With only two – yes two – days to go until we kickoff in Moscow, it was only right for us to give you some comprehension going into the tournament.
For your reference, here’s how the groups look heading into Thursday’s opener between Russia and Saudi Arabia:
Most of our readers are from the United States. A quick recap – they’re not going to be in the World Cup, if for some reason you live under a rock and didn’t know. So us fans are now tasked with creating interest around the World Cup for non-fans who only watch soccer once every four years and paint their faces red, white and blue and crush Bud Light.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and I totally understand get it. Americans want an excuse to drink.
So fear not! I’ve compiled a little list of teams you should definitely root for this World Cup, if your country is not in it. I’m trying to avoid the cliche teams (e.g. – Brazil, Germany, Spain) because no one likes a bandwagon fan; sure, they’re most likely to win, and you should enjoy their style and skill for all its worth.
But by the same token, I’d never try and convince you that Golden State should be your first choice of fandom if you were breaking into the NBA scene. That being said, here’s the teams most likely to win if you’re into that kinda thing:
But here it is, in all its glory, the 2018 World Cup Aficionado suggestion list (in no particular order):
Iceland and/or Nigeria
I’m lumping these together for one big reason: they’re in the same group. Rounded off with Lionel Messi’s Argentina, as well as Croatia, Group D might be the Group of Death in my opinion. It has a lot of competition from top to bottom, and even though Argentina is head and shoulders above these teams on paper, one might snag a draw/win and make knockout stages interesting.
Now, I know this is a list of all the ‘dark horse,’ forgotten talent teams in the World Cup, but I would say Iceland is the most likable. The smallest country to ever make it into the big show has been making some noise since its 2016 Euro run, in which they lost to France in the quarterfinals. Interestingly enough, they almost qualified for the 2014 World Cup, but were narrowly beaten out by fellow group-D team Croatia. Iceland has invested serious time and money into its footballing infrastructure, financing schools, teams, and development around the country. In a tournament full of heavy hitters, they might just be your David in a room full of Goliaths.
Also, they had 8% of their TOTAL population at the Euros, they’ve adopted the Viking clap (see below), and are just hardworking, blue collar players. They’re organized, they’re extremely smart, and have just enough talent to maybe make it through. Either way, they scream dark horse, and sure fandom for would-be World Cup watchers.
Nigeria, if you haven’t opened Twitter or seen any sort of coverage of the World Cup at all, has arguably the coolest jerseys in the cup. If you’re like my girlfriend Allie, you want the Sparknotes on a team: a synopsis of their story, why you should root for them, and lastly how cool their jerseys are.
Nigeria certainly checks all those boxes, and they’re pretty sweet. But beyond this, they’re on the up and up. They’re a young, talented squad with a couple veteran leaders looking to best their quarterfinal performance from last World Cup (as well as 1994 and 1998). Led by Mikel, a former Chelsea player, the team has some really strong talent in Victor Moses (Chelsea), Ndidi (Leicester), Iwobi (Arsenal), Iheanacho (Leicester), and Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow). With structure being the African nations’ biggest problem in years past, this Nigeria team hopes to impress in its group, and stands a strong chance to make it to the knockout.
Their supporters are also crazy, bringing a pep band with its own director wherever they go, as well as personalized chants. They get rowdy, and if you’re an American who doesn’t know too much about soccer and wants to look smart, Nigeria might be the way to go.
Of all the teams on this post, Belgium certainly has the best chance of actually winning the damn thing (see winner odds above). They have been that team in years past about which people have said “They’re a good young team but need experience.” Well we saw them make the quarterfinals last World Cup after knocking out the United States, and its been four years since.
They’re older, their smarter. They’re leadership is somewhat questionable, with Roberto Martinez leaving Radja Nainggolan out of the squad. However he is a capable manager, and with the right lineup could do some serious damage. With Panama, Tunisia and England sharing the group, they shouldn’t have a problem disposing of 2 out of those 3, though it’s the World Cup and who knows what will happen.
Romelu Lukaku (Man U) is an obvious force to be reckoned with, as well as Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens. That front 3 will be lethal, as well as Batshuayi coming off the bench for relief. Courtois in goal is always World Class, with some of the best defenders in the world. If they play their cards right, we could see Belgium as one of the surprise Semi-final teams. Mark my words.
Also, what’s not to love about Michi Batshuayi?
Me entering bae's home when her parents just left 🤫🤭… 😂 pic.twitter.com/4WAOYMSj4T
— Michy Batshuayi (@mbatshuayi) June 11, 2018
Salah the God, and our brothers from the Nile. That’s about all I’ll say. If you’re a big fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Lebron James carrying teams on his back, look no further than to Egypt. With a 45 year old goalkeeper, there’s really not too many options for them besides Mo Salah. Ramadan Sobhi, who just confirmed is transferring to Huddersfield, is another option, but if they’re smart, will run EVERYTHING through Salah.
Salah, for anyone who doesn’t know, plays at Liverpool, Mickey’s team, and only lost out to Lionel Messi for domestic goals and goals in the year. He has been a revelation after coming from Roma, and is actually incredible to watch. In many instances, he looks like Messi. If you ignore the poofy hair, it’s hard to tell them apart by the way they run on the ball. Egypt would be a great option, especially if you’re looking for a different African team to love than Nigeria.
Also, they’re in with Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay. There’s a guaranteed opportunity for Salah to score, and a strong opportunity for them to make it to the knockout stage with that happening.
Our brothers to the south. If you’re an American, this is as close-to-home as it gets for the World Cup. Led by Chicharito, Mexico will have to battle Germany, Sweden and South Korea for a place in the knockout stage. History tells us that Germany will make it out, but the second might be up in the air – Sweden without Zlatan might be nothing, and South Korea is, in my opinion, relatively untested. They have a few strong options, but nothing crazy of note.
Michael Baumann from the Ringer said this, of the U.S’s opinion of the Mexican National team:
Hating Mexico comes naturally. I didn’t have a local MLS team growing up, and I didn’t get into European soccer until college, so my primary attachment to soccer for most of my life has been through the U.S. national team, and that team’s biggest rival—for the men, at least—has always been its neighbor to the south. U.S. fans hate Mexico the way Auburn fans hate Alabama and Red Sox fans hate the Yankees.
He said it quite elegantly. Though he does go on to say that (I’m paraphrasing here) if we think for a moment about what the World Cup is about, we’ll understand that a big portion of it is about unification. If nothing else it should be about pausing the daily bullshit we see to have something to yell and be passionate about together.
Sure, the U.S. didn’t make it, and I’m still furious. But at the expense of treasonous dialogue, I’ll say that the next big team to root for would be Mexico. They have a lot of heart in their team like us, some VERY strong players, and a good chance to surprise people with a few amazing team goals.
So there you have it. I know I’ll be planting my ass in front of a screen every chance I get once this thing gets on the road, and I can’t tell you just how goddamn excited I am just thinking about it.
If you think there’s a team I forgot that people should really be pulling for, let me know and I’ll tell you why you’re wrong. Let’s go do that soccer.