By Brian Blickenstaff

(See below for the results of each round and who you chose as the ultimate winner.)

Welcome to Sports on Earth's Ultimate World Cup. Using the 2014 World Cup's qualification rules, we went federation by federation and picked 32 of the all-time best World Cup teams. No country could have more than one entrant.

Below you'll find a list of the participating teams along with a short description of their accomplishments and, if necessary, a note about why there were selected above another deserving candidate. Some of these decisions were hard to make. Holland, for example, has lost in the World Cup finals three times. What makes one of those losing teams better than the others? You'll have to read to find out, but in general, there's a slight bias toward modern teams.

That bias exists for several reasons -- modern sports medicine, professionalism, tactical evolution -- but mostly because the World Cup started out as a much smaller tournament than it is today. In 1930, and again in 1950, it featured just 13 teams, and it didn't become the 32-team extravaganza it is today until 1998, meaning the tournament became more competitive over time.

When we reached our final 32 teams, we sorted them into eight groups of four, just like the real World Cup. Fortunately, the math is in our favor here, because only eight nations have ever won the World Cup, so they went into our first pot, leading each of the eight groups. The remaining three pots -- Europe, Asia/North America and Africa/South America -- were dispersed into groups using a random number generator.

Here's what we ended up with for our final 32. Now, who advances from each group? That's up to you. Cast your vote for who is you think should advance from the groups below, and the top two in each group will move on into the next round, just like in the real World Cup. We'll tally the results over the weekend. Check back on Monday morning to see who has advanced to the next round.

A B C D E F G H
W. Germany
1974
France
1998
Uruguay
1950
Argentina
1986
Brazil
1970
Italy
2006
Spain
2010
England
1966
Chile
1962
Senegal
2002
Ghana
2010
Colombia
1994
Paraguay
2010
Nigeria
1998
Cameroon
1990
Morocco
1986
United States
2002
N. Korea
1966
New Zealand
2010
Mexico
1986
Costa Rica
1990
Australia
2006
Japan
2002
S. Korea
2002
Poland
1982
Turkey
2002
Holland
1974
Sweden
1994
Portugal
2006
Austria
1954
Czechoslovakia
1962
Hungary
1954

Group A

usa_2002
More than a decade later, American soccer fans still remember their side's upset of Mexico in the 2002 World Cup. (Getty Images)

West Germany, 1974

Key Players: Paul Breitner, Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller, Uli Hoeneß, Sepp Maier

West Germany was a three-time World Cup champion, making this the first really tough call I've had to make. Here's why I went with the 1974 team: When the West Germans won in 1954, it was against an (almost) all-conquering Hungarian team (see below), and the German victory was a bit of a fluke -- a "miracle." In 1990, the team featuring Jurgan Klinsmann won 1-0 on a late-game penalty. Boring. In 1974, however, the Germans were a team packed with superstars who'd just won the 1972 European Championship. Big things were expected of them, and, in the World Cup final, they met a worthy adversary with whom they traded punches for 90 minutes: the Johan Cruyff-captained Dutch (see below). The Dutch, who played with a kind of panache and verve never seen before, took an early lead before The Keiser, Franz Beckenbauer, and the West Germans forced their way back into the match, winning a penalty themselves before Müller scored the game winner in the 43rd minute.

Chile, 1962

Key Players: Leonel Sánchez, Jaime Ramírez, Sergio Navarro

Just two years after a catastrophic earthquake, Chile hosted the World Cup. The president of the country's football federation all but begged FIFA for the honor, saying, "You must give us the World Cup, for we have nothing else." The Chileans put together a semi-final run, beating the Italians 2-0 in the group stage (a game which came to be known as Batalla de Santiago).

In the knockout round, Chile lost 4-2 to the Garrincha-led Brazilian team that would ultimately claim the title. Leonel Sánchez finished with 4 goals, enough to share the scoring title, and Chile finished third. It's best performance since? Making the first knockout round in 1998 and 2010.

United States, 2002

Key Players: Brad Friedel, Landon Donovan, Claudio Reyna, Brian McBride, John O'Brien, DaMarcus Beasley

Yes, the United States finished third in the first ever World Cup, but that tournament featured just 13 teams; there were 32 in the 2002 World Cup and the U.S. team made it into the quarter finals. Germany won that game, but there was some controversy -- a handball on the goal line -- and the United States was robbed. What great fun it was to watch this group! DaMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan emerged before our eyes, playing with searing pace, but with Reyna and O'Brien pulling the strings, the U.S. midfield had some real skill too. Before losing to the Germans, the U.S. stunned Portugal in the opening match, and then stunned the Mexicans, dos a cero, in the first knockout round.

