Who to Root For in the 2018 World Cup

todayJune 13, 2018 42

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By Garrett McGinley
Web Content Contributor

One of most prestigious tournament in sports, quite literally, kicks off June 14 in Moscow. I’m talking of course about the men’s World Cup. The 32-team tournament to determine which nation has the best soccer boys is a rare exercise in nationalism that doesn’t always end with bigotry and xenophobia.

There are a few notable absences from this year’s competition. Mainstay contenders like Italy and The Netherlands failed to qualify, as did the frequent tournament attendee the United States. Having been born in California and raised in Texas, I generally root for America in these types of global sporting events. The team’s humiliating failure has left a stars and bars shaped hole in the soccer interest of many American sports fans. But being the crafty sport viewer I am, I refuse to be a neutral observer of this tournament. Oh no dear reader, I have decided to expatriate my support to a new nation and I’m here to help you do the same.

After sleepless weeks, well actually, days… ok fine, like an hour of research I have went through each group, found the odds of each team’s chance of winning the tournament (as of June 1) and give reasons why you should support them or not.

Group A

Group A is one of the most unpredictable in the tournament. With that said, Uruguay (33/1) is by far the best team in this group. Lead by serial cannibal Luis Suárez, Uruguay boasts a wealth of world-class talent and should have no problem advancing to the knockout stage. After that things get a bit muddy. Russia (40/1) is the hosting team for this year’s event and will be motivated by the steely gaze of Russian dictat — President and lover of equine Vladmir Putin. Egypt (150/1) has arguably the best player in the world, not named Cristano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. Mohamed Salah tore up the Premier League this season totaling a league-leading 32 goals. However, Salah suffered a shoulder injury in Liverpool’s Champions League final versus Real Madrid on May 26 and his health going forward is in question. Egypt’s tournament hopes rest solely on Salah’s bum shoulder. Saudi Arabia (750/1) is also in this group. Not much to see there, as they are tied for the worst odds in the tournament.

You should root for:

  • Uruguay if you’ve wanted to eat someone’s liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
  • Russia if you have a passion for manipulating global elections.
  • Egypt if you want to enjoy the mastery of a hopefully healthy Mo Salah.
  • Saudi Arabia if you love suffering.

Group B

Two teams stand out from the rest in Group B. Spain (6/1) is rebuilt and ready to reclaim the crown after a disappointing early exit from the 2014 World Cup. This team is stuffed with top talent from La Liga and all-around Europe. Portugal (20/1) has Cristiano Ronaldo. They also have had a recent stretch of success in tournament play, winning the 2016 Euro and placing third at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup. Ronaldo will be fantastic per usual, but for Portugal to have a chance at the title the supporting cast will need to pull its weight and then some. The talent in the group drops sharply with Iran (500/1). Iran has qualified for two consecutive World Cups for the first time in club history, but I don’t anticipate them making it out of the first round. I don’t know where Morocco (250/1) is, nor do I know anything about the team.

You should root for:

  • Spain if you enjoy crisp clean passing and Oscar-level diving.
  • Portugal if you would like to see another bust like this created in Ronaldo’s honor.
  • Iran if you want to upset conservative war-hawks.
  • Morocco if you have strong geographic skills.

Group C

Group C is yet another top-heavy group that is somewhat unpredictable after the first team. France (6/1) is the outright best team in the group. Despite an underwhelming season for Manchester United, Paul Pogba is still a key player for Les Blues. However, even if Pogba’s struggles continue, the depth of roster should be strong enough to carry France deep into the tournament. 2018 marks the first time Peru (200/1) has qualified for the World Cup since 1982. Team Captain Paolo Guerrero was suspended in October for testing positive for cocaine. Guerrero alleged he did not knowingly ingest the substance and was instead given a tea made with it at a hotel. After a length appeal process, which included a Swiss Supreme Court ruling, Guerrero’s ban was lifted and he was re-confirmed to the team. Soap opera-esque drama aside, Peru should be an interesting team that could raise some eyebrows. Denmark (80/1) is also making a return to the World Cup after missing the 2014 event. Look for them to make a serious push toward the knockout stage. Australia (400/1) is probably the worst team in this group, but it never feels right to overlook the socceroos. Australia is three years removed from claiming victory at the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.

You should root for:

  • France if you want to support a young team that should be great for years to come.
  • Peru if you enjoy a raucous fan base that once cheered so loud, it triggered an earthquake warning.
  • Denmark if you want to support the least notable of the Nordic countries.
  • Australia if you enjoy Tim Tams.

Group D

Another group, another clear favorite and a bunch of question marks after that. Argentina (9/1) will almost certainly place first in this group. Led by living legend Lionel Messi, Argentina will look to make a run at securing the team’s second World Cup. But will this be the year that Messi and Argentina finally break through and bring home that elusive trophy? Who can say. They do bring a lot of the talent that was the runner-up in 2014 back for this year and are certainly among the favorites. Croatia (33/1) and its iconic red and white checkerboard shirts are back in the World Cup and primed to make a dark horse run. Captain Luka Modric will anchor a talented trio in the midfield that will be the key to Croatia’s success. Speaking of dark horses, there is perhaps none more notable than Iceland (200/1). The tiny Nordic island shocked everyone by making a run to the Euro 2016 semifinal which helped them to qualify for its first World Cup in team history. This underdog will be a popular choice for among those looking for new teams to support. You know what? This group is super well dressed. Nigeria (150/1) has probably the sharpest looking kits in the tournament. They also have a punchy offense that can hang with the best of them. Fresh off a second place in African Nations Championship in February, look for the Super Eagles to make some noise with its on-field play and its loud jerseys.

