The 2014 FIFA World Cup kicks off on Thursday, and the world's 32 best international sides will gather in Brazil with a shared dream of capturing the quadrennial tournament's title. The field is set for football's ("soccer's") largest global stage, and there are already several storylines to follow from home. Will host country and favorites Brazil capture its sixth championship? Can top players Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo shake recent injuries and perform at a high level? What are the chances that Team U.S.A actually advances from the Group of Death?

We're tempted to go ahead and answer, "Probably, probably, frightfully low," but we also feel that the beautiful game has some surprises in store for us. In part one of our World Cup preview, we look at five Brazilian foods to know and five players to keep an eye on during the month-long tournament. Be sure to check out Part II of our preview, featuring five Brazilian drinks to know and five first round matches to watch.

Related: Around The World Cup In 32 Global Beers

5 Foods To Eat

  1. Acarajé
    Commonly served as street food, these fried black-eyed pea fritters are found in abundance in the Northeastern Brazilian state of Bahía. Though they are most often stuffed with the creamy paste vatapá (made from bread, shrimp, coconut, peanuts and palm oil), we also love making them with crab salad.
  1. Feijoada
    Often referred to as “the national dish of Brazil,” feijoada is a stew of beans with beef and pork. It is typically served alongside rice and assorted sausages, but our personal favorite recipe involves frying up various cuts of meat with black beans and spices to create it in fritter-form.
  1. Picanha
    Dine at any Brazilian churrascaria and chances are that you will be encouraged to try their signature picanha. So, what exactly is this hunk of meat that’s rarely found in the U.S.? Known (rather unfortunately) as the “rump cap” in the States, picanha is a tender, juicy cut taken from a cow’s, well, rump. A glistening layer of fat adds beautifully to the rich flavor.
  1. Moqueca
    You could say that the Brazilians really love their stew. Another one of the country’s classic dishes is moqueca, a fish stew cooked in coconut milk. Traditionally mixed with tomatoes, onions, garlic, coriander and palm oil, the dish is commonly served with shrimp. 
  1. Coxinha
    Though found in many countries in South America, coxinha is likely to have originated in São Paulo. Literally meaning “little thigh,” the dish consists of chopped or shredded chicken fried in batter and molded into a drumstick shape. Think of it as a Brazilian chicken croquette. A deliciously crunchy, golden chicken croquette.

5 Players To Know

  1. Lionel Messi (Argentina)
    The 26 year-old midfielder for FC Barcelona and four-time Ballon d’Or winner as the world’s best footballer must return to top form after an injury-plagued 2014 campaign if perennial contenders Argentina want to have a legitimate shot at challenging for the title.
  1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
    Arguably the world’s most feared scorer, Ronaldo is eager to prove his many critics wrong and finally step up his play on the national level. The Real Madrid superstar is coming off his finest season to date, but is battling a nagging knee injury that has kept him out of the Portugal’s recent friendly games.
  1. Luis Suárez (Uruguay)
    Lesser celebrated than Messi or Ronaldo is Luis Suárez, the Uruguayan striker who plays his football for Premier League club Liverpool. Even coming off recent knee surgery, Suárez has the potential to lead the tournament in goals and vault his team above either Italy or England in the opening round.
  1. Franck Ribéry (France)/Neymar (Brazil)
    A terrifically skilled ball-handler and passer, Ribéry will look to pace will watch from the sidelines at a French side that has failed to advance out of the group stage two of the past three World Cups, after winning the tournament in their home country in 1998. 
    Editor’s Note: Ribéry was ruled out of the tournament last week due to a lingering back injury. Look out for Brazil’s Neymar instead. The 22 year-old FC Barcelona winger – making his World Cup debut – will be heavily relied upon to score for the host country, which features superior defense but a somewhat questionable attack.
  1. Tim Howard (U-S-A! U-S-A!)
    U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard will have to be at his absolute best in order for the United States to have any chance of advancing out of this year’s Group of Death. All roads in Brazil for the U.S. run through Howard, who leads a squad that often suffers from inconsistent play.

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