A Newcomer's Guide To The 2010 World Cup

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    Striker Arjen Robben (left) will represent the Dutch national team in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, which begins June 11 and ends July 11. Robben plays for Bayern Munich.
    Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images
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    South Africa's national team, ranked 83rd in the world, could have a hard time keeping up the tradition of host countries' advancing to the World Cup's Round of 16. Preparing to host the tournament, South Africa built five new stadiums.
    Themba Hadebe/AP
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    Forward Samuel Eto'o of Cameroon scored nine goals in 11 qualifiers for the national team on its way to the World Cup. Cameroon faces Denmark in a key matchup on June 19.
    Lionel Cironneau/AP
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    Spain's Xavi Hernandez, considered to be among the best midfielders in the game, celebrates after scoring for Barcelona against Villarreal. Spain's other top players include Fernando Torres, Andres Iniesta, David Villa, and goalkeeper/captain Iker Casillas.
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    Coming off its first major title win since 1964, Spain's national team is favored to advance from Group H, which includes Switzerland, Honduras and Chile.
    Paul White/AP
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    Midfielder Landon Donovan, celebrating after assisting on a goal against Trinidad and Tobago, will lead the U.S. team against England on June 12.
    Mark Humphrey/AP
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    Striker Didier Drogba is the all-time top scorer for the Ivory Coast national football team. Here, he's seen in action for Chelsea, of the English Premier League.
    Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images
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    Ivory Coast's national team could prove to be a fan favorite — no African team has ever made it to the World Cup's title match. Coach Vahid Halilhodzic thinks his team is "capable of springing a surprise, even against Brazil or Portugal."
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    Defender Douglas Maicon Sisenando (left) will represent Brazil in his first World Cup appearance. Here, Maicon is seen in a recent game, playing for Inter Milan.
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    Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring in a recent match. Aside from being a great Portuguese midfielder, he has also been romantically linked to actress and socialite Kim Kardashian.
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    Argentine forward Lionel Messi is currently ranked the world's best player, according to Castrol Rankings.
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    A native of Japan, Jong Tae Se will play striker for North Korea. Jong, seen here playing for Kawasaki Frontale, vows to score a goal in each of his three games, against Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast.
    Shuji Kajiyama/AP
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    North Korea's national soccer team is making its first World Cup appearance since 1966. Here, players pose before a World Cup qualifying match against South Korea in Seoul, April 1, 2009.
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Soccer is increasingly popular in the states, but for many Americans, the World Cup can be summed up in two words: learning curve.

So what to know before the games begin on June 11? Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis, who will be heading to the tournament in South Africa, gives a primer on which teams and players to watch.

The uniforms for the U.S. men's national soccer team. i i

The uniforms for the U.S. men's national soccer team were designed by Nike. The shirt, with its diagonal stripe, is a throwback to the 1950s U.S. World Cup team that beat England. Seth Wenig/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Seth Wenig/AP
The uniforms for the U.S. men's national soccer team.

The uniforms for the U.S. men's national soccer team were designed by Nike. The shirt, with its diagonal stripe, is a throwback to the 1950s U.S. World Cup team that beat England.

Seth Wenig/AP

His impressions of the American team, which was announced on May 26?

"We've got a world-class goalkeeper in Tim Howard; a strong midfield with Landon Donovan, the coach's son, Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey from Texas, who just finished a terrific season with Fulham of the English Premier League," Fatsis says.

The big question mark for the United States is defense, he says.

"Three of the likely starting defenders — Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit and Carlos Bocanegra — are all recovering from injuries and there's not a lot of depth behind them," Fatsis says. "So I'm optimistic about three-quarters of the field and a little bit worried about the very important final quarter."

If you're not cheering for the U.S. team, and you're looking for a front-runner team to root for, Fatsis suggests Spain and Brazil. Or, "if you want to show some style chops — or you like the color orange — I would say go with the Netherlands," he says.

The trendy team to root for will be the Ivory Coast. "No African team has ever made a World Cup final, and they are the best of the African teams in the tournament," Fatsis says.

Fatsis' Fun World Cup Facts

The host country has never failed to get out of the first round. But South Africa is ranked 83rd.

Cristiano Ronaldo, the great Portuguese midfielder, has been romantically linked to actress and socialite Kim Kardashian.

The jerseys worn by the U.S. team pay tribute to those worn by the Americans in 1950. Joe Gatejens, who scored the winning goal against England, wasn't even a U.S. citizen.

As for individual players, Fatsis suggests keeping an eye out for Lionel Messi of Argentina, a player he calls "arguably the best player in the world right now." He also suggests watching Didier Drogba of Ivory Coast. Drogba is a U.N. ambassador who's been credited with helping end his nation's civil war.

Finally, Fatsis notes that Jong Tae Se of North Korea was born and raised in Japan and could have played for Japan or South Korea but chose to play for North Korea because he attended a school that was aligned with Northern interests. Last week Jong vowed to score a goal in each of the opening rounds — against Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast.

"That is a tall order," Fatsis says.

The games will be hard to miss. ESPN has rolled out unprecedented coverage, Fatsis says. The network will show all 64 games live on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC, and 52 of those games will be shown simultaneously online.

"They have genuinely embraced the sport," Fatsis says. "The big change is that ESPN has ditched what I thought was a parochial approach in 2006 when they made an American baseball announcer the lead play-by-play guy, and they spent a lot of time explaining the sport. This time the top four announcers will have British accents and more important, vast, vast experience calling soccer."

Fatsis is married to All Things Considered host Melissa Block, who conducted the interview.

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