After I finished my last article about who U.S. Men’s National Team fans should root for (and who they definitely should not root for), I got to thinking that my suggestions might have left a reader wondering about the rest of the teams competing. Though if you’re reading this article, it’s unlikely that you’ll find some deep analysis missing from the literally thousands of World Cup preview pieces scattered across the internet right now. They are everywhere. My approach will be less scientific, I assure you, but maybe more enjoyable. So here are the other national teams you might want to cheer for because you are definitely not, for sure, not in a million years, going to root for El Tri.
How can anyone not want to root for Mohamed Salah and Egypt? The Liverpool target man has been absolutely unstoppable this season, delivering a top 4 result for his team in the English Premier League and taking his club to the Champions League Final. Salah is second only to Lionel Messi in goals scored in all of Europe and he won the golden boot in the EPL. And all along he’s got the smile and personality that makes him impossible to boo, even while he’s gutting your side. Don’t believe me? Go to youtube, watch an interview. You’ll love him. When Egypt almost didn’t qualify, watch his anguish and then his determination to score again. As the chant goes, he’s the Egyptian King (I assume they mean Pharoah, but that’s harder to rhyme maybe?). Maybe you don’t want to cheer for Egypt because they’ve only qualified for the tournament 3 times and have never done much. Fair point, but Salah is enough to make even the most ardent doubter a believer.
If there’s any side that has drawn interest of the casual soccer fan, it’s Iceland. The tiny island country is home to 350,000 people, smaller in population than Bakersfield, California. Typing that sentence hurts this USMNT fan more than I can express. This is their first trip to the World Cup and they got here by beating teams they shouldn’t have. They play the way that any outmatched team would, defensive and cautious. If they win, they won’t blow anyone out. If they lose, it won’t be by much. It’s easy to get tired of the Viking Clap (which they stole from Swedish club Malmo), but that’s mostly because everyone does it now. But the passion of Tólfan (The Twelfth Man), the national team supporter group, is undeniable and spurred their team to qualify for the competition. They shouldn’t advance out of their group, but they shouldn’t have qualified for the final anyway, so why not root for the ultimate underdog?
In the same group as Iceland, competing against big boys Argentina and Croatia, is African soccer royalty Nigeria. The Super Eagles have consistently qualified for the World Cup for the last 20 years, only missing qualification in 2006. Last competition, they made it out of their group with Argentina (who they drew again this year) but failed to move beyond the group of 16. This year’s team is led by former Chelsea midfielder, John Obi Mikel, who played in England for eleven years before moving to the Chinese Super League last year. That type of experience will set him up for success in this pressure-packed competition. And don’t forget Victor Moses, the current Chelsea winger, who finally got the starting job this year. This team is full of talent and will be dangerous. If either of the favorites blink, it might be Nigeria who moves out of the group. If you’re not convinced yet, have you seen their kits this year? That might be enough reason to cheer for this side.
So there’s three more teams for you to cheer for. Don’t forget how we got to this bleak place. Pick a side, root for them, and let’s get qualified for 2022.
Author: Dan Vaughn