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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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USA


World Cup pedigree and prospects: After ending a 40-year absence from the tournament in 1990, Team USA has since qualified for seven successive competitions. The days when the sport was derided as "America's biggest babysitting servic" catering to children of suburban "soccer moms" are long gone. The kids have come of age and are nobody's pushovers. That said, Jurgen Klinsmann's team is highly unlikely to survive being drawn in the dreaded "Group of Death" alongside Germany, Portugal, and Ghana. USA's brutal travel schedule, involving a tournament-high 8,866-mile schlep across Brazil, is another unwelcome complication.

Player to watch: With forward Landon Donovan controversially left off the roster, all eyes will be on the other end of the field. Goalkeeper Tim Howard made his 100th appearance on Saturday, and continues his country's fine tradition in sports that allow handling. A colorful character who overcame Tourette syndrome, Howard kept 15 shutouts (or "clean sheets," as they say where he earns a living) for England's Everton in the season just ended. At 35 -- not especially ancient for a net minder -- his experience will be invaluable in marshaling a relatively unproven defense. Noted for razor-sharp reflexes along with the occasional expensive error.

Famous fútbol feat: Bandwagon-jumping Brooklyn hipsters no doubt maintain that "soccer" only arrived in America with Donovan's epic injury time-winner against Algeria four years ago, but connoisseurs of a certain age know otherwise. In the 1950 World Cup, also hosted by Brazil, a rag-tag team of American amateurs incredibly overcame the mighty England 1-0. So shocking was the score that many British newspapers believed it to be a wire services misprint and instead reported that the Mother Country had tanked the Yanks to the tune of 10-1.

Economy -- on its toes or down at heel? In contrast with the UK, the US stock market is faring far better than is its overall economy. Equities, fueled by the Fed's bond-buying binge, continue their inexorable ascent, yet the recovery, which officially entered its sixth year this month, remains remarkably sluggish. Only on Friday did we regain all of the lost jobs from the Great Recession, and many of the new positions are relatively underpaid and of questionable quality. Meanwhile, growth remains anemic.

Stock to score with: McDonald's (NYSE:MCD). Yes, yes -- I know. Picking a junk food giant for a tournament involving the planet's fittest people is a little ironic. But Mickey D's fellow Dow (INDEXDJX:.DJI) member Nike Inc (NYSE:NKE) just seemed a tad too obvious, so in the battle between blue chips, I went with French fries. Besides, the Golden Arches is one of the World Cup's eight official sponsors, and its new commercial for the finals is already the stuff of Madison Avenue legend. The company offers investors a comparatively plump yield, currently trades at a deep discount to industry competitors, and is embarking upon a three-year plan of returning $20 billion in cash to shareholders.

NEXT PAGE: France

No positions in stocks mentioned.
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