It is the greatest sporting event in the world. March Madness has it’s fun each year, and the Olympic spirit is nothing to be scoffed at, but the majesty that is the FIFA World Cup cannot be matched by any other competition.
With that competition comes 32 teams fighting it out for the ultimate prize of hoisting the trophy and earning eternal glory. But which of them should you cheer for?
Sure, more likely than not, your home country is represented in this years competition, but if it isn’t, or if you are a U.S. Men’s National Team fan looking for someone to cheer for after the Yanks are eliminated, we have a guide for you.
Going group by group each day leading up to kickoff between Brazil and Croatia we will be breaking down each group and what makes each team someone you could get behind.
Manager: Marc Wilmots
Captain: Vincent Kompany
Cheer for this team if you like: Being hipster, being shown up by the new kid, the Flemish language
How much publicity can a team get before it is no longer considered a dark horse. In the midst of a golden generation of talent, this Belgian side has been tapped by many as the sleeper team that has the best chance to steal a spot in the semifinals from one of the historical power teams. But with so many people talking up the Belgians, and a team of players who are prominent players in the Premier League and La Liga, this once surprise team could be called a favorite in their own right. Although none of the players on the roster have been to a World Cup in their careers, the name is a who’s who of talent in European soccer. Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany, Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea winger Eden Hazard and Everton, on loan from Chelsea, striker Romelu Lukaku, will all be part of one of the most talented teams in the tournament. Although depth is a bit of a fear, and central midfield could be suspect with a poor season from Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini, expect this team to push for the quarterfinals.
Manager: Vahid Halilhodzic
Captain: Madjid Bougherra
Cheer for this team if you like: Being born in a country you don’t play for, Landon Donovan’s goal in 2010, France but don’t want to admit it.
A lot of talk leading up to the cup in the U.S. has been about the number of players born abroad that are playing for the Yanks. Compared to Algeria though, Jurgen Klinsmann’s side can’t live up. Of the 23 players on the Algerian roster, 15 were born in France, eight of those playing for French youth sides. With a decidedly French influence, it will be curious which aspect of French soccer the team got, the talent, or the descent. The Algerians could be one of the surprising sides in Brazil, with a number of players from top European Leagues and a good performance in qualifying. Sporting Lisbon’s Islam Slimani will be the man up front looking to push the goals, with Inter Milan’s Saphir Taider playing just in behind him. If the goalies can keep out the goals, Algeria could pull of an upset or two, even potentially stealing a shock advancement to the knockout rounds.
Manager: Fabio Capello
Captain: Sergei Ignashevich
Cheer for this team if you like: Russian soccer, that’s it, seriously, just if you like Russian soccer.
Ok, that might be simplifying things a bit, you’re probably saying “well if I like Russian soccer then of course I will cheer for the Russians.” But seriously, that is the defining factor of this side. Managed by former England manager Fabio Capello, all 23 of the players on the squad play in Russia. No other team in the tournament can claim that every one of their players play in the same league. Even England has one player from the Scottish Premier League. This could prove to be a big deal for the Russians, who could be one of the tighter teams in the tournament, knowing how each of their teammates play. Another understated team coming into Brazil, Russia is quite talented, and could be a thorn in the side of teams in the knockout rounds should it get out of the group stages.
Manager: Hong-Myung Bo
Captain: Koo Ja-Cheol
Cheer for this team if you like: 2002, players turned managers.
Back in 2002 South Korea made a shock trip to the semifinals of the World Cup, proving that in the tournament home-field advantage, and home officiating some Italian fans would argue, really does make a difference. But now, after back-to-back early exits in 2006 and 2010, things aren’t as promising this time around. Although with arguably the greatest player in South Korean history at the helm as manager in Hong-Myung Bo, captain of the 2002 team, the emotions could run just high enough to push this team to the knockout stages. Arsenal’s Park Chu-Young and Bayer Leverkusen’s Son Heung-Min are talented attacking options, although not having the greatest of seasons, and Swansea City’s Ki Sung-yueng could be a key in the midfield, but it might not be enough against the European teams in the group.
June 17: Belgium v. Algeria noon Russia v. South Korea 6 p.m.
June 22: Belgium v. Russia noon South Korea v. Algeria 3 p.m.
June 26: South Korea v. Belgium 4 p.m. Algeria v. Russia 4 p.m.
Final table prediction: Even if this is the first World Cup for all of it’s player, Belgium looks poised for a top of the group finish. Russia looks set to finish in second, although don’t be shocked if any of the three other teams advance behind the Belgians.