1982. This is a team coached by the former captain of Brazil, Dunga, a hard-nosed defensive midfielder whose slow pace was the target of his country’s wrath when the were eliminated in 1990. Dunga came back to lift the World Cup trophy in 1994. He understands what it takes to win and he is nothing if not determined.

Personal Favorite: Spain. La Furia Roja has the greatest attacking team in the world – and likely the tournament’s highest scorer in David Villa – and they are a team that will retain possession and dominate the flow of the game. The monkey on Spain’s back has always been that they have “flair” and “style,” which are euphemisms for “weakness” and “no guts.” Two years ago Spain defeated Germany in the European Championship and with a core of players from that little team from Barcelona, who defeated English titans Chelsea and Manchester United to win the Champions League, this is a team that knows it can defeat the most physical teams from the most physical leagues in Europe.

The Go-Farthers: England and Argentina. Individual talent is not enough to win the World Cup. Organization is required. Players must know where to be and when. Since taking over the England National Team, granite-jawed Fabio Capello has instilled discipline and cohesion while fire-bombing the media circus that followed the team in 2006. They have weaknesses in just about every area but if the team holds together and striker Wayne Rooney hits his stride, the Final is within reach.

On the other side, Argentina, a team with the greatest individual talent on the planet, has been as chaotic as the life of coach and Argentine god, Diego Maradona. Argentina qualified for the tournament in the last minutes of the last game, thus inspiring Maradona to perform a belly-slide on the field. The team’s form was as uninspiring as the fat-man’s flop and most critics have written them off. Argentina knows when to turn their game on and if the coach can bring a little cohesion to his line-up, they could perform as well as Germany did in 2006.

3 Games to Watch:

For those of you short on time, here are the three games to watch during the first couple of days of the tournament:

England – USA, Saturday, Jun 12, 2:30 p.m. ET
There’s the history, players play and know each other, and both teams have a lot to prove.

Netherlands Denmark, Mon, Jun 14, 7:30 a.m. ET
The Netherlands are one of the top teams in the world due to their attacking options and creativity. Add to that the historical rivalry between the teams and it should be entertaining.

Cote d'Ivoire – Portugal, Tue, Jun 15, 10 a.m. ET
With their home continent behind them, a strong midfield, a tactically great coach, and one of the world’s greatest strikers in Didier Drogba, the Ivory Coast could go far in the tournament. Word has it that Drogba suffered a broken arm in a warm-up game against Japan and reports say he will not be back in time. That’s too bad as this game would have pitted the two greatest egos in the World Cup – Drogba and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo – against each other.

Check back soon. More's coming, including a breakdown of the U.S. v. England game.

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