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World Cup 101 — The Road to Brazil 2014

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Every four years, over 1 billion people worldwide shift their focus to one particular country, where the 32 best national soccer teams converge for what many consider the greatest sporting event on Earth. Starting June 12, countries across the globe will adjust their schedules to align with Brazil so their citizens can watch as their national teams quest after the greatest trophy in the footballing world: the World Cup.

Why Brazil?

Back in 2007, the Federation International de Football Association (FIFA) held the bidding process for the World Cup to be held in 2014. Going into the process, FIFA made it known they wanted the 2014 World Cup to be held in a South American country, following South Africa’s hosting in 2010. Colombia was the only other country that entered the bidding process with Brazil, but withdrew their bid before the final vote after being pressured from other regional soccer associations.

Who’s In?

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Thirty-two countries are in. They are separated into eight groups for the first stage, otherwise known as the Group Stage. These eight groups were determined through a double-blind lottery draw.

A – Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon
B – Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia
C – Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan
D – Uruguay, Costa Rica, Italy, England
E – Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras
F – Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria
G – Germany, Portugal, United States, Ghana
H – Belgium, Algeria, Russia, Korean Republic (South Korea)

Where the U.S. Comes Into Play

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The United States (currently ranked No. 14 in the world) has had to endure one of the most grueling qualifying roads in the world. To qualify for the World Cup out of CONCACAF (the regional association the U.S. is a part of), they had to play 16 matches over the course of a year. That may not sound like a lot, but when these guys are also playing for their club teams, it adds a lot of extra playing time and little time for off season recovery.

The last 10 games were all part of what is known as the Hexagonal. The top six teams in CONCACAF all play each other home and away over six months (these matches fall onto “International Dates” so that the club teams can continue their seasons without having to constantly adjust for players leaving on international duty). The top three teams all get automatic bids into the tournament. The U.S. left the Hexagonal on top and gained the automatic bid. During the World Cup draw, the Americans were drawn into Group G, otherwise known as the Group of Death.

What Is the Group of Death?

There’s always one so-called Group of Death. It’s inevitable when you put this many top tier teams into a tournament. But there’s always one group in each World Cup Draw that showcases three or more Top 16 teams, which guarantees that one of the best teams in the world doesn’t make it to the knockout round.

This year, it’s Group G … and the United States is in it. The road to the knockout round goes through Germany (ranked No. 2 in the world) and Portugal (ranked No. 3). What adds even more drama into this year’s Group of Death is that the fourth team in the group, Ghana (ranked 38th in the world) has knocked the U.S. out of the last two World Cups.

The United States’ campaign for their first World Cup trophy starts on June 16 against Ghana. All matches will be carried on the networks of ESPN and online via the WatchESPN app.

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