The wait is nearly over, planet Earth! The 20th edition of the FIFA World Cup begins in just a few short hours, so if you need a crash course on each team before you submit an inter-office bracket or just want a quick overview on who and what to watch for, you've come to the right place.
For a more extended preview, check out this video blog starring MidcoSN’s Jay Elsen, Jon Hiatt and I. Bear in mind that we filmed this on Friday, June 9, which will explain why I go on about Jozy Altidore's scoring drought and why Marco Reus and Franck Ribery's injuries aren't mentioned. (...Whoops.)
In honor of the 32 teams in Brazil, I'm going group by group and giving you 32 words (...give or take) on each nation represented and their chances this summer. Enjoy!
The hosts and the favorites. Massive pressure to win the tournament for the first time at home, so much so that you'd almost feel bad for them if they don't win. (...Almost. Brazil are the Yankees of international football.)
Some pedigree (semifinalists in '98), lots of talent (Modric, Rakitic, Mandzukic), and great uniforms (red and white checks!) make them an easy team to like. Could make it out of Group A behind Brazil.
Now featuring a coach with personality (enter the spunky Miguel Herrera!) and lots of local Liga MX players that seem to enjoy playing soccer, El Tri look feisty. (...Don't worry, US fans. It'll still be a disaster.)
Cool nickname (the Indomitable Lions!) and all-time great striker (Samuel Eto'o!), but they were the first team eliminated in South Africa, and it might happen again in Brazil. Thanks for making the trip, gang.
The reigning champs and one of the favorites to win again. Most talented, decorated team in the tournament. Stars aplenty (Xavi! Iniesta! Casillas!) and young guns (it's pronounced "Ko-Kay", not "Coke"; you'll figure it out soon enough). Also, brace yourself to hear about Diego Costa and horse placenta. (...)
The Dutch! Runners-up in South Africa, but they're not as good this year; the football gods cursed them for trying to maim the majority of the Spanish team in the 2010 final. Still, Robben, RvP, and Sneijder remain. We'll see.
The South American Advantage in full effect. Everyone's upset pick to advance, though if everyone's picking them, is it really an upset? Also, feel free to marvel at Arturo Vidal's hair, but don't touch; it'll cut you.
Remember in South Africa when Germany beat them 4-0 in the opening group game? Socceroo fans might look fondly back on that after this year. Expect lots of "LET'S-PLAY CRICK-ET!!" chants.
World-great striker Radamel Falcao is out, but they're still good and could win the group. Surprised everyone by being seeded after finishing 2nd in South American qualifying. Lots of yellow. Great coffee.
Featuring a Spartan-esque battle-mindset and the best name in the tournament (Sokratis Papastathopoulos!), the 2004 Euro champs are always a tough out. Incredibly boring to watch, if not for all the gesticulating and shouting. Could sneak into the Round of 16.
Drogba! Toure! Gervinho! Les Elephants are always the most talented African team on paper but traditionally underperform in big tournaments. It doesn't help that some of their players picked up malaria a few weeks back. (...No, really. I'm serious.) Still though, it could be the year they figure it out.
The Blue Samaria have a few great players (Keisuke Honda! Shinji Kagawa!) but looked out of place against the world's best in the 2013 Confed Cup in Brazil. It might not work out this summer either. Toss-up of a group though, which helps a bit...
South Africa 2010 semifinalists won the World Cup the last time it was in Brazil. (...That was 1950, but still.) Lots of guys named Diego (Lugano, Forlan, etc). Luis Suarez is an out-of-this-world class striker, but is he healthy?
A good team - 2nd in CONCACAF qualifying behind the US - but a nightmare of a draw for the Ticos. Given the opposition, a point in three games would be a success. (...Sorry, kids.)
Ahh, the Three Lions. Champs in '66, nothing but heartbreak since. A good team that's destined to make the quarterfinals and promptly get annihilated by Brazil. (At least no PK losses this time though, right?)
Best combo of history (four-time WC champs), jersey (classic blue and white) and name recognition (Pirlo! Balotelli! Buffon!) outside of the hosts. Could win it all like in '06...or could crash out in the Group Stage like 2010.
Labeled the weakest seeded team, everyone wanted the Swiss before the draw, but that doesn't mean they're not a solid team. Lots of dual-national playmakers (Shaqiri! Xhaka!) and some steel at the back. Only team to beat Spain (?!?) in South Africa.
Decent team - finished 4th in CONMEBOL qualifying - but a GREAT draw. Should benefit from playing close to home. According to science, Antonio Valencia is the football world's fastest player. (You can't argue with science.)
