The SB Nation Soccer Staff took a crack at drafting the 32 World Cup teams. That means taking into account who's good, who got a good draw and, most importantly, who has players we like and are willing to overlook flaws for.
Take it away, Graham MacAree, Ryan Rosenblatt, Andi Thomas, Kirsten Schlewitz, Callum Hamilton, Jack Sargeant, Zach Woosley and Kevin McCauley. Graham, you are on the clock.
1. Graham: Brazil
The No. 1 pick goes to the most likely winners. If this wasn't in Brazil, it would probably be a different story, but guess what?
2. Ryan: Argentina
The talk going into the World Cup is whether Lionel Messi will finally play well for Argentina, but guess what? He's been pretty great for Argentina before. The difference now is he has Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain in the attack with him and a underrated midfield in Javier Mascherano and Fernando Gago before him. If there's a fault in this team, it's the defense, but Ezequiel Garay and Pablo Zabaleta are great, and you can bet on huge Argentine crowds in Brazil.
3. Andi: Spain
Spain's problem is that they've been so good, for so long, that there's nothing left to talk about except if and when they'll fail. Is Xavi too old? Will they miss Puyol? Is Diego Costa's leg okay? Will they cope with the conditions? All acceptable questions: when you're the best, the only way is down. Let's not forget, though, that they're still really, really good.
4. Kirsten: Belgium
Belgium's biggest fear isn't their cobbled-together defense (hurray for central defenders pretending to be fullbacks!) but rather that Romelu Lukaku will hit a cold patch at just the wrong time. Sure, their midfield is perfectly capable of scoring goals, as Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas and even Dries Mertens would be happy to demonstrate. But they're rather dependent on Lukaku up top. However, if the 21-year-old is hot, there may be no stopping Belgium -- inexperience be damned.
I'd love this team more if they'd give Dries a start, though.
5. Callum: Italy
Italy have several strengths going for them. Firstly, they have a very well-balanced squad, not only positionally but also in terms of experience -- a good blend of hungry youngsters and aged veterans. Secondly, so many of their players are built for the cagey football World Cups produce. Mario Balotelli is exactly the kind of ruthless finisher you need in the tournament, Andrea Pirlo can take advantage of the slower pace, and Thiago Motta and Daniele de Rossi can put a stop to any magicians on the other side. Finally, most their defensive unit have experience of playing together at their club, Juventus, and we've seen that serve other teams well in the past.
The best thing about backing Italy, however, is that everything can be a sign they're going to win it. Terrible results in friendlies? Nobody on earth thinking they're going to do it? That's when they always strike.
6. Jack: Switzerland
Switzerland have just about the perfect blend of youth and experience and tenacity and flair, with their wily old coach Ottmar Hitzfeld having gradually molded a brilliant balanced unit. Sturdy at the back and magnificently mobile up top, they could well cause some upsets in a long World Cup run. Plus, they're cooler than Colombia these days, too.
7. Zach: Germany
Picking 7th left me limited options so it was really more a question of who I viewing as the "best" of the teams left available. I like Germany, or I liked Germany, before they started picking up injuries like a grade school boy gets cuts and bruises. While this pick was inspired less by a belief in Die Mannschaft, and more by them being their when I picked, I want to believe they have a chance to make me look smart. I just can't see it happening though, so I'll hope for a semifinal run.
8. Kevin: France
France were clearly the best team available when I picked; thanks for taking Switzerland off the board early and leaving me with a really clear choice. Even though Franck Ribery is out, Mathieu Valbuena is a great replacement, and Paul Pogba is going to be the best young player at this tournament. They have forwards who can score, an athletic midfield, depth in defense and a great keeper. They're much better than the eighth-best team in this tournament.
9. Kevin: Portugal
I'm actually not that high on Portugal as a team, since they disappoint in major tournaments on a regular basis and simply look to pass the ball to Cristiano Ronaldo even though they're probably capable of much more than that. But they feature the best player on earth, surrounded by 10 very solid, capable professionals. For that reason alone, it's possible they could win the World Cup.
10. Zach: Netherlands
Picking the Dutch is like playing a non-lethal version of Russian Roulette. Will they be a dominant force and march back to the finals, or will they explode in a glorious orange fireball of ego, disagreement, and miserable football? Who knows. They don't even know probably. It's the last team you really want to count on when trying to pick successful teams in a major international tournament, but they can be worth the risk.
11. Jack: Colombia
Falcao. Oh Falcao. The World Cup will be a bit less special without you there, and Colombia a lot less potent. But if there is some good news, it's that you'll probably be replaced in the starting lineup by Teó Gutiérrez, who is as crazy as he is talented, and for the spectator, that's just about the perfect combo. Just leave the paintball gun at home, Teó. Signed, your teammates.
12. Callum: Russia
Nobody seems to be expecting Russia to do anything, and while they're very dependent on a small number of players -- among them Roman Shirokov, who now won't be at the tournament -- their effectiveness and ruthlessness in qualifying was astonishing and shouldn't be discarded lightly.
We've seen the likes of Alan Dzagoev step it up at international tournaments before, and I think he'll do so again. With Fabio Capello in charge, they'll be hard to beat, well-organised, and again, this is a team that's used to playing with each other.
13. Kirsten: Croatia
One word, four letters: L-U-K-A.
14. Andi: England
It's rare going into a tournament not knowing exactly how England are going to slightly underwhelm. Are they going to impose full Hodgeball on a faintly exciting squad, scrape through to the second round, then generally stink the place out? Or are they going to throw caution to the wind and gallop through to the second round before getting unpicked at the back by somebody cleverer than they?
