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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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Italy


World Cup pedigree and prospects: A perennial soccer power, Italy dominated the global game during Auden's "low dishonest decade," emerging victorious under the gaze of an admiring Benito Mussolini in 1934 and 1938. It most recently held the trophy aloft eight years ago, in Berlin's remodeled Olympiastadion originally built by Hitler's architect Albert Speer. In between, the land shaped like a boot memorably overcame West Germany in Madrid's 1982 final. (Coincidentally or not, the biggest bull market in Wall Street history began in the same summer that the Azzurri triumphed in matador's back yard.) This current vintage lacks the iron clad catenaccio defense of days gone by, but in Mario Balotelli, an exciting attacking talent who is ironically allergic to grass, they have the firepower to go far, fitness and form permitting.

Player to watch: Andrea Pirlo may seem an unlikely candidate for glory, especially as he must do battle in Amazonian heat having just entered his 36th year. The peerless midfieldplaymaker is set for an Indian summer, however, with his passing ability and set-piece prowess carrying considerable threat. Like all the best players, he always seems to have extra time and space on the ball, as if operating in a zone of his own.

Famous fútbol feat: En route to its triumph in Spain 32 years ago, Italy overcame Brazil 3-2 in one of the competition's classic games. Grown men cried at that match, which is still recalled by millions as "the day football died." The result deprived a watching world of what was, by common consent, the greatest team never to lift the trophy. Defensive lapses ensured that the brilliant team of Zico and Socrates were ousted by Italy, whose own Paolo Rossi enjoyed a remarkable renaissance, with the hat-trick hero grabbing a spectacular shot at redemption after a two-year gambling ban.

Economy -- on its toes or down at heel? Rome's own Mr. Draghi may be the man of the moment in international markets, but his country's finances remain a mess. Some tentative signs of stabilization in Europe's third-largest economy and a double-digit percentage increase in the main stock market this year can't mask severe structural problems. Gross Domestic Product fell by 0.1% in the first quarter, while Italy's ever-growing debt burden stands at about 134% of GDP. Much of it is, admittedly, internally owned, but this will be of scant solace to the approximately 43% of young people who populate the nation's unemployment lines.

Stock to score with: Go on, be a Glasshole. Luxottica Group (NYSE:LUX), based in Europe's catwalk capital of Milan, hit an all-time high earlier this year after announcing a deal to design Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Glass devices. It is the world's largest eyewear company, and the company's $450 Oakley sunglasses allowed those rescued Chilean miners to see the light after 69 days in the dark. Luxottica, which owns Ray-Ban, LensCrafters, and Pearle Vision, can also boast considerable cash flow.

NEXT PAGE: Portugal

No positions in stocks mentioned.
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