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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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Argentina


World Cup pedigree and prospects: Twice winners, first on home soil while the military junta's Dirty War raged in 1978 and again in Mexico eight years later, lead by the brilliance of Diego Maradona. Argentina has been crying out for a title ever since, and how it would love to do so in the enemy territory of Brazil. Its Group F opponents should present few problems for a midfield superbly marshaled by Javier Mascherano, with Gonzalo Higuaín and Sergio Agüero providing a stellar supporting cast to the peerless Lionel Messi up front. Yet the back line of the tournament's oldest team is a weak link that skilled opponents can profitably exploit.

Player to watch: It is the rare sportsman who makes the cover of The Economist, but Messi really is one of a kind. Standing a mere 5'7″ and nicknamed La Pulga ("The Flea"), the Argentina captain is a giant among pygmies on the pitch. A four-time World Footballer of the Year, the Barcelona superstar is Argentina's record marksman and has an equally unerring eye for a well-placed pass to teammates. Messi was particularly prolific in quantification, hitting the net 10 times. He will turn 27 during the tournament, and this is surely his time to shine.

Famous fútbol feat: They say this is a team game, yet in '86, Diego Maradona came close to rendering all 21 other players redundant every time he played. A famous photo of him taking on over half the Belgium outfield single-handedly four years earlier offered a hint of the glories to come. That picture can be purchased on eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY) for about 850 bucks, but the memories Maradona gave us in Mexico are utterly priceless.

Economy -- on its toes or down at heel? Not just down at heel -- "Down at heel. Looking out of the window. Staying out of the sun," in the words of Evita. They say Argentines are Italians who speak Spanish and want to be British, but Buenos Aires has suffered the same troubles as the two PIIGS without enjoying any of England's financial recovery. Another peso crisis reminiscent of the early aughts devaluation saw foreign capital shrink, while China's slowdown hurt commodity exports. In the ultimate ignominy, the country's economic mismanagement is such that Argentina may soon be forced to import beef. On the bright side, a debt repayment plan was just announced after 13 years of default, and the main stock market is up about 40% in 2014.

Stock to score with: Speaking of eBay, Mercadolibre (NASDAQ:MELI) is often called Latin America's equivalent. JPMorgan (NYSE:JPM) raised its recommendation on the Buenos Aires-based online auctioneer only last month. Analysts wrote in a note that "[the region's] e-commerce has substantial growth potential," and characterized the company's fundamentals as "very positive."

NEXT PAGE: Brazil

No positions in stocks mentioned.
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