Poland, 1982

Key Players: Zbigniew Boniek, Grzegorz Lato, Andrzej Szarmach

Poland has finished third place in two World Cups: 1974 and 1982. The '82 squad makes this list because the '82 tournament was more competitive -- 24 teams rather than 16 -- and because it was led by Zibì Boniek, Poland's best ever player. The team was a mix of the old guard who'd made the World Cup run in '74 and some young talent. After two 0-0 ties, the '82 squad won its group after crushing Peru 5-1 (Italy finished second). In the second group stage, Poland again finished first, beating Belgium and the Soviet Union. The team lost to Italy 0-2 in the knockout stage but beat France 3-2 in the 3rd-place playoff. Boniek finished as the team's top scorer, with four goals.

Group B

france_1998
Is France's 1998 World Cup team the best ever assembled? Thierry Henry and friends might think so. (Getty Images)

France, 1998

Key Players: Fabien Barthez, Marcel Desailly, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Didier Deschamps, Lilian Thuram

Even a casual fan can probably think for a moment and name half of this French squad. It was thick with legends and a perfect mix of older, experienced players (Laurent Blanc, Deschamps, Desailly), some talented youngsters (Henry, David Trezeguet, Patrick Vieira), and players in their prime (Lilian Thuram, Emmanuel Petit, and Zinedine Zidane). After dominating its group, France struggled in early knockout rounds against Paraguay and Italy before finding its form. The final pitted France against defending champions Brazil. France won 3-0 on the strength of a master class performance from its number 10, Zidane, who headed in two corners while establishing his legend, pulling the strings in the midfield.

Senegal, 2002

Key Players: Aliou Cissé, Papa Bouba Diop, Henri Camara, El Hadji Diouf

After France won the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championship, they were expected to again show well in the 2002 World Cup. They may have, too, had it not been for the Senegalese, who surprised the world when Papa Bouba Diop scored against the defending champions -- and Senegal's former colonial rulers -- in the 30th minute of the opening match, which Senegal won 1-0. The Africans made it to the quarter finals, their best-ever finish, before falling to the Turks. France didn't even make it out of the group.

North Korea, 1966

Key Players: Pak Doo-Ik, Pak Seung-Zin

The '66 World Cup is remembered for England's victory, but as the tournament unfolded, North Korea was the team that really surprised people. It beat Italy 1-0 in the group stage, tied Chile 1-1 and lost to the Soviet Union. In the first knockout round, the North Koreans went 3-0 up on the Portuguese before Eusébio da Silva Ferreira put the game on his shoulders. Eusébio scored four goals as Portugal fought back to win 5-3.

Turkey, 2002

Key Players: Hakan Şükür, Rüştü Reçber, Alpay Özalan, Hasan Şaş

In the 2002 World Cup, Turkey took third. It was the first tournament Turkey had participated in since 1954, and the Turks were very much a surprise package. Led by Hakan Şükür, who later became a member of parliament in Turkey, the team played some great soccer, beating both tournament hosts, Japan and South Korea. The Turks lost twice to the eventual champions Brazil -- in the group and knockout rounds -- but they exceeded expectations nevertheless. After the tournament, three Turkish players were voted to the all-star team: goalkeeper Rüştü Reçber, defender Alpay Özalan, and winger/attacker Hasan Şaş. Turkey hasn't qualified for a World Cup since.

Group C

ghana_2010
Ghana has beaten the United States in each of the last two World Cups, and they'll get another chance in 2014. (Getty Images)

Uruguay, 1950

Key Players: Obdulio Verela, Oscar Míguez, Alcides Ghiggia

If you were to make a top-ten list of World Cup upsets, Uruguay's 1950 World Cup win would rank right at the top. Imagine it, a seemingly unbeatable Brazil squad faces off against its bitter rivals at home in the legendary Maracana stadium, in front of 200,000 spectators -- a world record -- and Brazil chokes. Brazil scored first but Uruguay fought back to a 2-1 victory. In Brazil, the defeat, known as the Maracanaz, is still talked about today -- a kind of curse that the 2014 Brazil squad is intent on vanquishing.

Ghana, 2010

Key Players: John Mensah, Asamoah Gyan, Kevin-Prince Boateng

This is a team Americans should be familiar with by now. After knocking the U.S. out of the 2006 World Cup, the Ghanaians did the same in the 2010 edition. Just that winter, Ghana took second place in the African Cup of Nations, so the team was more settled and had a longer time to jell than many of the others in South Africa. Fast and technically skilled Ghana beat Serbia and tied Australia to get out of their group. The Black Stars beat the U.S. in the round of 16 before falling to Uruguay in one of the tournament's most controversial matches. Stephen Appiah put his header on frame deep in extra time, but Luis Suarez blocked it with his hands. The subsequent penalty missed and Uruguay won on penalties.

