The 2018 World Cup kicks off on Thursday! Usually, I go into a World Cup with a reasonable idea of the team(s) I want to win. But since neither the U.S. nor the Netherlands (my usual “second-favorite team”) qualified for this year’s competition, I thought I’d rank the 32 participating teams in descending order based on who I hope wins the whole thing. Or maybe it’s ascending order. At any rate, the team I least want to win is at No. 32 and as you read down the list, I’m more and more ok with those teams lifting the World Cup.
I also wanted to see how many times I could use the word “plus” in this write-up. Spoiler alert: it’s a lot.
32. Mexico – I know there’s a line of thinking that says that since the U.S. isn’t going to the World Cup this year, we should support Mexico since we are in the same confederation together but I say not no, but hell no! I’ll never cheer for Mexico and I hope they lose every single game they ever play for the rest of recorded history. Part of it is obviously regional rivalry. But it’s also because of cheating cheaters who cheat like Rafael Marquez, who might be the dirtiest player I’ve ever seen. And because their fans are known for throwing bags of urine or batteries at our players. I get wound up just thinking about the Mexican National Team.
Really, out of the entire field of 32 countries, they are the only team that I absolutely don’t want to win the whole thing. With everyone else, I just feel varying degrees of ambivalence.1
31. Brazil – I don’t have anything against Brazil. I generally enjoy watching them play. And they do have Carnival, which is like Mardi Gras on steroids. But they’ve won five World Cups already. Give someone else a chance, you know? Also, I just have a hard time getting behind Neymar. Don’t ask me why. I don’t even actively dislike him. I’m just kind of meh about him.
30. Germany – Similar argument to Brazil. I love Arsenal’s Mesut Özil but Germany have won four World Cups already, including the most recent one in 2014. They’re kind of like the Alabama football of international soccer. They consistently play at such a high level and win so often that it’s starting to get boring. I’d be fine if they didn’t win anything again for a while. And I mean that about both Germany and Alabama.
29. Russia – Cold War rivalries never really die! Plus, there’s that whole allegedly interfering with the 2016 election thing. I’d make a few jokes about them but I don’t want to accidentally fall out of a window.
28. Uruguay – I’m torn on Uruguay. One the one hand, they fit in the Brazil-Germany-Argentina category since they’ve won multiple World Cups. On the other, their second (and most recent) World Cup win was 68 years ago so it’s almost like those two wins don’t count. Oh wait, they have Luis Suarez, who is just about the cheatingest, divingest, bitingest player there is. Seriously, just go to YouTube and search “Luis Suarez” and most of what pops up is his intentional handball against Ghana in the 2010 World Cup or all of his blatant dives or the multiple times he has bitten opponents. In no known universe does he deserve to win the World Cup.
I may re-write this and move Uruguay under Mexico. I guess that means I’m not really torn on them any more.
27. Portugal – I just can’t bear the thought of Cristiano Ronaldo and his giant ego lifting the World Cup. Plus, they just won the European Championships in 2016, so they’ve already got something to celebrate. Writing about Portugal and the World Cup does remind me of this game from the 2002 World Cup, though. What a fantastic win. That 2002 U.S. team is probably my favorite of all time. And, hell, since we’re talking about the U.S. and the 2002 World Cup, I’ll just leave this here.2
26. England – I’m generally an anglophile but I’m not really sure I want England to win it all. For a country that’s only won one World Cup, the sense of entitlement among English fans is often suffocating. I think I’d have to avoid Twitter for a year if they won the World Cup again. Plus, they didn’t pick Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere for the team this year, which is just mind bottling to me since I think he’s the best player they’ve produced in the last 10 years. Don’t @ me.
25. Iran – I think I’m not supposed to like Iran for geo-political reasons but I don’t really know what those reasons are. I guess I should pay better attention to current events.
24. Argentina – Copy-paste the arguments for Germany and Brazil. They’ve got two already. No need to be greedy. And I don’t relish the “this World Cup triumph proves Messi is better than Ronaldo” hot takes that’ll inevitably spring up should Argentina win, even though I generally fall into the Messi is better than Ronaldo camp.
23. Panama – They’ve got that canal and everything, and it’s a pretty great Van Halen song. But I just can’t bring myself to cheer for another CONCACAF team to win it.
22. Costa Rica – See Panama, but replace “that canal” with “top-notch beaches” and take out the part about the Van Halen song.
