From Bafana Bafana to who's dating a Kardashian, all you need to know.
1. Lionel Messi (Argentina): Messi wears the legendary No. 10 jersey for his club, Barcelona, and is known for his creativity and ball handling. Diego Maradona declared Messi his succesor, which was validated when Messi was named FIFA's 2009 world player of the year.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal): Ronaldo, 25, is believed to be the highest-paid soccer player in the world. In June 2009, Real Madrid paid Manchester United a $132 million transfer free for Ronaldo's services. Along with scoring goals, Ronaldo also replaced England's David Beckham as Armani's spokesmodel for jeans and underwear.
3. Wayne Rooney (England): The English superstar striker, only 24 years old, scored 34 goals in 44 appearances this season for Manchester United. Until last season, Rooney had been paired with Ronaldo at United; many English fans feel that Ronaldo's transfer to Real Madrid opened Rooney's on-field options.
4. Xavi Hernandez (Spain): More commonly known just as Xavi, the 30-year-old is most often cited as the game's best playmaker. In 2006, Spanish coach Luis Aragones selected Xavi for the 2006 FIFA World Cup even though the midfielder was still recovering from a knee injury. Justifying the decision, Aragones was quoted as saying: "People say it is a gamble to take Xavi with us, but I say it would be a crazy gamble to leave him at home."
5. Kaka (Brazil): The 27-year-old Brazilian midfielder has been slowed by knee injuries, but he's still one of the game's best distributors in the middle. He plays for Real Madrid and was named the 2007 FIFA world player of the year. Kaka is a devout evangelical Christian and often wears a shirt under his jersey that reads, "I Belong to Jesus."
1. Brazil: The singlenamed wonders hold the world's No. 1 ranking, as they most often do. This summer's contingent includes striker Robinho, midfielder Kaka, and defender Lucio. Don't look for former stars Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. Both were left off the squad by coach Dunga.
2. Spain: The Spanish come into this World Cup ranked just behind the Brazilians, although they have yet to show well in the FIFA World Cup. Their best finish was fourth in 1950. Spain, with superstars Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, David Villa, and Fernando Torres, was considered the best team in the world - above even Brazil - only a few months ago.
5. Portugal: Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo, considered one of the best players in the world, is capable of winning Portugal its first-ever World Cup on his own. He's also reportedly dating Kim Kardashian, who earlier this year was by the side of Reggie Bush as he won a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints.
4. Netherlands: The "Oranje" are known for precise passing. In the early 1970s, the national team developed what was known as "total football," with each on-field player being able to switch positions with any other. Despite no longer using "total football," the Dutch are highly skilled and always a threat.
3. Argentina: A handful of other nations - Germany, defending champ Italy, England - might snag an unexpected victory in South Africa, but none of those countries boast the 5-foot-7 Lionel Messi, 22, widely considered the game's best player. Messi is often compared to Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona, who is also the team's head coach.
1. In 2009, U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard was drafted by the Harlem Globetrotters; he hasn't played a game for them.
2. At the age of 11, Lionel Messi was found to have growth hormone deficiency. One of the reasons Messi signed with Barcelona was because the club offered to pay for his treatment, which was $900 a month.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo's second given name (his full name is Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Averio) is in honor of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who was a favorite actor of the player's father.
4. When he was 18, Kaka fractured his spine in a swimming pool accident that threatened to leave him paralyzed. Upon full recovery, Kaka attributed the "miracle" to God and has since increased his tithing.
5. South Africa is ranked 83d in the world; the host nation receives an automatic bid.
1. Lionel Messi: "Messidona" (a combination of Messi and Maradona), since he is considered Maradona's second coming. Messi is also known as the "Atomic Flea."
2. Fernando Torres (Spain): "El Nino" or "The Kid." In 2009, Torres released an autobiography titled El Nino: My Story.
3. Rooney: "Roonaldo."
4. Javier Hernandez (Mexico): Chicharito or "Little Pea," a nickname that derives from his father, who was nicknamed "pea" for his green eyes. On July 1, Hernandez will become the first Mexican player for Manchester United.
1. Edson Buddle (forward, USA): Buddle is named after Edson Arantes do Nascimento, a.k.a Pele.
2. Peter Crouch (forward, England): At 6-foot-7 he is one of the tallest players in England.
3. Surprise Moriri (midfielder, South Africa): Moriri has been a part of Bafana Bafana since 2003.
4. Daisuke Matsui (midfielder, Japan): Fans of the Yankees and Red Sox can best appreciate that.
1. South Africa: "Bafana Bafana," which means "The Boys."
2. Italy: "The Azzurri," a nickname derived from the national color tradition of "Azzurro Savoia," or Savoy blue.
3. Spain: "La Furia Roja," which translates to "The Red Fury."
4. Mexico: "El Tri," for the red, white, and green of the Mexican flag.
5. Greece: "To Piratiko," which translates to "The Pirate Ship."
6. England: "The Three Lions."
1. Rio Ferdinand (defender, England): He suffered a knee injury in the team's first day of training in South Africa.
2. David Beckham (midfielder, England): Beckham is in South Africa, but won't be playing because of an Achilles tendon injury.
3. Michael Ballack (midfielder, Germany): Germany's captain will miss time with ligament damage in his ankle.
4. Didier Drogba (forward, Ivory Coast): He suffered an elbow injury in the team's final exhibition match against Japan. His status is in question.