New Zealand, 2010

Key Players: Ryan Nelsen, Chris Killen, Winston Reid, Shane Smeltz

Because I've included Australia as an Asian qualifier, New Zealand is the only real option as an entrant from Oceana. The team has qualified twice for the World Cup. In 1982, it technically finished in 23rd place, while in 2010 it finished 22nd. You might remember this team as the one that finished the tournament undefeated, drawing all three of its group matches (against Paraguay, Slovakia and Italy). New Zealand finished in third place in Group F, one point ahead of defending champions Italy.

Holland, 1974

Key Players: Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Johnny Rep

The Dutch are the World Cup's "nearly" men. Holland has made the finals three times, losing them all. Their best team was the 1974 edition. Tournament favorites, Holland played a 4-3-3 formation governed by the concept of "total football," in which players don't so much play an assigned position but rather fill a positional role such that if a player makes a forward run, the rest of the team adjustes to cover his position and maintain tactical balance. Total football was revolutionary, and the Dutch bamboozled their opponents before losing the final to an unexpectedly resilient West German team, albeit one full of its own superstars. The Dutch team was a victim of its own style, showing off too much instead of scoring, which allowed the Germans back into the game. The loss was a traumatic moment for Holland. The war was still fresh in the minds of the Dutch, and, according to Goldblatt, Dutch commentator Herman Kuiphof said of the German victory, "They've tricked us again."

Group D

argentina_1986
Before he became infamous for his other activities, Diego Maradona led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup. (Getty Images)

Argentina, 1986

Key Players: Diego Maradona, Jorge Valdano, Jorge Burruchaga, Jose Luis Brown

With five goals and five assists, this was Diego Maradona's tournament. He was dominant from the first to the last. Argentina's quarter-final victory over England is perhaps the World Cup's most famous non-final game. It featured Maradona slaloming run -- greatest World Cup goal ever? -- in addition to the Hand of God. When the final whistle blew in Argentina's decisive 3-2 victory over West Germany, Maradona's legend was cemented.

Colombia, 1994

Key Players: Carlos Valderrama, Adolfo Valencia, Freddy Rincón, Faustino Asprilla

In 2008, I was lucky enough to do an internship and some graduate research in Colombia. On my first day in the Bogota office, my boss, hearing I liked soccer, sat me down at his desk and made me watch the extended highlights of a 1993 World Cup qualifier. While I watched, he stood beside me, full of pride, and narrated in rapid-fire Spanish. The match? Colombia 5, Argentina 0. This was Colombia's Golden Generation at their peak. They qualified for the 1994 tournament in style and played with fearless flair, not losing a single match. The team arrived at the tournament with decent odds of winning the whole thing. It didn't, of course. The Colombians lost their opening match to Romania before losing to the U.S. after an own goal from Andrés Escobar, who was murdered on his return to Medellin.

Mexico, 1986

Key Players: Fernando Quirarte, Hugo Sánchez, Manolo Negrete

Mexico has made the World Cup quarterfinals twice, both times as tournament host, in 1970 and 1986. The 1986 tournament had 24 rather than 16 teams, so the '86 team makes this list. Captained by a man with one of the coolest names in World Cup history, Tomás Boy, Mexico punched above its weight. Mexico won its group, beating Belgium thanks to a goal from one of Mexico's most skilled and enigmatic players, and the only squad member playing outside of Mexico at that time, Hugo Sánchez. The team beat Bulgaria in the first knockout round, and Negrete's goal from that match is one of the best you will ever see. In the next game, Mexico fell on penalty kicks to tournament runners-up West Germany. Mexico converted just one penalty. West Germany didn't miss.

Sweden, 1994

Key Players: Tomas Brolin, Kennet Andersson, Thomas Ravelli, Henrik Larsson, Jonas Thern

Sweden hosted the 1958 tournament, finishing in second place. The best the team has performed in the modern era was a fourth-place finish in the 1994 World Cup, and that team is included here. Although Sweden's FIFA rank was tenth before the tournament, the team was still given in a tricky group with Brazil, Cameroon and Russia. On the strength of Tomas Brolin's midfield displays and Kennet Andersson's goals -- both players scored in the quarter-final win over Romania -- the Swedes made a deep run, falling to eventual winners Brazil.

A young Zlatan Ibrahimović must have been looking on with stars in his eyes.

Group E

portugal_2006
The 2006 World Cup was the first for Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, now among the best players in the world. (Getty Images)

Brazil, 1970 (qualify as host)

Key Players:  Carlos Alberto, Jairzinho, Rivellino, Pelé

Although not outright favorites before the tournament, this Brazilian team is considered by many to be the greatest ever. It played with flair. It scored heaps of goals. It featured Pele, in his final World Cup, scoring his country's 100th World Cup goal. And Brazil's last goal of the tournament, the one that sealed the country's 4-1 victory over ultra-defensive Italy, is one of the greatest team goals you'll ever see.