21. Belgium – I don’t even know if he’s on the World Cup squad but I’m generally anti-any team that plays Marouane Fellaini. Though I suppose I should qualify that stance somewhat since there are Twitter Rumors™ that he might sign for Arsenal this summer.3 Which would be terrible. But I digress. Also, I’m still not quite over the 2-1 loss to Belgium at the 2014 World Cup.
20. Serbia – It seems like every Serbian character in every British movie I’ve ever seen is a mobster. And if you can’t root against an entire country’s national team simply because of the way their everyday citizens are stereotyped in movies, what’s the point?
19. Colombia – They gave us the legendary Carlos Valderrama and his absolutely magical hair. But they also supply most of the world’s cocaine. And drugs are bad, m’kay. Though in ranking Colombia here, I seem to be making the argument that drugs are less bad than Marouane Fellaini. And maybe they are? Who’s to say, really? It’s not exactly a perfect (or even logical) ranking system. Maybe I should have mentioned that at the top.
18. Saudi Arabia – I know they are ostensibly one of our allies. But I feel like we can’t exactly trust them. But we kind of have to since they theoretically help provide some degree of stability in the Middle East? I don’t know. I refer you back to the comment I made about paying better attention to current events in the Iran entry. The ranking system apparently hasn’t gotten any better. Let’s just move on.
17. Poland – Poland has had a rough go of it over the centuries. And this is their first World Cup since 2006. And they have former Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who, even though he doesn’t play for Arsenal anymore, still loves to wind up Tottenham Hotspur on social media. Which I find absolutely delightful. But, beyond him, and maybe Robert Lewandowski, I’m still kind of meh on them as a team.
16. Spain – Spain is another of those teams that I wasn’t sure what to do with. One the one hand, I really enjoy watching them play. But on the other, they’ve won both the World Cup and the European Championships relatively recently and there’s that whole greed thing. On still another hand, they have Arsenal player Nacho Monreal on the team (who I really like) but I need another hand to mention that I have a hard time looking past Diego Costa (who I really, really dislike). Spain is responsible for paella, which is great. But there is also that whole Francisco Franco thing, which was bad.
So, you take the good, you take the bad. You take them both and there you have… Spain, stuck in the middle of the pack.
15. Denmark – Surprise winners of the 1992 European Championships. It wouldn’t be the worst thing if they won a World Cup but let’s not act like their cupboard is bare. Also, here’s a thing I just learned about Denmark: Greenland is an autonomous constituent country within the Kingdom of Denmark. Maybe that’s really a thing I just learned about Greenland but since they aren’t a member of FIFA and are thus not eligible to participate in the World Cup, and since this is ostensibly a ranking of World Cup teams, I’ll just leave it here.
14. Tunisia – Thanks to Wikipedia, I now know that Tunisia is considered the only full democracy in the Arab world. Hooray for democracy. And their national team is known as The Eagles of Carthage, which is a pretty good nickname but also might have been stolen by the band The Eagles of Death Metal, who, somewhat surprisingly, don’t play death metal.
13. Switzerland – I didn’t need Wikipedia to know that Switzerland is best known for chocolate and clocks. And their army knives. And their cheese. And neutrality. Which is fitting since I’m fairly neutral on the idea of them winning it all. Side note: I find it interesting that the security force for The Vatican are known as the Swiss Guard (and man do they have some crazy ceremonial uniforms). I used to know more about them but I can’t really remember much. Will have to go look up info on them at some point. It’ll have to wait, though. I need to come up with a clever entry about Sweden.
12. Sweden – [Tries to think of something clever to say about Sweden. Gives up. Googles Swiss Guard.]
11. Egypt – Did you know that Egypt is the 15th-most populated country in the world? I sure didn’t. And Bob Bradley, who was the manager of the U.S. National Team before Jurgen Klinsmann, also managed the Egyptian national team. And they feature Arsenal player Mohamed Elneny, who I’m not sure how I feel about. Plus, pyramids and sphinxes and whatnot. Hashtag history.
10. Morocco – Every time I see the word Morocco in print, I say it to myself the way they say Marrero in this song. In hindsight, I should probably rank them higher just because of that. Also, my sister has a hilarious story where she was planning a vacation to Morocco and her friends pranked her by making her think there was going to be a terrorist attack while she was there. They made fake intelligence reports and everything. I should get her to write a guest post about it sometime.
9. Australia – I want to make a Yahoo Serious joke here but only because I feel like a Crocodile Dundee joke would be a little too obvious. But I haven’t seen Yahoo Serious in anything since Young Einstein came out, so the joke probably wouldn’t be very good (you know, as opposed to all the other jokes in this post). Also, looking it up made me realize that Young Einstein came out 30 years ago. I remember seeing it in the theater. Jeebus, I’m old.
