The World Cup, one of, if not the greatest sporting event in the world is upon us once again. But, sadly, for the first time in a long time USA did not make it. So, what is a soccer fan, even a casual one, to do? Don't worry - the World Cup is still full of passion, excitement and compelling story lines. I'm not the biggest soccer fanatic on mgoblog, but I LOVE the World Cup. Some of my fondest memories growing up and even in adulthood involve the World Cup.
Here are the groups: https://www.fifa.com/worldcup/groups/. Generally my fan hierarchy goes thusly: USA→ Ethnicity→ Hated Enemies→ Other Interests/Concerns. I don’t even know that much about soccer these days but If you're not sure who to root for here is a handy breakdown of how to choose your rooting interests in the 2018 World Cup:
In addition to USA, I also pull for my Old World connections and that means Ireland and Greece and to a lesser extent Wales. But none of those teams made it this year. But that doesn’t mean you can’t root for your roots! If you have Croatian, Swedish or Moroccan blood, there’s your team right there. If your dad’s side is Korean support South Korea. If you grew up in a Polish family in Hamtramck root for the Poles. Even if you have some other connection (your wife’s family is Colombian) or affinity (you studied abroad in Australia) for a certain country you can get behind them. The whole world is in it - there’s got to be someone you can root for!
If you're like me, once you realize that your team (Michigan, USA) isn't in it, your immediate instinct is to say 'who is in it that I hate? I’ll root against them with all my soul'. You can easily apply the root-against-Ohio State/Sparty/ND mantra to USA's many political and athletic adversaries! Here are some teams that fit that description.
Russia - I don't think I need to explain why. Don't root for them. In fact, root against them. Hard. They're the host team and while most hosts get a lot of goodwill from international fans and the global soccer community as a whole, Russia has a lot to answer for now. Luckily on the field, they’re not good so they shouldn’t go far. But say some prayers that their games are officiated fairly (and non-suspiciously). I hope they get humiliated on their home turf (ugh they already won their first game 5-0).
Mexico- Politically, Mexico is not our enemy (well, depending on who you ask) but, soccerly, they are very much so. Ohio State:Michigan::Mexico:USA. Mexico is our biggest rival and there is a lot of bad blood between the two teams. Their fans also treat our players like shit when they visit Stadio Azteca.
Dishonorable mention - Saudi Arabia and Iran for their poor human rights records. Similarly, if you have strong opinions on international corruption issues as I do you can also base your viewing interest based on any given country’s proclivity towards ethics (or lack thereof). I may even create a corruption World Cup bracket in which only the most upstanding/least corrupt countries advance to the knockout stage. Spoiler alert: these teams don't make it far.
If you're not into hating your opponents and you need a positive reason to get invested, pull for these teams:
France - our oldest ally! While most Americans are turned off by the French, we have them to thank for the Statue of Liberty and they are traditionally a fun and entertaining side in the World Cup. Lots of talent and engaging style (I loved Zidane so I will always root for France). One of their best players is Chelsea forward Olivier Giroud who is the most French-looking man in history.
England - our closest ally! Team England always has some of the best players in the world but never has the best team. They vastly underachieved in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups when they had a collection of once-in-a-lifetime talent. That talent is retired and gone now. But watch out for Harry Kane, England’s newest superstar, to make plays in this year’s cup.
Former enemies-turned-trade-partners Germany and Japan. Japan always manages to surprise and they have a great fanbase. The Germans are always incredible and could win it all.
If you want soccer-based reasons to watch, there are a handful of interesting squads and players you can pull for:
Argentina - they boast the best player in the world in Lionel Messi, a tiny dribbling dynamo. Many soccer fans are rooting for him to win his first World Cup in what is likely his last chance.
Portugal - International/Portuguese glory boy and Real Madrid mega-star Cristiano Ronaldo is also one of the world’s best and is in it to win it in his last chance (I’ve hated him for years but especially so after he dropped this pass on the USA in the freaking 94th minute in the last WC.)
Egypt - Liverpool star Mohamed Salah, though injured for the first game, will make an appearance for the Pharaohs at some point. He's a scoring wizard with incredible speed who tallied 46 goals in all competitions this year, which is an astounding number.
Iceland- tiny country with an insanely fun fanbase full of vikings.
Nigeria - talented African squad nicknamed the Super Eagles which I always thought was cool.
Hopefully, that was helpful for all you casual fans out there in MgoLand. And while the USA isn’t in it, it can still be a great competition (of course, it would be much better if they were). Sometimes you just need a team to pull for. Enjoy! And GO USA ANYWAY!!!!!