Paraguay, 2010

Key Players: Justo Villar

In 2010, Paraguay made the quarter finals for the first time in its history. Paraguay won Group F after tying Italy and New Zealand and beating Slovakia 2-0. The team played a highly-disciplined brand of soccer that wasn't always fun to watch (only three goals in five games) but got results. In the first knockout round, the team beat Japan on penalties (scoring all five) before losing 1-0 to eventual champions Spain.

Costa Rica, 1990

Key Players: Róger Flores, Juan Cayasso, Hernán Medford

While the Cameroonians were the tournament's Cinderella team, the Costa Ricans also turned heads. Group-stage victories over Scotland and Sweden meant the team finished second in the group behind Brazil (which managed only to beat Costa Rica 1-0). In the first knockout round, the Costa Ricans were demolished by Czechoslovakia 4-1. But it was still an impressive achievement by a team without a single foreign-based player.

Portugal, 2006

Key Players: Luís Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Deco, Tiago, Simão

In 2006, Portugal finished fourth. The team finished third in the 1966 World Cup, but the 2006 team gets the nod for several reasons. The 1966 team was a bit of a one-off; it hadn't qualified for the tournament before and didn't again until 1986. (The team also failed to qualify for European Championship until 1984.) The core of the 2006 team, on the other hand, had just lost in the final of the 2004 European Championship. The 2006 team featured both of Portugal's best players -- the then-fading Luis Figo and the up-and-coming Cristiano Ronaldo -- in addition to a number of players who were involved in Porto's 2004 Champions League victory.

Group F

italy_2006
Italy has won the World Cup four times, making a selection difficult, but you'd be hard-pressed to argue the 2006 squad. (Getty)

Italy, 2006

Key Players: Alessandro Nesta, Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Del Piero, Francesco Totti, Andrea Pirlo

On the surface, this is another tough call; Italy has won the World Cup four times. But take a look at that list of key players again and tell me this isn't the best Italian team ever. It's lousy with legends of the game. Alessandro Nesta is in the conversation when people talk about the best defender ever, ditto Gianluigi Buffon when it comes to goalkeepers. Alessandro Del Piero? Francesco Totti? Andrea Pirlo? Legends, all. And don't forget Christian Vieri, who would have made the team were it not for an injury in May. The team beat France in the final after Zidane's head butt to the chest of Marco Materazzi.

Nigeria, 1998

Key Players: Peter Rufai, Uche Okechukwu, Jay-Jay Okocha

In 1998, the Nigerians lost to Paraguay but managed beat Spain and Bulgaria and win Group D. Nigeria was then sent packing by the Danes, who scored four unanswered goals in the first knockout round before Nigeria's Tijani Babangida pulled one back.

Australia, 2006

Key Players: Tim Cahill, Mark Viduka, Harry Kewell, Mark Schwarzer

After helping South Korea to the quarter finals of the 2002 tournament, Guus Hiddink took his talents south and helped the Australians to their best ever World Cup finish, the first knockout round. The tournament was a last hurrah for Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell, two of Australia's all-time greats. With a 26-year old Tim Cahill in the prime of his career, the team was poised to succeed. The Australians trounced Japan 3-1 in the opener before losing to Brazil 2-0. The last group match pitted the Aussies against Croatia. The match had some added social importance for both countries. Croatians have a long history of Australian migration and ten Australian-Croatians went to the 2006 World Cup with one team or the other. The game ended 2-2, but it was enough to see the Aussies clinch second in their group. They lost to Italy in the round of 16.

Austria, 1954

Key Players: Erich Probst, Ernst Stojaspal, Theodor Wagner, Ernst Ocwirk

Austria's best World Cup finish was third in the 1954 tournament. You could argue Austria's Wunderteamn of the early '30s was better, but that team finished fourth in 1934, a tournament without Uruguay or England. In '54, Austria tied Uruguay on points in the group stage before beating Switzerland by an incredible 7-5 score line. (That's my kind of a soccer match!) The Austrians were crushed by the eventual champions, Germany, before beating Uruguay 3-1 in the 3rd-place playoff.

Group G

spain_2010
If Spain can defend their 2010 World Cup title this summer, they'll have an argument as the greatest squad ever. (Getty Images)

Spain, 2010

Key Players: Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, Iker Casillas, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos

Spain established itself as the world's dominant force after the 2008 European Championship. The same core group of players went on to win the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championships. No team has ever defended a European Championship with a World Cup on the side, and if the Spaniards can defend their World Cup title (they're one of the favorites in Brazil), there won't be much argument anymore about which generation of players made up the greatest national team of all time.

Cameroon, 1990

Key Players: Roger Milla, Stephen Tataw, Emmanuel Kundé

In 1986, Morocco was the first African team to win a World Cup group. In 1990, Cameroon not only equaled that achievement (beating defending champions Argentina in the process), but put together a semi-final run. The Indomitable Lions beat Colombia in the first knockout round before falling to England thanks to two Gary Lineker penalties, the second of which came in extra time. Roger Milla, Cameroon's star, was 38 years old.

