The World Cup, possibly the most popular international sporting event, starts this week in Brazil. The world is abuzz as many of soccer’s best players, representing 32 countries, seek to dethrone Spain, the reigning champion.

The World Cup is held every four years in a different country. National teams qualify through a series of regional games; the host country gets an automatic bid. The actual tournament, unfolding over the course of a month, includes a group stage and a knockout stage. In the group stage, each team plays the other three teams in its group. The top two finishers from each group move on to the knockout stage, which eventually determines the champion.

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The United States men’s national soccer team has qualified for every World Cup since 1990. Not a traditional powerhouse, the U.S. enters this tournament ranked thirteenth in the world. The team is not expected to make it out of the group stage.

But stranger things have happened.

The American team offers just a few of the many storylines set to play out at the 2014 World Cup. Here are the five things you need to know about the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Landon Donovan of the US Men's National Team practices in Stanford, California on May 14, 2014.   In the upcoming World Cup 2014 the US is drawn in Group G, along with Ghana, who reached the quarter-finals in the 2010 edition, Euro 2012 semi-finalists Portugal, and one of the favorites for the trophy Germany. They will kick off their campaign on June 16 against Ghana.

Landon Donovan (Photo Credit: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

1. The Best American Player Ever Not Included On US Roster

The most decorated American player won’t be in Brazil for the World Cup. That player is Landon Donovan, and he was excluded from the national soccer team for being not quite at the level of his would-be teammates. Meanwhile, Donovan is breaking scoring records in Major League Soccer. Right after US coach Jurgen Klinsmann cut Donovan from the USMNT, Donovan became the league’s all-time leading goalscorer.

Many think that Klinsmann made a mistake not including the iconic player on the USMNT, to at least provide experience and moral guidance within the squad. Most of the forwards this time around are new to the international scene. Others thinks the move was calculated to give younger players more experience, setting up the team for future World Cup success. We’ll know soon enough, as the Yanks take the field Monday, June 16 against Ghana, their first game in what’s been dubbed the “Group of Death.”

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - MAY 31: Radamel Falcao of Colombia looks on before the International Friendly Match between Colombia and Senegal at Pedro Bidegain Stadium on May 31, 2014 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Radamel Falcao (Photo Credit: Gabriel Rossi/Getty Images)

2. The Best Colombian Player Will Be Absent From Cup

The Colombia national team is one of the best teams in the world. But Colombia’s best player, Radamel Falcao, will miss the World Cup. Falcao tore a ligament in his left knee while playing for Monaco in the French league a few months back.

The injury was supposed to heal just in time for the World Cup, but Colombia’s coach, José Néstor Pékerman, left Falcao off the Colombian roster regardless. The timing just seemed to be too close for comfort.

Falcao started his career as a child prodigy 15 years ago and has grown into one of the best strikers in the world. He’s been considered for player of the year each of the last three years. Falcao was expected to be one of the tournament’s main attractions. His high-scoring abilities helped Colombia qualify second in South America, right behind Argentina. The team was a huge threat going into this tournament. But now, with Falcao absent, Colombia appears a bit less imposing.

LISBON, PORTUGAL - MAY 24:  Gareth Bale of Real Madrid is tracked by Filipe Luis of Club Atletico de Madrid during the UEFA Champions League Final between Real Madrid and Atletico de Madrid at Estadio da Luz on May 24, 2014 in Lisbon, Portugal.

Gareth Bale (Photo Credit: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

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3. The Highest Paid Player Absent From World Cup

Gareth Bale is the highest paid soccer player in the world. He currently plays wing for Real Madrid, which competes in La Liga, the top league in Spain, and carries a transfer fee of $100 million. Bale is from Wales, and his country did not qualify for the World Cup. So the most expensive player in World, who is also one of the best, will miss the World Cup.

It is rumored that Bale was offered English citizenship when he played with the Tottenham Hotspurs in the English Premier League between 2007 and 2013. Bale allegedly turned down the opportunity to help Wales qualify for the World Cup. The country has never qualified for the tournament.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 16:  Uruguayan forward Juan Alberto Schiaffino (C) kicks the ball past Brazilian goalkeeper Moacyr Barbosa to tie the score at 1 during the World Cup final round soccer match between Uruguay and Brazil 16 July 1950 in Rio de Janeiro. Uruguay upset Brazil 2-1 to win its second World title after winning the first World Cup in 1930 in Uruguay.

Uruguay vs. Brazil, 1950 World Cup (Photo Credit: Staff/AFP/Getty Images)

4. Brazil Hosted World Cup In 1950

Host country Brazil last hosted the World Cup in 1950. World War II had forced the tournament to be canceled twice during the 1940s. With the War over and much of Europe still on the mend, FIFA gave Brazil the right to host the soccer tournament. It was generally agreed that the country would have hosted in 1942 if not for the cancellation.

The country built the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janiero for the tournament. The Maracana held up to 200,000 spectators and was supposed to celebrate Brazil’s dominance over the sport of soccer. However, in the final, Uruguay rained on their parade, defeating the host country 2-1. It was reported that three Brazilian fans died of a heart attack and one spectator committed suicide by jumping from the stands. The downsized stadium — capacity is about 80,000 these days – will be one of the many venues for the 2014 World Cup.

The 1950 World Cup in Brazil was also US team’s first appearance in the tournament. The team lost two of its three games in their group, but did win one. That victory came against England, another team debuting in that World Cup, and was considered a major upset. The US would be absent from the tournament until 1990 in Italy.

Members of social movements take part in the so-called

2014 World Cup protests in Brazil (Photo Credit: Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images)

5. Brazil’s Cleanup To Hold The World Cup

Brazil has come under some scrutiny for its tournament preparations in the days, weeks and months leading up to the 2014 World Cup. Recent protests have dampened what is supposed to be a joyous occasion for this soccer-loving nation.

The country has built stadiums and hotels in host cities, costing the country billions in a stagnant economy. The construction and cleanup have razed favelas (slums) and displaced poorer classes of people from their homes. Many Brazilians feel that these people are inhumanely shouldering the burden for hosting, and have been extremely vocal about it.

Protests could affect starts of the tournament. And the stigma of forcing people out of their homes to accommodate tourists could live on well after the World Cup ends.

J.L. Herrera is a huge fan of football and has been following the Raiders since the 1980s during the LA era. J.L. is also a freelance writer and copywriter on the web. He taught English for a little more than a decade in Los Angeles at the secondary level. While writing for web based news outlets, J.L. enjoys reading, creative writing, and watching sports. His work can be found on

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