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 one you could get behind.
Manager: Luiz Scolari
Captain: Thiago Silva
Cheer for this team if you like: Home-field advantage, UCLA basketball, Cher, Madonna or other famous musical artists with one name.
Historically the most successful country in terms of international soccer, Brazil has claimed five World Cup titles, most recently winning in 2002, and hosts some of the greatest players of all time, like Pele, Ronaldo, Garrincha and Zico. Although they dipped to a new low in the FIFA rankings last summer, the team is primed and ready following it’s 2013 Confederations Cup win. Led by Barcelona forward Neymar, Paris Saint Germain defender, and Brazil captain, Thiago Silva and a host of one-named midfielders the team looks primed to make a deep run on home soil and push it’s sixth World Cup victory.
Manager: Niko Kovac
Captain: Darijo Srna
Cheer for this team if you like: Talented but unknown or under-appreciated players, the 1990’s.
Despite playing its first international match in 1991 as Croatia, and not as part of Yugoslavia, the Croatian National Team has only failed to qualify for two major competitions since 1996. Finishing third in its first ever World Cup in 1998, the Croats have failed to make it out of the group stage since, but will have high hopes to do so in Brazil. With strikers Mario Mandzukic and Nikica Jelavic, from Bayern Munich and Hull City respectively, up front and a midfield containing Real Madrid’s Luka Modric, Inter Milan’s Mateo Kovacic and Sevilla’s Ivan Rakitic, Croatia could be a surprise success at the World Cup. Although Mandzukic is suspended for the opening match against Brazil, having him back in the last two group matches could be enough for Croatia to advance to the knockout rounds.
Manager: Miguel Herrera
Captain: Rafael Marquez
Cheer for this team if you like: Slippery slopes, George Mason making a run in March Madness, chickpeas.
This might be a little harsh on Mexico, but a team once lauded as the best in CONCACAF has lost the shine it once had. Finishing fourth in the hex in CONCACAF courtesy of U.S. midfielder Graham Zusi scoring late against Panama, El Tri nearly missed out on the World Cup, and have a lot of questions to answer. Although they have lost only once in 2014, June 3 against Bosnia and Herzegovina, the low finish in the hex, coupled with a squad devoid of all but a couple stars, Mexico’s chances aren’t what they have been in the past. The squad will look to Manchester United striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos as goalscorers in the tournament, despite the former’s struggles in the Premier League this year. Although it is possible Mexico advances to the knockout rounds for the first time in a South American World Cup, do not be surprised if the team fails to make it out of the group stages.
Manager: Volker Finke
Captain: Samuel Eto’o
Cheer for this team if you like: Defensive teams, Africa, players who should be in a retirement home, Roger Milla.
Qualifying for an African record seventh World Cup, Cameroon heads to Brazil with big names, but not the highest of aspirations. After finishing second to last in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the team hopes that its fortunes will be the opposite this time around. Former Barcelona and Chelsea striker Samuel Eto’o, who is likely playing in his last major tournament at age 33, will lead the squad up top, with midfielder Alex Song and defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto each providing experience behind the captain. Although historically one of the more successful African teams, the team is looking a little long in the tooth compared to years past and could be just out of reach of knocking off the other teams in the group.
June 12: Brazil v. Croatia 4 p.m.
June 13: Mexico v. Cameroon noon
June 17: Brazil v. Mexico 3 p.m.
June 18: Cameroon v. Croatia 6 p.m.
June 23: Cameroon v. Brazil 4 p.m. Croatia v. Mexico 4 p.m.
Final table prediction: Brazil runs away with the group, winning all three matches, and Croatia finishes as runners-up behind the return of Mario Mandzukic against Cameroon in the second group match.