Japan, 2002

Key Players: Junichi Inamoto, Hidetoshi Nakata, Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi

Japan has finished ninth in the World Cup twice, in 2002 and 2010. The 2002 team went to the tournament in a bit of a golden period for the Japanese, who won the 2000 and 2004 Asian Cup. A 9th place finish, which means the team made it to the first knockout round, isn't anything to really brag about. But by winning their group in front of a home crowd -- Japan co-hosted the tournament with South Korea -- the Japanese gave their fans something to cheer for, and the team went home with their heads high, having beaten both Russia and Tunisia. Like Senegal, the Japanese fell to the Turks, 1-0.

Czechoslovakia, 1962

Key Players: Josef Masopust, Viliam Schrojf, Ladislav Novák

In 1962, Czechoslovakia tied Brazil in the opening round. Pele, the Brazilian legend, was injured in the match and missed the remainder of the tournament, but the Brazilians had another great: Garrincha. Garrincha was sent off in the semifinal match against host nation Chile, but the Brazilians were able to get the referee to rescind the decision. In the final, Czechoslovakia's superstar, Josef Masopust, gave his team the lead in the 15th minute, before the Brazilians struck back, with Garrincha causing all sorts of problems, winning 3-1. In the final, Garrincha played with all the pomp and flare for which he's remembered today, toying with the Czechs to the last.

Group H

southkorea_2002
South Korea beat Portugal, Poland and Italy in 2002, as well as being named the tournament's "most entertaining team." (Getty)

England, 1966

Key Players: Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Geoff Hurst, Roger Hunt

The 1966 tournament was notable for a number of reasons, not least because England actually won. It was the first tournament broadcast live, the first to feature slow-motion replay, and the first to have an official mascot. It was also an important moment in the evolution of the game's tactics. As David Goldblatt notes in The Ball is Round, "…England were the first team to win a World Cup using what is now the conventional 4-4-2 formation." The team's miserly defense was martialed by team captain Bobby Moore, but it attacked with real verve, too. The inexperienced Geoff Hurst, considered a selection gamble before the final, scored a hat trick against the West Germans, who lost 4-2 in extra time. Hurst remains the only player to score a hat trick in a World Cup final.

Morocco, 1986

Key Players: Abderrazak Khairi, Abdelkrim Merry Krimau, Badou Zaki

The first African team to ever win make it out of the first round, Morocco won its group over Portugal, Poland and England. The Africans lost 0-1 to West Germany in the first knockout round. Goalkeeper, and captain (and current Morocco head coach) Badou Zaki was voted 1986 African Footballer of the Year.

South Korea, 2002

Key Players: Ahn Jung-Hwan, Yoo Sang-Chul, Hong Myung-Bo, Park Ji-sung

Both co-hosts of the 2002 tournament acquitted themselves well, and while the Japanese were better than expected, the South Koreans really excelled. Coached by the Dutch miracle worker, Guus Hiddink, the South Koreans played an organized and at times swashbuckling brand of soccer. The South Koreans won their group, beating Portugal and Poland and tying the U.S., picked off Italy in the first knockout round and edged Spain on penalties in the quarterfinals, before falling to Germany 1-0 in the semis. Given an award for being the most entertaining team, defender Hong Myung-Bo and midfielder Yoo Sang-Chul were selected to the Team of the Tournament.

Hungary, 1954

Key Players: Ferenc Puskás, József Bozsik, József Zakariás, Nándor Hidegkuti, Zoltán Czibor, Sándor Kocsis

By the time the 1954 World Cup got started in Switzerland, Hungary weren't just tournament favorites; their names were already practically engraved on the trophy. This was a team that had just won the Olympic medal, a team that hadn't been beaten at all, in four years, and one that featured the world's best player: Ferenc Puskás. In his professional career, he scored an incredible 508 goals in 521 appearances. Hungary played with a then-revolutionary 4-2-4 tactic -- which Brazil would later copy -- and in the World Cup didn't just beat other teams, Hungary devoured them: 9-0 against South Korea, 8-3 against West Germany in the opening round. The Hungarians "…did not simply play to win," wrote Goldblatt in The Ball is Round, "but changed the nature of the game we play." That Hungary lost to West Germany when the two teams met again in the final -- the miracle of Bern -- is one of sports' greatest upsets.

* * *

Monday, June 9: Group Stage Results

The group stage of the Ultimate World Cup has come to a close, and we're ready to move forward with the knockout rounds. What follows is a quick review of the opening round and a couple notes about the knockout draw. The voting for the knockout round will run for 24 hours, ending at noon ET on Tuesday, June 10.