8. France – I have a soft spot in my heart for France because they have several players that I really like (Giroud, Dembele, Fekir, Griezmann).4 Plus, I’m hoping for a France-England match-up at some point if only so that I can make a series of hilarious-only-to-me Hundred Years War references and/or continuously quote Henry V. Hashtag we are but warriors for the working day!
7. Croatia – I have a friend who played basketball at Tulane who is from Croatia (Hi, Kiki). Plus, another friend who played basketball (and volleyball) at Tulane and then played volleyball over there after college (Hi, Lacey). Plus, I think I like their traditional checkerboard jerseys. They are, if nothing else, pretty unique.
6. Iceland – I know Iceland is a trendy pick for bandwagon fans but they do seem like they’re enjoying the ride. Plus, I like the fact that when Icelanders(?) want to get married (or even just hook up), they have to check to make sure they aren’t related to each other. Or maybe that’s people in Greenland. Either way, as a Southerner who’s heard a thousand jokes about people marrying their sisters, I think it’s great.
5. South Korea – They give us lots of great electronics and cars. And they gave us this. Which, after a few years of not having heard it and thus having forgotten it, I now fully appreciate.
4. Japan – The land of Akira Kurosawa. Maybe the greatest filmmaker of all time. They should get to win the World Cup just for him giving us The Seven Samurai and Rashomon and Throne of Blood. And The Hidden Fortress, without which we would never have gotten Star Wars. But because of Star Wars, we got the Star Wars prequels. And now maybe I’m starting to waiver on Japan a little. But I guess, now that I think a little more about it, the prequels are really only the fault of George Lucas. It’s not really fair to blame Japan for them. Ok, I’m back on board!
3. Senegal – I’ve got them this high almost solely because of their monumental upset over then-defending champion France (and eventual quarterfinal appearance) at the 2002 World Cup. This is also only their second-ever appearance at the World Cup, which means I’m not tired of them like I am Ghana.5 Plus, African teams are usually just fun to watch. And it’d be great if a team that wasn’t from Europe or South America won the World Cup for once. And Senegal’s capital city makes an iconic cologne… Dakar Noir. Get it? Instead of Drakkar Noir? Thanks, you’ve been a great audience. I’ll be here all week. Be sure to tip your waitress.
2. Nigeria – I mean, if you can’t get behind Nigeria, I just assume you hate joy. I was at the game when Nigeria beat Argentina in the gold medal match at the 1996 Olympics with a team that featured the likes of Jay-Jay Okocha, Emmanuel Amunike and former Arsenal great Nwankwo Kanu. Which isn’t really relevant, because that was 22 years ago and all of the players on that team are retired now, but it was a cool thing I went to and I just felt like mentioning it. This year’s team isn’t really what you’d call a vintage Nigeria squad but that sort of works in their favor for me since I find cheering for the favorites to be a bit dull and uninspired. Also, Okocha’s nephew, current Arsenal player Alex Iwobi, is on the team, which is another thing that works in their favor.
Quick side note: people seem to love the new Nigeria jerseys. I think they’re terrible. Either the sleeves or the body would be fine if they were the only design but to have two different design styles looks weird to me.
1. Peru – And then there was one! What to make of Peru. They were the last team to qualify for 2018 and are making their first World Cup appearance since 1982. They are maybe the underdoggiest underdog we’ve had at the World Cup in a while. And if there’s one thing I love, it’s an underdog. And their traditional jersey, white with a red sash, is just an absolute classic, unlike that terrible Nigeria jersey. Plus, Peru is home to locales that are just fun to say: Machu Picchu… Lake Titicaca… and the Inca are just an absolutely fascinating culture. If you are at all interested in reading about the Inca and other early inhabitants of the Americas, you should definitely check out 1491:New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. It’s really good.
Oh, and the capital of Peru shares a name with a bean! All in all, what’s not to like?
- Man, that’s a ringing endorsement, isn’t it? “Come read a list of national teams that I don’t really have strong feelings about.”
- Suck it, Mexico.
- I’m hoping it’s just agent talk to get other teams interested in signing him. Arsenal tend to be a popular club for want-away players to be linked to.
- I reserve the right to change my feelings about Fekir if he moves to Liverpool, since it’s being reported that he is a target for them.
- One of the perks of the U.S. not qualifying is that we don’t have to play Ghana, which we seem to do every World Cup. Of course, they didn’t qualify either, so I suppose it’s all a bit of a mute point. You know, a point you don’t have to bring up. You can be mute about it.