15. Ryan: Chile
Exactly how Chile fell this far is beyond me. They're an excellent team, anchored by Arturo Vidal, one of the most complete midfielders in the world. But with Alexis Sanchez, Mauricio Isla and Eduardo Vargas in the team too, as well as an unconventional 3-5-2 that can cause havoc for opponents who don't see it often.
Chile are far better than the 15th best team at the World Cup, but they have two things going against them: Vidal is battling a bad knee and they're in a group with Spain, with a potential round of 16 match against Brazil looming. Still, 15th!
16. Graham: Ivory Coast
Group C is going to be a mess, but the Ivory Coast has just as much of a chance to get out of it as Colombia or Japan and might even top the group. If they do, Group D isn't too tough to face in the second round.
17. Graham: Bosnia and Herzergovina
Decent pick, but mostly selected for the round of expletives sent my way when a certain other soccer contributor saw what I'd done. Should finish second in Group F and then get mauled in the second round.
19. Ryan: Japan
Japan have serious issues at the back and that could turn this tournament into a disaster, but they have a few things going for them:
1. A favorable draw, without a single great team.
2. Experience, having made it to the Round of 16 four years ago.
3. Keisuke Honda, who is sublime in a Japan shirt.
19. Andi: Uruguay
Under normal circumstances, Uruguay's terrifying attacking power would make them thoroughly disagreeable opponents. Except half of that attack, Luis Suarez, is just recovering from surgery, while the other half, Edinson Cavani, has been pretty tepid for much of the season. With them both potentially underpowered, things could get pretty miserable.
20. Kirsten: South Korea
I'm not all that fond of South Korea -- I guess that's why I picked them pretty far down on the list. But I'm also not that keen on Russia and Algeria, so I think they'll make it out of their group. Their main attribute is organization, which is never going to win them a lot of hangers on, but it's unlikely they're in Brazil to make friends.
21. Callum: Nigeria
After their impressive Africa Cup of Nations win under Stephen Keshi, Nigeria have been much-improved, and while they don't have the real stars that the likes of the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Cameroon have, they do have the biggest pool of players to draw from of all the African sides, and thus the fewest weaknesses. There's a strong balance in the team, which has creativity, pace, strength and intelligence throughout, and if used well, they should get out of the group and could cause a surprise or two.
22. Jack: Algeria
Algeria's nickname is the Fennec Foxes, and they used to have one on their kit. If that alone isn't enough of a reason to get behind them, then just take a look at some of the players in their squad. Striker Islam Slimani has been on some hot form for Sporting Lisbon, and could be a serious revelation in Brazil. Young playmakers Yacine Brahimi and Sofiane Feghouli are also great to watch. Algeria press like madmen and have some serious firepower up top. They could well be a big surprise package.
23. Zach: United States
It killed me to pick the U.S., but it's a smart pick...I hope. Unlike everyone in the ESPN commercial, I do not believe that this team will win anything. Yet, this might end up being my best pick in the end since there's a chance they should knock out Germany, and advance farther than any of my picks. There's also the chance they'll go 0-3. I have no doubt that the United States can score goals and challenge the three other teams in their Group, but I just don't think they can defend well enough for that to matter. Maybe I should have picked Mexico, they always make the Round of 16.
24. Kevin: Mexico
Mexico would have gone a lot higher in this draft if they weren't ravaged by injuries and their coach didn't have a couple of serious blind spots. But they're starting Maza Rodriguez, so here they are. I only picked them because Giovani dos Santos completes me.
25. Kevin: Ghana
Look at all the teams picked after Ghana. Do you think any of them are better than Ghana? Didn't think so. That's the extent of my opinion on Ghana.
26. Zach: Ecuador
Umm. Well. When I made the pick, I used a highly scientific and complex system to determine which of the remaining teams had the best chance of performing well -- basically, I have a good friend who immigrated to the US from Ecuador. So, there you go.
27. Jack: Iran
The irresistible suave of Carlos Queiroz. The Hollywood stylings of Javad Nekounam. The cheetah proudly emblazoned on the front of the shirt. Reza Ghoochannejhad. Without further ado, GIVE ME AN 'I' ... GIVE ME AN 'R' ... GIVE ME AN 'A' ... GIVE ME AN 'N' ... IRAN!!!!!
28. Callum: Costa Rica
Well, who else was there? They'll probably finish bottom of their group, but they're not a terrible side and although they're going up against three much better teams, all have their problems. Hedging my bets from my Italy entry, the Italians have looked pretty poor in recent months, while England are a mess and Uruguay are heavily dependent on two strikers, one of whom is out of form and one of whom isn't fit. You never know ...
29. Kirsten: Cameroon
To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if Cameroon finish dead last. They're an aging squad that didn't impress all that much in qualifying. They're defensively-minded, which is, as we all know, another word for "boring", yet their defense isn't actually that great. Plus they've already kicked up a fuss, refusing to get on the plane to Brazil until their federation agreed to give them more bonus money. How very lovable.
30. Andi: Greece
There is something admirable about the manner in which Greece play their football. "Dance like nobody's watching" preaches the motivational quote, and here are the Greeks playing football carefully calculated to achieve just that goal. Yes, they're bobbins. But they're ideological bobbins, and in the absence of any chance to win the World Cup, a nation's got to have a code.
31. Ryan: Australia
The Socceroos are actually a decent team, but they're in a group with Spain, the Netherlands and Chile. Basically, they're screwed. But Socceroos is a great name.
32. Graham: Honduras
I really didn't have much say in this one. Good luck little buddies!