WHO SHOULD I ROOT FOR IN THE WORLD CUP?
The World Cup starts today, Heauxs! And since the U.S. Men’s National Team did what the U.S. has been doing a lot of since November of 2016 and spectacularly sabotaged and humiliated themselves in front of the rest of the world, many soccer fans are coming into the tournament without an active rooting interest. If you want to participate in the sports conversation but don’t know who to bandwagon for, we’re here to help with some suggestions.
There are 32 teams in this World Cup, so these recommendations are far from comprehensive, and we encourage you to explore the teams not mentioned here as well, but we hope this will be a good starting point. Let’s do some soccer!
If you’re just looking to pick the obvious favorite: Brazil
Look, there’s nothing wrong with straight-up picking an obvious contender, unless you’re a Patriots fan, in which case I already hate all your sports opinions. After going full Benny Hill on their home turf against Germany in 2014, Brazil has the Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours of World Cup starting lineups: every piece is iconic and there’s not a dud in the bunch. (In this case, Neymar is obviously “The Chain.”)
If you’re a messy bitch who lives for drama: Spain
There’s always one team in the tournament who comes in as a top contender and then right before the thing starts, the wheels start to fall off and bridges are burned and cliches get mixed up. You’ve had four fucking years to invest in a pneumatic drill to make sure the bolts are on tight, but instead you end up being France in 2010, where tensions between Les Bleus and manager Raymond Domenech ran so high the players literally went on strike and refused to practice. I promise I am not just stereotyping; this actually happened.
Anyway, Spain, who are actually good and could win, went and FIRED THEIR MANAGER two days before their tournament opener. What could possibly go wrong?
If you want to be a good neighbor/co-host: Mexico
El Tri has to deal with the closest thing to a real Group of Death in this year’s tournament, with tough draws against Germany, South Korea and a now Zlatan-less Sweden. They also have to deal with us, their neighbors to the north, full of “Dos a Cero” scarf-wielding bros and an administration whose sole act of even remote decency or humanity in almost two years has been commuting a woman’s prison sentence because Kim Kardashian told them to.
The U.S. will also now be co-hosting the World Cup with our two immediate landlocked neighbors in eight years, and I think it would be the neighborly thing for us to cheer for Mexico in this tournament. And Mexico is a very good and fun team in a good and fun group (especially if you find the bar where Pancho Villa’s Army members are also watching), so you’ll most likely be watching some of the best soccer in the whole Cup.
If you want to troll the American soccer bro in your life: Costa Rica
If the U.S. Men’s National Team shitting the bed in qualifiers and all the footage of sad soccer frat guys gives you a bit of a schadenfreude-ian tingle, then why not reward the team that did the most damage with your love?
Mexico finishing at the top of CONCACAF was kind of inevitable, but no one owned America harder in qualifiers than Los Ticos. Well, the USMNT really owned itself through its own crushing mediocrity, but Costa Rica exposed their weaknesses like Paris Geller on her debate team opponents.
If you love a Good Sports Narrative Arc: Egypt or Argentina
The World Cup is full of compelling player narrative arcs, but none more than that of Mohamed Salah, the floppy-haired, endlessly endearing goal machine powering the Egyptian National Team. Salah is coming off of the best season of his career, where he won the Premier League Golden Boot and became an instant beloved icon at Liverpool Football Club and across the soccering world, promoting visibility and acceptance of Muslims in a country that still struggles heavily with Islamophobia. His skills brought Liverpool to the Champions League final, where, 20 minutes into the match, a dirty tackle from Sergio Ramos injured his shoulder, and he left the pitch in tears.
Egypt’s supporters are still waiting to see if Salah will be able to play in their opening match against Uruguay, and I’m waiting to see if he’ll stop taking stupid photo ops with anti-gay dictators (@ Mo Salah’s publicist: DO BETTER.). If he can do both, he’ll be the star of this World Cup, and be able to bring an amazing year of soccering full circle.
The other big individual player narrative worth following is that of Lionel Messi. Dude has more silverware than a Sur La Table: he’s won the Ballon d’Or five times and taken Barcelona to nine La Liga titles and four Champions League titles. He has made a very strong case for being considered the Soccer GOAT, and could probably be considered the greatest living athlete who isn’t Serena Williams. My favorite weird soccer announcer, Ray Hudson, once described playing against Messi as “like playing poker with a witch.” He is so good at soccer that I legitimately forgot he was named in the Panama Papers until I started writing this.
The one thing Messi doesn’t have though, besides a good accountant? A World Cup title with Argentina, who made it to the final in 2014, only to lose to Germany. Will this finally be his year? Don’t you want to find out now? Isn’t this shit compelling, even if you hate sports?
If you want to live your World Cup dreams vicariously through a group of Very Regular Dudes: Iceland
Iceland is a country of 330,000 people. For comparison, Kansas City has roughly 150,000 more people. By virtue of this tiny population, if you are a guy living in Iceland age 20-40, you have a roughly one in 2,000 chance of playing for the Icelandic National Team. Heimir Hallgrímsson, the National Team’s manager, worked as a dentist in his hometown throughout his entire playing and coaching career, up until 2016, when he became the manager of the National Team full-time.
Most dentists just coach their kids’ AYSO teams, but not Heimir—he led Iceland to an unexpected epic run at the Euro 2016 tournament and World Cup qualification for the first time. They’ve got the whole world doing the Viking Clap. Iceland will undoubtedly be the first choice for bandwagon fans wanting to root for a lovable underdog, and have an excuse to show you all their pictures from their epic trip to the Blue Lagoon.
If you’re going for literal style points or the coolest nickname: Nigeria
Nigeria’s World Cup LEWKS have been written up in the pages (or Internet pages at least) of Vogue and GQ, and they indeed have the coolest kit of any side in the tournament, which will probably feature in the crowd at a lot of music festivals this summer. Even cooler are the matching traditional garb-inspired team travel outfits. Nigeria is a talented side that certainly has substance as well as style, so if you want both, there you go.
Also, their team nickname is far and away the best in the tournament. Nigeria’s National Teams are known as the Super Eagles. Not just any Eagles. Not just Eagles: Their Greatest Hits. The fucking Super Eagles. How can you not love a team called the Super Eagles?
If you love Ines Bellina as much as we do: Peru
Esquire named Peru as one of the “top teams hipsters will be rooting for” in this World Cup. I don’t know if Heauxs Peru Correspondent Ines Bellina is a hipster, but you don’t have to be a hipster or Ines to cheer for Peru! They’re immensely likable underdogs and were super fun to watch in their qualifying run in one of the toughest regions. If Heauxs adopted Peru as its official World Cup team of choice, I wouldn’t be mad about it. I just hope this is a better experience for Peru than the last season of The Bachelor.
If your favorite part of soccer is the goal celebration: Colombia
If you’re unbothered by someone who has a “THIRD BITING INCIDENT” entry on their Wikipedia page: Uruguay
If you want to pick a real contender but you’re also here for the butts: Belgium
I said this in 2014 and I will say it again. Belgium could win this whole damn thing. They went undefeated in their qualifying group, putting up scores like 8-1 and 9-0 (granted, those were against Estonia and Gibraltar, but still) with an immensely talented squad whose members contribute to all-star lineups all over Europe during the regular season.
But on-pitch talents aside, it’s also important to call attention to Belgium because of their captain, Eden Hazard, who is, as far as we know, the only World Cup star whose butt is so iconic, it has its own Twitter account.