A to Z Guide to the 2014 World Cup

PHOTO: Fuleco the Armadillo, the official mascot of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil
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The 2014 World Cup is finally here!

The quadrennial tournament kicked off Thursday when Brazil played Croatia in Sao Paulo. The tournament will mark the 20th edition of the World Cup, which will culminate with the final on July 13 in Rio de Janeiro. For Brazil, it is the second time the country will serve as host. The first time, in 1950, the finale ended in disaster for the hosts after Uruguay defeated Brazil to capture the title.

The World Cup will feature 32 nations -- placed in eight groups with four teams apiece -- and a total of 64 games. Defending champion Spain will have to contend with the likes of Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Italy if it wants to retain its title.

The United States has qualified for its seventh straight World Cup and will be looking to get out of a very tough group that features Germany, Portugal and Ghana.

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Below is your A-B-C guide to the World Cup:

Argentina

Winners of two World Cups (1978 and 1986), Argentina figures again to be one of the favorites for the title. The team features Lionel Messi, one of the greatest players in the world at the moment, as well as Sergio Aguero, who is also the son-in-law of the great Diego Maradona.

PHOTO: Lionel Messi of Argentina
Tom Dulat/LatinContent/Getty Images
PHOTO: Lionel Messi of Argentina

Brazil

The host nation has won the World Cup five times (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002) and will be going for a sixth -- the so-called La Sexta -- before a home crowd. Anything short of lifting the trophy will be considered a failure. Widespread protests and strikes have marred the lead-up to the tournament, especially in Sao Paulo, as riot police have been used to try and maintain order.

Caxirola

Brazil's response to South Africa's vuvuzela. The noisemaker is a small rattle that is less annoying and easier on the ears than the horn made famous four years ago. Despite that, the rattle has been banned from stadiums during games.

Dead Ball

Whenever play in soccer is stopped. The term also refers to all free kicks and corner kicks, often referred to as "dead ball situations."

ESPN

ESPN, along with ESPN2 and ABC, will broadcast all 64 games live: ESPN will televise 43 matches, while ESPN2 will air 11. ABC will air 10 games, including the final on July 13.

Fuleco

That's the name of the tournament's official mascot. He's a Brazilian three-banded armadillo and his likeness has been plastered everywhere.

Gooooooooooaaaaal!

That is the sweet sound of success in soccer. There aren't too many goals in a game so pay attention.

Hand Ball

No player is allowed to use their hands -- unless you're the goalkeeper or Maradona!

Italy

A four-time World Cup champion (1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006), the Italians are in a rebuilding phase. The team should be fun to watch since they feature scoring Mario Balotelli. You just never know what he's going to say or do.

PHOTO: AC Milans forward Mario Balotelli on April 25, 2014 at the Olympic stadium in Rome.
Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images
PHOTO: AC Milan's forward Mario Balotelli on April 25, 2014 at the Olympic stadium in Rome.

Japan

The Japanese may love baseball, but they have become increasingly good at soccer and are one of the strongest teams out of Asia. This is the fifth straight World Cup for Japan, who are coached by Alberto Zaccheroni, an Italian.

Jurgen Klinsmann

The U.S. coach has been to the World Cup before. As a player, he won the 1990 tournament with then-West Germany and coached the team to a third-place finish at the 2006 tournament.

Landon Donovan

Arguably the best player ever to represent the USA, Donovan will not be part of the team in Brazil. His 2010 goal against Algeria to put the Americans in the knockout round remains one of the best moments in American soccer history.

PHOTO: Landon Donovan #10 of USA during the International Friendly against Mexico at University of Phoenix Stadium on April 2, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Landon Donovan #10 of USA during the International Friendly against Mexico at University of Phoenix Stadium on April 2, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona.

Manaus

Of the 12 cities where the games will be played. Manuas is the one located the farthest distance from the others. Situated deep in the Amazon jungle, Manaus is a natural beauty. The United States will travel there to play Portugal on June 22 at the newly-built Arena Amazonia.

Neymar

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo may be the player everyone in the world will be focused on but Brazilians will have their eyes on Neymar. The Barcelona striker has the weight of an entire nation on his shoulders. Will he excel or wilt under the pressure?

PHOTO: Neymar of Brazil kicks the ball during a match between South Africa and Brazil
Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images/Getty Images
PHOTO: Neymar of Brazil kicks the ball during a match between South Africa and Brazil

Offsides

Often difficult for casual observers to understand, players are considered offside when the player "is nearer to his opponents' goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent," according to FIFA. If that's hard to comprehend, you're not alone. Referees often mess up this call.

Pele

He may not playing at this World Cup, but Pele remains a soccer icon. Expect to see and hear from him a lot over the next four weeks -- especially since he's appearing in those Subway commercials.

Qualification

The World Cup finals feature 32 teams (Brazil qualified automatically as host nation). A total of 203 nations played qualifying games over the past three years for a chance to play in Brazil.

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