Group A

Not surprisingly, West Germany 1974 took the group, with 53.56 percent of the vote. Second place was a little closer. The 2002 United States squad had 24.83 percent while Poland 1982 had 14.48 percent. Verdict: U.S. 2002 through on goal differential. Chile 1962 managed just over seven percent of the vote.

Group B

France 1998 took this one with 54.52 percent of the vote. Turkey 2002 and Senegal 2002 finished in second and third with 27.91 percent and 13.7 percent, respectfully.

This makes sense. Turkey knocked out Senegal in that tournament by a score of just 1-0. North Korea 1966 received only four percent.

Group C

Holland 1974 won with 51.05 percent of the vote. This is interesting. Holland didn't win the 1974 tournament; it finished second to West Germany. Uruguay, on the other hand, did win the 1950 tournament, and yet that team received just 35.86 percent. Dutch redemption at last? Ghana 2010 received 11.78 percent of the vote and poor New Zealand 2010 -- the weakest team in the field -- earned only 1.31 percent of the vote.

Group D

This was the group of death. Argentina 1986 ran away with it, earning 53.56 percent, but which team would win the second-place qualifying spot was difficult to predict. In the end, Colombia 1994 won second with 20.84 percent. Sweden 1994 had 12.93 percent and Mexico 1986 had 12.66 percent. Mexico and Sweden both made deeper runs in their respective tournaments than Colombia. Easily one of the least-just outcomes of the tournament so far, the result shows you the power of Carlos Valderrama's cool hair.

Group E

On paper, this was another difficult group. Brazil 1970 were clear favorites, and our readers gave the team an appropriate 53.72 percent vote. I thought Portugal 2006 and Paraguay 2010 were close to call, but I was clearly wrong. Portugal 2006 won a whopping 41.76 percent of the vote, while Paraguay 2010 and poor Costa Rica 1990 each earned just over two percent.

Group F

Italy 2006 won this group handily with 51.33 percent. Austria 1954, one of the older teams still in the tournament, got second place with 22.87 percent. Nigeria 1998 and Australia 2006 round things out with 19.15 percent and 6.65 percent.

Group G

Spain 2010 won easily, with 52.94 percent. Second place was a much tighter affair. Czechoslovakia 1962 had 22.73 percent while Cameroon 1990 had 18.72 percent of the vote. That's the voting equivalent of Czechoslovakia going through on goal difference.

Japan 2002 earned just 5.61 percent.

Group H

There wasn't much between the group leaders in this one. England's World Cup winning 1966 squad managed to win the group with just 43.68 percent of the vote -- a tournament low for a group winner. The almost-all conquering Hungary 1954 team almost beat England with 42.11 percent. South Korea 2002 and Morocco 1986 rounded things out with 12.11 percent and two percent, respectfully.

A couple notes on the knockout round:

  1. The only team to win its group with less than 50 percent of the vote was England in Group H. How does a team earn more than 50 percent of the vote if voters are picking two teams? The polling asked readers for two choices for each group but didn't require two choices, and some readers just selected one team.
  2. The only World Cup winning team to not win its group was Uruguay 1950, who lost out to World Cup runner-up Holland 1974.

The Round of 16

               
W. Germany
1974
Holland
1974
Brazil
1970
Spain
2010
France
1998
Argentina
1986
Italy
2006
England
1966
Turkey
2002
Colombia
1994
Austria
1954
Hungary
1954
United States
2002
Uruguay
1950
Portugal
2006
Czechoslovakia
1962

 

Some notes on the Round of 16:

West Germany 1974 vs. Turkey 2002

This is a pretty straightforward matchup between a legendary World Cup winning team, one full of superstars who now make up the brain trust at Bayern Munich, and Turkey, a World Cup dark horse.

Holland 1974 vs. Colombia 1994

Colombia is lucky to have made it out of a tricky group. Although the team was amazing in World Cup qualifying, it was bounced from the 1994 tournament in the group stage. Holland, on the other hand, played a large role in the tactical evolution of the sport and lost a great game in the final of the 1974 tournament.

Brazil 1970 vs. Austria 1954

Kudos to our readers for rightly giving Austria 1954 a chance in the knockout round. Unfortunately, the Austrians have run up against one of the greatest national teams of all time, and, in our hypothetical tournament, one still playing on its home turf.

Spain 2010 vs. Hungary 1954

This match is the round's most intriguing, by far. Spain, between 2006 and 2009 went on record undefeated streak of 35 games (a record shared by Brazil). Between 1950 and 1956, Hungary went on a similar run, winning 47 matches, tying 7 and losing just one. Hungary 1954 was also the highest scoring team in any World Cup, with 27! These really are two of the best national teams ever.

France 1998 vs. U.S. 2002

As much as I'd like to see the U.S. make a deep run in this tournament just as they did in 2002, it doesn't' look good. Landon Donovan and Co. against Zidane Zinedine and company? I'll take Zizou every time.

