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World Cup 2014: Twelve Picks for an Investor's Dream Team

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One dozen top FIFA World Cup teams profiled: What are their chances in Brazil? What's the top stock in each market?

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Colombia


World Cup pedigree and prospects: Intermittent finalists appearing in their first tournament for 16 years, an inexperienced Colombia team pushed Argentina all the way for top spot in qualification. Official FIFA rankings, admittedly a notoriously unreliable guide, rate this team the planet's fifth best side. Goalkeeper David Ospina possesses an extremely safe pair of hands, and a relatively undemanding group that includes Greece and Japan makes the second round a distinct probability. The loss of world-class attacker Radamel Falcao, out since January with a serious knee injury, suggests that, alas, the second round may be the summit of its ambitions.

Player to watch: In the absence of Falcao, his Monaco teammate James Rodríguez will shoulder a bigger burden as the fulcrum of the side. Still only 22, the versatile midfielder chips in with several assists and can also play out on the wing. He is able to turn the trajectory of the play with a well-timed swivel of the hips, and, as Barranquilla-born Shakira -- herself married to a soccer star -- can attest, they don't lie.

Famous fútbol feat: Infamous, in this instance. The 1994 Colombian World Cup team arrived in America as the choice of many experts, Pelé included, to win the entire tournament. A celebrated 5-0 thrashing of Argentina in Buenos Aires the previous September heralded its arrival on the world stage. Colombia exploded onto the scene lead by captain Carlos Valderrama, whose hair resembled a burst sofa. Eccentric goalkeeper René Higuita, later to perfect the "scorpion save," combined flair and excellence in equal measure. Yet it all ended in tragedy when Andrés Escobar inadvertently put through his own goal in a loss to Team USA. In a surreal episode straight out of Gabriel García Márquez, Escobar (no relation to notorious drug kingpin Carlos) would soon pay for the mistake with his life.

Economy -- on its toes or down at heel? A supremely steady Eddie in a notoriously unstable region, Colombia's growth rate is forecast to flirt with 5% this year. There has been a dramatic reduction in drug-related violence since the bad old days of Escobar, with the guerrilla group FARC having been largely defanged. Indeed, such is the booming economy that on Friday, Colombia's central bank increased a key interest rate to 3.75% in an effort to ward off incipient inflation.

Stock to score with: Big Board-listed Bancolombia (NYSE:CIB), based in Medellín where The Two Escobars each met a violent end, reported better-than-expected earnings in May. A share issue earlier this year was massively oversubscribed amid intense retail interest, and Zacks recently raised its rating on the financial firm. Investing in the company would be one way to participate in Colombia's rising consumer class, although let's not sugarcoat it: A bank that does business in El Salvador -- which was once bonkers enough to go to war over a soccer game -- may not be the safest equity for Peoria's proverbial widows and orphans.

NEXT PAGE: Argentina

No positions in stocks mentioned.
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