Barely qualified, a miserable South Africa experience in 2010, and they just lost their best player to injury in Franck Ribery...but they'll still probably advance. Lots of talent at Didier Deschamps' disposal, but probably not enough cohesion for a deep run from the '98 champs.
Los Catrachos (...literally, "The Hondurans") are the least likely to advance from this section, but it's their second-straight WC appearance, they've got some EPL-talent in the ranks (Palacios! Espinosa!) and have been gifted a comparatively weak group. Stranger things have happened.
Another favorite. Champs in '78 and '86, though still seeking their first World Cup post-Maradona. World-class attack (Messi! Aguero! Di Maria!), not so much in defense. Could meet Brazil in the final, putting all of South America out of commission for a fortnight.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
This edition's only World Cup debutants won their European qualifying group and are dangerous customers. Man City's Edin Dzeko is a superstar up top, plus they have two team nicknames: Zmajevi (the Dragons!!) and Zlatni Ljiljani (...the Water Lillies). You pick.
Coached by former Portugal gaffer Carlos Queiroz, the Lions are currently the top-ranked Asian side in the world after winning a qualifying group that included South Korea. Three words to describe them: 1) Disciplined 2) Defensive 3) Doomed.
The Super Eagles! Winners of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations title but looked out of place last summer at the Confederations Cup. Good individual players (Enyeama! Mikel! Moses!), not a great team. Cool Seattle Sounder-esque neon green kits though!
Der Fussball Warnung! Three-time champs, though perennial bridesmaids of late. Reached WC semis in '06 and '10 and were defeated finalists in '02. Loads of talent (Lahm! Schweinsteiger! Podolski!) but loads of injuries (Reus! Khedira! Neuer!) equals another close-but-not-quite semifinal exit.
Cristiano Ronaldo Alert!! The world's best player drug the Selecao into the World Cup, scoring four goals in two games against Sweden to ensure qualification. We'll see what he can do in Brazil. Also, coach Paulo Bento reminds me of a Portuguese Robert DeNiro.
USA Nemesis Alert!! Two World Cups, two trips to the knockout round for the Black Stars. Should've made the semis in South Africa if not for Luis Suarez's best Diego Maradona impression (the handball one, not the goal-scoring genius). Dangerous team, incredibly tough group.
Homer Alert!! Won their qualifying group, made some odd choices in team selection (No Landon Donovan?...Yeah, that makes sense, Jurgen.), but some world class players (Howard! Bradley!) and seeming to gel at the right time. Impossible group for a team that routinely does better when everyone counts them out. Stay tuned.
Meet the Chile of Europe. Everyone thinks this entire team of young stars (Hazard! Kompany! Lukaku! Courtois!) to break out in their first World Cup since 2002. They'll win this group easily and could make the semis, or they'll feel the pressure and be bounced in the Round of 16, prompting a world-wide waffle shortage.
Atrocious to watch in 2010, as they played for draws even when they needed to win to have a shot at advancing, but apparently this is a new, fresh Algeria that likes to attack and score goals. (...) Qualified in a CAF playoff over African Nations runner-up Burkina-Faso on away goals. Nicknamed the "Fennec Foxes", coached by former Bosnian star Vahid Halilhodzic, boring green and white kits...Wait, why am I still talking about them? Just avoid Algeria, ok?
Everyone's pick to finish behind Belgium in this group...until captain Roman Shirokov was ruled out with a back injury. Coached by Fabio Capello (Don Fabio!) who was paid millions of dollars to lead England to a Round of 16 exit in South Africa in 2010. Contain your excitement.
The Taegeuk Warriors! Surprise World Cup semifinalists at home in '02, reached the knockout stages in 2010...and haven't won a match since January. Lost their last five games by a combined score of 13-0. To say they're LIMPING into this competition is an understatement, but it's not a tough group, plus their names are fun/easy to say (Ki to Park to Lee!), so we'll see.
In any case, remember that this type of footballing extravaganza only comes around once every four years, so take advantage of it! Fill out a bracket, set your DVR to "Season Pass" mode, get invested in a team or two, and soak it all in with 2 or 3 billion of your closest friends.
It's the world's game. It's the world's tournament. Be a part of it this summer.
Alex Heinert is a producer at Midco Sports Network and covers the Summit League, the NSIC and North and South Dakota high school sports. He also is the author of "Immensely Special", a blog covering all things in the world of soccer. He lives in Sioux Falls, SD.
Special thanks to Jason Andera and Outside of the Boot.com.