Argentina 1986 vs. Uruguay 1950

Because Holland 1974 upset Uruguay 1950 in the group stage, we already have our first encounter between two World Cup winning sides. Can Diego Maradona work his magic or will the Uruguayans cause another upset?

Italy 2006 vs. Portugal 2006

Portugal and Italy, two sides from the 2006 World Cup, never actually played one another in that tournament. They have played one another 24 times previously, however, including four in the World Cup.

England 1966 vs. Czechoslovakia 1962

I see this as a less-than-ideal draw for England, against a very capable Czechoslovakia, but I expect England to move on. I caution the English press against any excessive optimism, however. In the next round, England might meet Maradona's Argentina.

Go use your imagination. Write up match reports in the comments. We want to know who scored and when.

* * *

Tuesday, June 10: Round of 16 Match Reports

Turkey 2002 vs. West Germany 1974

Remember that story about David and Goliath? The one where the little guy defeats the big guy with cunning rather than strength? Yeah. That didn't happen here. Turkey 2002 -- the little guy -- was completely overmatched by W. Germany 1974.

The result: Two goals from Gerd Müller and a third from Uli Hoeneß were too much for the Turks, who never got anything going in the attack. W. Germany wins 3-0.

Holland 1974 vs. Colombia 1994

This one was a little bit more competitive than the above, but ultimately Carlos Valderrama and company couldn't deal with the total football on display from Holland. Despite a loss here, it's still a good tournament showing from the Colombians when you consider the team never made it out of the group in the real 1994 tournament.

The result: Holland win 2-0

Brazil 1970 vs. Austria 1954

The Austrians went down fighting against the mighty Brazilians and could do little to stop Pele, who scored a hat trick. The Austrians didn't have a chance, frankly. It could have been much worse.

The result: Brazil wins 3-0.

Spain 2010 vs. Hungary 1954

The Round of 16's biggest match: Tiki-taka versus Hungary's Golden Team. These two teams dominated their respective time periods in a way that was thorough and magical and rare. We should all feel lucky to have witnessed Spain's dominant period. That Hungary 1954 didn't win that World Cup give's the team a shade of the mystery.

The result: In our Ultimate World Cup, this game was a real slug fest. Spain dominated possession, playing through the little geniuses, Xavi and Iniesta, while Hungary's Ferenc Puskás looked dangerous on the counter attack. Spain wins 2-1 when Iniesta (who else?) scores in extra time.

France 1998 vs. U.S.A. 2002

This one played out a little closer than I expected it to.

The result: The two teams were tied 1-1 until the Americans withered late and Zinedine Zidane started to put his stamp on things. France wins 3-1 with goals by Zidane, Didier Deschamps and Thierry Henry. An error from French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez resulted in an easy rebound for Brian McBride, who scored the only American goal.

Argentina 1986 vs. Uruguay 1950

The closest game in the Round of 16 featured these two World Cup-winning teams.

The result: Maradona, in the end, was too physically gifted for the Uruguayans, who chain-smoked at half time as their team captain, Obdulio Varela, went on about destiny and pride. The Uruguayans came out and scored early in the second half, but it wasn't enough. Maradona was on a hat trick by then. Argentina wins 3-1.

Italy 2006 vs. Portugal 2006

The Italian team was able to overcome a dangerous Portuguese squad.

The result: Figo and Ronaldo combined for an excellent goal, but the Italians were able to grind out a comfortable 4-1 result.

England 1966 vs. Czechoslovakia 1962

England takes down Czechoslovakia.

The result: 3-0 England. I think that sound you're hearing is the English press kicking into gear. Pundits are beginning to wonder if this England team can win another World Cup: the Ultimate World Cup. A convincing 3-0 win over Czechoslovakia 1962 made the English look quite good, but will the pressure be too much for this team in the long run?

Quarterfinal Draw

       
W. Germany
1974
Brazil
1970
France
1998
Italy
2006
Holland
1974
Spain
2010
Argentina
1986
England
1966

 

West Germany 1974 vs. Holland 1974

The first real-life rematch to take place in the Ultimate World Cup. Did Germany really dominate Holland in the 1974 World Cup final, as one commenter alleges? More important, can Germany do it again?

Brazil 1970 vs. Spain 2010

This Brazilian team is widely considered the best team in the history of the beautiful game. I disagree. I think that title belongs to Spain 2010. Both teams were renowned for scoring beautiful team goals. What do you think?

France 1998 vs. Argentina 1986

The battle of the maestros: Zidane versus Maradona, the two undisputed players of their respective generations. This is a game I would love to watch. It's a close call. 

Italy 2006 vs. England 1966

Has the game changed that much in 40 years? My gut tells me England doesn't have a chance, but it's a plucky team. Anything is possible.

