Who To Root For: 2018 FIFA World Cup

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The United State’s Men’s National Soccer team’s (USMNT) shocking defeat at the hands of Trinidad and Tobago in the World Cup qualifiers left many Americans without a team to root for in the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Beginning June 14, 2018, and stretching until July 15, the World Cup gives fans a chance to watch the world’s best players on the world’s biggest stage—all in one place, all with one goal.

The World Cup is an event that brings nations together, before it pits them against one another, and this time around the battle for international soccer dominance will be hosted by Russia.

Only occurring every four years, the World Cup attracts an unmatched global viewership with over 3.2 billion tuning into the 2014 tournament—a number it is likely to eclipse this year.

Whether you are a heartbroken die-hard USMNT fan in search of a temporary replacement, a USMNT fan fed up with the teams perpetual failure seeking a new team to pledge allegiance to or a newcomer to the World Cup simply trying to understand what’s going on, with 32 countries participating there is no shortage of rooting options.

With that said, here is a rundown of the most exciting and relevant teams going into the World Cup.

France

One of the clear-cut favorites, France may be the strongest all-around team. The only thing working against them is simply their overall youth. Their lack of experience could wind up hurting them as it did when they fell just short in the 2016 UEFA European Championships. Despite having home-field advantage, France were runners-up, unable to make the final push to be crowned Euro Champions. Seattle University freshman Jackson Chiao has his doubts about the French national team: “I think France is going to choke, I’m confident.”

Portugal

The team that beat France to become the 2016 UEFA European Champions, Portugal is as close to a one-man show as it gets. Led by Cristiano Ronaldo—who is widely regarded as the best player in the world—Portugal’s fate in the tournament will largely fall on his shoulders. However, if there is one single player who can do it, it’s Ronaldo.

Germany

The defending 2014 World Cup champions return and are heavy favorites to repeat. Germany is trickier to evaluate than other teams as throughout the World Cup qualifiers Germany never played their full strength lineup. Resting their veterans, Germany still dominated the competition, going an undefeated 10-0 in qualifiers. Even their opponents don’t quite know what to expect from this dangerous squad.

Brazil

The hosts of the 2014 World Cup look to bounce back after their humiliating 1-7 defeat at the hands of eventual champions Germany in the semi-finals. Even without home-field advantage, Brazil remains favorites with their star, Neymar ready for his second World Cup appearance after suffering a devastating injury in the quarterfinals in the 2014 tournament. Neymar, the highest paid soccer player in the world, and his strong supporting cast will be hungry for victory.

Argentina

Runners-up in the last World Cup, Lionel Messi and the offensive juggernaut that is the Argentinian national team will look to win it all this time around. While they are not outright favorites, their collection of talented forwards make them a dangerous opponent for anyone.

Uruguay

Led by the duo of Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani Uruguay, Uruguay is another offensive dominant team and will rely heavily on the goal-scoring abilities of their stars.

Spain

The 2010 World Cup champions, who in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, exited the 2014 tournament prematurely, unable to make it past the group stage. Spain will look to silence their critics and return to their expected level of excellence. While the team’s brand of possession-dominant soccer will remain unchanged, fresh faces like forwards Marco Asensio and Isco will provide Spain with a new look and energy needed to advance deeper into this year’s World Cup.

Russia

World Cup hosts are the only team guaranteed a spot in the tournament. Russia gets the easy pass this time around and while they have home-field advantage, they are unlikely to go far.

England

Harry Kane, who in the entire calendar year of 2017 scored the most goals in the world, will captain a strong English national team. Every single player on the English national team plays in the English Premier League. Not only will their familiarity with each other be an asset, but their similar styles of play will allow them to mesh well as a complete team.

Egypt

Egypt received good news when they learned their star forward Mohamed Salah was likely to play in the World Cup after recently sustaining an injury in the Champions League final. Salah had a historic season, winning the Premier Leagues golden boot—awarded to the player who scores the most goals. Egypt’s chances are slim to none if he does not recover in time.

Iceland

Though an underdog, Iceland gained a sizeable global fan base over the last several years as videos of their team-leading fans in a “Viking Chant” flooded social media. They, if nothing else are entertaining and proved themselves in the 2016 UEFA European Championships when they bounced England in the round of 16. (Bonus points for USMNT fans, Iceland’s jerseys are the familiar red, white, and blue).

Belgium

Not historically a soccer powerhouse, Belgium’s current generation of players is unlike any other in their history. If Belgium is ever going to win it all, this World Cup will be it. With center midfielder, Kevin De Bruyne arguably the Premier Leagues best player this year, and his teammates squarely in their primes, Belgium has all the makings to be something special in this World Cup.