This rooting guide is supposed to be a helpful tool for you to decide which nationality to pretend to be for the next month. If you have even the most fleeting interest in soccer, this international tournament is a perfect time for you to dip your toes into the world’s most popular sport. For those of you who already enjoy the sport, this article can be a guide to finding the most entertaining under-the-radar teams that will try to shock the world.
Uruguay (Odds at winning group: EVEN)
Saudi Arabia (+3300)
If you root for Russia, you’re not a TrueAmerican™. The hosts are in the World Cup because they’re the hosts — like South Africa in 2012, Russia likely would not have made the tournament if not for the host’s automatic bid.
If you don’t want Russia to advance, you should absolutely root for Egypt. The Pharaohs are powered by international megastar Mohammed Salah, who is currently recovering from a shoulder injury sustained in the Champions League final against Real Madrid. If the Ballon d’Or contender is healthy enough to play, he will be the most exciting player in the World Cup.
This group is all about preferences. If you enjoy watching one megastar try to carry his team, you might like Cristiano Ronaldo trying his best to power the Portuguese. If you enjoy watching many stars on the field play with a certain poise and inter-connectivity, perhaps the selfless Spaniards are more your speed. If you enjoy watching a pesky, defense-first team try to knock off its powerful neighbors, you should cheer on the “Lions of the Atlas,” which also works as arguably the coolest nickname in the competition. If you prefer to cheer on the team with the most obvious connection to CU, cheer on the Iranians because CU has a thriving Persian-language department.
This should be an easy group because the Aussies are nicknamed the “Socceroos,” which is just hilarious. That would be like if the Canadians named themselves the “I’m Sorrys,” or if the Americans named themselves the “Kohl’s Cash Enthusiasts.”
If you’re watching the World Cup for soccer and not as an excuse to make fun of every team in it, you can probably roll with the French. The French team is brimming with world class talent. In the attack they have arguably the two most promising forwards in the sports in Ousmane Dembélé and Kylian Mbappé. In the midfield they have the wonderful N’Golo Kanté and the incredible Paul Pogba. Then in the back, they have the young and fun duo of Samuel Umtiti and Raphaël Varane. The more I look at their squad, the more I’m convinced this is the most exciting team around.
If you have a bias against the French, the Danes should be an excellent alternative. Denmark are led by Tottenham star Christian Eriksen and they have a selfless playing style that could see them make a surprise run.
Argentina are the favorites of this group mostly because of Lionel Messi, but also because of a slew of young studs including Paulo Dybala. Croatia are always underrated — SB Nation compared them to West Virginia football — and they’re poised to dominate in the midfield; if you’re a fan of seeing center-mids dissect the game, this checker-plaid squad has Luka Modrić, Ivan Rakitić and Mateo Kovačić. Iceland is a hipster pick that gained cult status when they improbably made it to the quaterfinals in the 2016 Euro. We have Nigeria, who if you’re a fan of fast-paced, electric soccer, the Super Eagles could be the most fun team in the tournament, especially with these incredible kits.
Costa Rica (+1800)
There’s always a Group of Death, and although FIFA tried to curb that with their group system, this could be the closest we have to that. Brazil are the presumptives favorites of the group because of a loaded team that features megastars like Neymar, established winners like Marcelo, and young studs like Gabriel Jesus. Switzerland has a boring play style, but they have exciting players that I personally adore, such as Ricardo Rodriguez and Xherdan Shaqiri, who may be the Monta Ellis of soccer. Costa Rica is a good team to take up if you’re fine being disappointed — they’re not here to win, they’re here to play spoiler. Serbia is also good, I guess, but I’ve read nothing about them and only know like two of their players, so maybe they’re OK to overlook.
South Korea (+2000)
SB Nation compared Germany to Alabama, and that makes a lot of sense. The Germans are the heavy favorites in Russia because they dominate by having elite players at seemingly every position whilst having the next wave of stars riding the pine. If you enjoy top-quality soccer, you should bite the bullet and root for the favorite. In addition to always having the best goalkeeper, the best defense and the best midfield in international soccer, they also may have finally found a world class striker in the electric Timo Werner.
If you would prefer an underdog, Mexico is America’s team. The Mexican national team is far and away more popular in the U.S. than even the Americans, partly because they’re team is actually good. I wish I could root for Mexico, but I’ll be cheering on Korea because I love Son Heung-min, Song Kang-ho and K-Pop.
All respect to Tunisia and Panama — shoutouts to Salah Mejri and Mariano Rivera — but this group is between Belgium and England.
If you’re intent on cheering for another English-speaking country, you should know that cheering for England only results in disappointment. They do have talented squad with an exciting attack that will heavily feature the always fun Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford. And if you’re lucky, you’re going to see Dele Alli fight someone and/or receive a red card.
If you would prefer a team that’s a bit more exciting and has interesting kits, you should know that like England, Belgium is notorious for disappointing. But even if they lose, you should enjoy this squad because they may try to see how many attackers it’s possible to have on the pitch. Just to name a few players, they have Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, all of whom can reasonably claim to be the best offensive player in the English Premier League.
And finally, we conclude with the worst group of the competition. If you’re here to see stars carry mediocre teams, cheer on Robert Lewandowski leading the Poles. If you want to cheer on the best overall team — or you’re a fan of Narcos — the Colombians are exciting and will wear beautiful 1994-themed uniforms. If you’re here for a fun time, Senegal are powered by speed demons Sadio Mané and Keita Baldé. If you’re here just for the fashion and Colombia’s uniforms are too ‘90s for you, Japan is there for the aesthetic. The Blue Samurai are dressed appropriately with uniforms that honor their national history (ignore the Leap Frog photoshop, lol).