Cast your votes and check back Wednesday around noon ET to see who made it to the semifinals!

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Wednesday, June 11: Quarterfinals Match Reports

West Germany 1974 vs. Holland 1974

This was a tight contest between two evenly matched sides. In the years following the 1974 World Cup final, in which the West Germans beat the Dutch, I believe the Dutch team has been more influential than their German counterparts. I certainly hear people speak of the West German team, but Holland's Total Football is a concept soccer's tactics nerds continue to rave about today. The West German influence on today's game is not nearly so beloved and fussed over.

The result: It was a close game. West Germany wins on penalties.

Brazil 1970 vs. Spain 2010

This is tough. We're all so familiar with what Spain 2010 accomplished, but there hasn't been enough time for it to become folkloric, which I think is what gave Brazil the result here. I don't think anybody could win a popularity contest against Brazil 1970 -- a team that showed the world what it meant to play the beautiful game at the highest level -- but maybe this matchup would look different in 20 years.

The result: Brazil wins 2-1.

France 1998 vs. Argentina 1986

Featuring two of the World's greatest-ever players, this was always going to be interesting. Both teams were built around their star player, but Maradona's star was in full-on supernova by the time the Argentine left the World Cup tournament in a kind of flaming wreck. The French team, on the other hand, seemed more balanced, more reliant on the supporting cast than Argentina's. Sure, Zidane was the key man, but Zidane's legacy would be defined by future events in a way that Maradona's never was. France 1998 was a machine. Argentina 1986 was a kind of comic book about a mighty and powerful superhero.

The result: The teams go into extra time at 2-2. Argentina wins on penalties.

Italy 2006 vs. England 1966

The England dream team lost this one, rightly, to a modern Italian team. This is as much about the passage of time as it is anything else. England's players were world beaters in the '60s, but if someone turned up with a time machine, I don't think those players would stand a chance in today's (or 2006's) game.

The result: Italy wins 4-1

Semifinal Draw

   
W. Germany
1974
Argentina
1986
Brazil
1970

Italy
2006

West Germany 1974 vs Brazil 1970

A fairly interesting draw. The teams are from a similar era but played a wildly different brand of soccer: Brazil's was all flair and magic; Germany's was based on pragmatism, skill and industry.

Argentina 1986 vs. Italy 2006

How far can Maradona carry this Argentina team? Can he get past Gennaro Gattuso, someone with more hard-man nicknames than anyone in soccer? You decide.

Cast your votes for the final two teams in the tournament. Then check back Thursday around noon ET to see who's playing for the Ultimate World Cup!

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Thursday, June 12, Semifinal Match Reports

West Germany 1974 vs. Brazil 1970

Host countries have a long history of winning the World Cup. It's happened six times in the tournament's history, and home-field advantage is part of what makes Brazil look good for the title at the 2014 World Cup. The team is also, technically, the home side here. Maybe that explains Brazil's win over West Germany, or maybe Pele & Co. were simply too good for Beckenbauer's West Germany.

The result: Brazil wins 2-1.

Argentina 1986 vs. Italy 2006

I suppose it's hard to find a more well-rounded team than Italy 2006. The team had experience, an incredible back line and a midfield packed with creativity and industry. In the end it was all too much for Argentina, apparently. Gennaro Gattuso must have really put the shackles on Maradona.

The result: Italy wins on penalties: 5-3.

The Tournament Final

At the beginning of this tournament, how many of us picked Brazil 1970 to make it to the final? Just about everybody, right? And here they are. But how many of us picked Italy 2006? I didn't. That Italy 2006 is here doesn't seem unjust, though. Just like in a real tournament, the team seems to have earned it in a way, and the more I think about it, the more impressed I've become with that team's lineup. Maybe in a decade or so we'll hold Italy 2006 in the same regard we do Brazil 1970 or some of history's other great teams.

Third Place

West Germany 1974 vs. Argentina 1986

It's the third-place match and nobody really cares, I know. But we should play it out anyway. Who do you think would win?

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Friday, June 13, Final Matches Report

West Germany 1974 vs. Italy 2006

Brazil 1970, to the surprise of few, has won Sports on Earth's Ultimate World Cup. It's a team that is regularly picked by pundits as the best ever, and it delivered. Far more surprising was Italy 2006's run to the finals (and the percentage of votes the team received to win the final: about 42 percent). When I set out to pick the teams for the group stages, I thought Italy 2006 was one of the more controversial choices, and I certainly didn't expect the team to be in the running for best-ever.

 The third-place game was also a close one. Argentina 1986 won with about 55 percent of the vote. That seems about right. West Germany 1974 had a strong run in the tournament, but Maradona's legend looms large.

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Brian Blickenstaff is a freelance writer. A native of California, he lives in Heidelberg, Germany. Follow him on Twitter @BKBlick.