You should root for:

  • Argentina if you want to see Leo win at least one World Cup before he hangs up the boots.
  • Croatia if want to support one of the most well-rounded teams in the tournament.
  • Iceland if you love an underdog story.
  • Nigeria if you won best dressed in high school.

Group E

Revenge is on the mind of the top team in this group. Brazil (7/2) is VegasInsider.com’s odds on favorite to win the World Cup, slightly in front of the team that absolutely humiliated them in the 2014 World Cup semifinal: Germany. Brazil will look to put that 7-1 loss behind them and secure a record sixth World Cup. Paris Saint Germain superstar Neymar is undoubtedly the best player on the team and will have to be in top form for Brazil to live up to expectations. Switzerland (80/1) has the privilege of drawing Brazil first on June 17. I have no strong feelings on this team in either direction. Serbia (150/1) has also qualified for the tournament after missing the 2014 World Cup. Chemistry is the biggest question mark for this team as they brought in Mladen Krstajić to manage after Slavoljub Muslin was fired in October 2017. Costa Rica (400/1) looks to top its fairytale run to the quarterfinals at the 2014 World Cup. They have the deck stacked against them yet again but also have the track record to show they can overcome the odds.

You should root for:

  • Brazil if you love the Cowboys, Yankees, Lakers and/or any other great team of yesteryear.
  • Switzerland if you’re character alignment is true neutral.
  • Serbia if you have an affinity for Adidas tracksuits.
  • Costa Rica if you believe lightning can strike twice.

Group F

This group is owned by Germany, no matter what fans of Mexico might tell you. Germany (4/1) is a well-oiled machine. The defending World Cup champions look to pick up right where they left off. Despite taking the past nine months off to recover from injury, look for goaltender Manuel Neuer to be phenomenal in the net once again. The team isn’t without some drama however. Manager Joachim Löw omitted Manchester City winger Leroy Sané from the World Cup squad, in a move that has been chastised on social media and the press. Mexico (80/1) will be a popular choice among displaced United States fans, despite Mexico’s notoriety as being the USMNT’s biggest rival. El Tri should make it to the knockout round, just as they have every World Cup since 1994, but anything past that is up in the air. For the sake of CONCACAF supremacy, Mexico probably has the best shot at winning it all, not that it’s a very good chance. Sweden (100/1) left Zlatan Ibrahimović off the World Cup roster, so I hope they get left in the first round. With an iffy-at-best defense, things don’t look good for South Korea (500/1) to go far.

You should root for:

  • Germany if you root for the house to win at casinos.
  • Mexico if you loathe Donald Trump.
  • Sweden if you… no Zlatan? I don’t see why you would want to support them.
  • South Korea if you want to join a fanbase that pelts its team with double-entendre sweets when it doesn’t play well.

Group G

Group G is a two-team race. Belgium (10/1) brings a talented squad to Russia that looks to shake off the “chokes in major tournaments” label. Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku must be excellent for Belgium to have a chance. England (16/1)… oh England. I like to refer to England as Europe’s Mexico, in the sense they have some of the most delusional fans in the world. England boasts a talented squad but in reality they’re no match for the top teams in the tournament. Tunisia (500/1) could play a spoiler for the bigger teams in the group. They are a stout defensive team and have a fantastic team name, The Eagles of Carthage. Panama (750/1) is my Cinderella team of the tournament. In reality they have no business being here, in the sense they are not very good, but yet here they are with nothing to lose. This is Panama’s first time at the World Cup, so look for them to make the most of it and maybe steal a game.

You should root for:

  • Belgium if you admire what Belgian culture has done for the waffle.
  • England if you relish mediocrity.
  • Tunisia if you think The Eagles of Carthage would make a great band name.
  • Panama if you want to support the tournament winner. That’s right, calling it now. Panama is your 2018 World Cup champion.

Group H

Group H is the widest open in the tournament. Colombia (33/1) had a stellar 2014 World Cup and looks to build upon that this year. James Rodriguez was the breakout star of the last World Cup and is integral to Colombia’s success this year. This is Senegal’s (150/1) second World Cup and they look very talented. Sadio Mané is one of the most exciting players in the world and should net more than a few goals. Poland (50/1) has one of the strongest offense in the world but has questions at goaltender. Japan (250/1) is limited talent wise and could have a short tenure in the tournament.

You should root for:

  • Colombia if you think Colombian-born singer Shakira’s official 2010 World Cup anthem “Waka Waka” should be the official anthem of all World Cups.
  • Senegal if you love high-scoring action.
  • Poland if you enjoy a good ol’ fashioned goaltender position battle, especially ones where neither goalie is particularly good.
  • Japan if you think frosted tips should make a comeback.

Featured image by Garrett McGinley.

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