Part III: Picking a Favorite
In Part I and Part II I presented six teams to consider rooting for in the upcoming World Cup. If you haven’t noticed, I love cheering for an underdog. I think it’s natural for a USMNT fan to find a team with little to no chance of advancing, because that’s typically the odds the USMNT faces going into group play. So as I considered the teams worth rooting for this summer, I kept going to the underdog well hoping to satisfy my thirst for a team with a lot of heart and no real chance of raising the trophy. Well, my friends, that time is done. Now let’s look at which favorites are worth your time and cheers. Don’t you dare go buy a kit, though, you have a national team, they just didn’t qualify this year.
So I’m divided on Germany, but that doesn’t mean you have to be. I’m a history buff and it doesn’t take long looking back into history to see that Germany has had some missteps. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve worked their butts off to clean up their act and are a model of how to educate people on historical errors (the United States could learn a lot in that department). But if you can get past that part of history, look at the rest of it! Die Mannschaft (The Team, in German) has won 4 World Cup trophies, making them one of the most accomplished soccer nations in the world. They won 4 years ago and in qualifying for this year’s final they posted a plus 39 goal differential. This is a team stacked with talent that plays all over Europe. Best of all, this team is in the same group as Mexico, so rooting for Germany allows you to root against our rivals early on. Maybe it’s time to forget they gave us Jurgen Klinsmann and root for the team most have picked as the favorite.
The favorite, odds wise, is South American juggernaut Brazil. And they should be the favorite if you consider their illustrious past. Brazil has won more FIFA World Cup Trophies than any other country (5) but the last time they lifted the trophy was 16 years ago. Regardless, this year’s squad looked formidable in qualifying, winning 12, drawing 5, and losing only once. They scored 41 goals in those 18 matches, destroying their competition. Neymar, the PSG attacker, has much to prove this year after suffering an injury with PSG earlier this year. He should play, but how good will he be? Whatever level of Neymar we get, it hasn’t stopped bettors from picking Brazil as the favorite to win it all. This is the nation of Pele, Garrincha, Zico, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and Kaká, just to name a few. They are expected to win every four years. They are Brazil.
France is always in the running to win the trophy, but rarely (only once) have they ever fulfilled those lofty expectations. The French national team supplied one of my early memories of World Cup soccer, when Zidane decided to put his head through Marco Materazzi’s chest in the 2006 final. But Zidane is long gone from the national team scene and names like Griezmann, Dembele, Giroud, and Pogba dominate the lineup. This is a natural team to root for if you’re a USMNT fan because, while they are good, they certainly aren’t the favorite. And secondarily, history, people! France is our ally forever. Cheering for them is a big thank you for always having our back, like a best buddy who smells like cigarettes and likes wine way too much.
I couldn’t talk about favorites without mentioning every FIFA18 player’s favorite national team, Argentina (by the way, pick another team, it’s getting boring). Argentina has the best attacking talent in the world, period. And by that, I mean that Lionel Messi plays for Argentina. He’s had an amazing year for Barcelona, winning the golden boot with 34 goals in La Liga and adding another 6 in Champions League. How could anyone cheer for Cristiano Ronaldo over Messi? Messi is a supreme being. Regardless of Messi’s greatness, he has never won the World Cup, although Argentina was the runner-up in 2014. And don’t think that doesn’t bother Messi. Rooting for Argentina is rooting for Messi to finally fulfill the promise of all that talent. I won’t judge you.
So there, last one I promise. Don’t cheer for El Tri, pick one of these teams or any of the other nations that qualified. You can pick an underdog, a middle of the pack side, or maybe one of the favorites. Cheering for Mexico is out of the question.
Author: Dan Vaughn