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The Thinking Fan's Approach: While it's natural to pick one's favorite teams to win in the World Cup, some fans give it more thought. These Portuguese fans attended their team's warmup game with Mozambique at Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The World Cup begins Friday — giving you plenty of time to fill out a bracket. The Cup has half as many teams as the NCAA basketball tournament — meaning that it's twice as easy to pick your winners. Plus, there's a cool Stratego vibe to anointing one country to defeat another.
It's just weightier to pick, say, Germany over Serbia than to choose UCLA over Monmouth.
For any tournament, filling out a bracket is a great way to get your head into the sport, and enjoy games where you would normally have no rooting interest. In the process, you learn who's actually playing — both teams and top players.
Then, you zero in on the tough early matchups — like Argentina-Nigeria, or Cameroon-Denmark. And before you know it, you're personally invested — and maybe even monetarily, as well — in countries you've never visited and players you'd never heard of.
That's when you start seeing potentially awesome matchups. For instance, there's a chance that two top teams, Brazil and Spain, will meet in the round of 16. For that to happen, Spain has to finish first in its group (almost certain) and Brazil must finish second in its group (unlikely).
Brackets give you one more thing to root for — a great World Cup. And preferably it'll be one that shows how great you are at picking winners.
Luckily, there are lots of free brackets on the Web. I got a shortlist from my pal Stephane, who fulfills my criteria for an advisor:
1 - Loves soccer (he's French)
2 - Knows the players (he ranked in the top 400 of Yahoo's UK fantasy league)
3 - Knows technology (he's a database administrator)
So, here's his list; most of these sites require that you sign up for a login:
The Official FIFA World Cup fantasy game — Seems to require picking players for each game, so a bit more labor-intensive.
Yahoo! World Soccer — Basic bracket; added benefit: many people already have Yahoo! logins.
World Cup Buzz — It's related to Major League Soccer Talk, and has an iPhone app.
Soccernet at ESPN.com — Select one of four formats from the "Fantasy" tab.
World Cup Pool — Very simple, bracket-games only. It's very international, and popular among the Dutch.
FoxSoccer — You choose from three formats.