It happens every four years. The world’s biggest sporting event comes along, or as we call it in the United States, our quadrennial one month trial run with soccer that ends with the majority of us saying “nope, still stupid”.
It’s not that I dislike soccer.
OK, it is that I dislike soccer. But I’ve tried really, really hard not to. Honestly, I’ve given it a chance. I love the passion – I could watch soccer crowds all day. It’s just at the end of the day, I need…something on the field. It’s not a lack of offense thing, but it’s a lack of offensive chances thing. 2-1 game? Hey, that’s a pitcher’s duel. 2-1 game with 8 total shots on goal? Gaaaaah just shoot me.
So I apologize to those fans who take offense. It’s not usually foreign fans, by the way. We don’t get soccer and they don’t get our American football and both sides usually seem to have a live-and-let-live attitude about it. It seems the people who are vocally in your face about how great the sport is and how uncultured you are for just not understanding are dirty hipsters whose only other connection to sports is the Stephon Marbury jersey they are wearing ironically. These are the same people who blindly listen to whatever world music/EDM/punk-folk band that Pitchfork tells them is great. (Seriously, try listening to Grizzly Bear without wanting to put a nail through your brain.)
Still, I will watch the World Cup, like I always do. There’s a couple of reasons for this. One, as a stay-at-home dad I’ve come to appreciate any sports played on weekday afternoons. Two, I do legitimately love the pageantry that surrounds World Cup games, and can appreciate it on that level. Couple that with the fact that soccer is a sport you can pretty easily watch in the background while doing something else (when the announcer sounds like he’s waking up, look at the tv.) and I’m sold.
I’m not going into this thing like some ugly American, though. If I’m going to watch the World Cup, you better be sure I did my research. I’ve discovered the really important facts about every team in this year’s tournament, and can safely say I can present you with the most comprehensive World Cup preview of all time.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT EVERY TEAM IN THE 2014 FIFA WORLD CUP BUT WERE TO AMBIVALENT TO ASK:
Brazil – The host nation of the 2014 World Cup, some see it as something of a trial run for when they host the Olympics in two years. Some might say the time and money might be better spent preparing for that, by say, cleaning the rowing venue that is literally overflowing with sewage. But I digress.
Brazil has won five World Cups, thanks mainly to the fact that many of their players are quicker and more agile than their opponents due to having just one name – less embroidery on the jersey = better wind resistance. (This is the same reason Poland failed to qualify for the World Cup.) This year, they have a player named Hulk, who if the comics are any indication, we can expect to earn a red card fairly quickly.
Croatia – Croatia is relatively new to international soccer, but has made their presence known. They went from being ranked 125th in the world when they joined FIFA in 1993 to 3rd in 1998, the kind of movement in the polls one usually has to hire Nick Saban for.
Croatia’s fan base is known for their enthusiastic support. By enthusiastic I mean dreadfully, terribly racist. They have been chastised and penalized for racist banners against Turkey, racial slurs against English striker Emile Heskey, and in 2008 were nearly banned from the Euro when a group of fans formed a human swastika in response to Italian fans waving Communist flags. Good job, Croatia. You made the Communists the good guys.
Mexico - Mexico is traditionally the biggest soccer power in North America, which sounds impressive until you realize the region is made of mostly small Caribbean and Central American nations, a U.S. team who has to deal with being at best the fifth or sixth most popular sport in the country, and a Canadian team that only exists because they were too polite to tell anyone they simply don’t care. It’s kind of like how the Colts have dominated the AFC South for so long – you beat up on the Titans, Texans, and Jaguars every year, let’s not get too proud.
Cameroon - The Cameroon National team is nicknamed the “Indomitable Lions”, which I have to admit is a pretty badass nickname. Not to be confused with the Detroit Very, Very, Domitable Lions.
Cameroon’s national team also arrived in Brazil just yesterday, after a dispute over bonus pay. It’s not like they had four years to work that out or anything.
Spain – The defending World Cup champions, Spain will again be tough to beat due to the fact that when I looked at their roster I recognized the names of the English professional teams most of these guys play for.
Spain uses a style of play called Tiki-taka, which relies on short passing and ball possession and proves once and for all that Bill Walsh truly was a genius.
Netherlands – The Netherlands – also known as the Dutch, but incorrectly sometimes referred to as Holland, whose flag is red white and blue but are famous for their all-orange uniforms – exists solely to confuse people. They hold the distinction of playing in the most World Cup Finals without winning, making them the Minnesota Vikings of international soccer.
Chile – I keep looking up facts about these various national teams waiting for the one that crashed in the Andes and resorted to cannibalism. Turns out that was a Uruguayan rugby team. Who knew? Could’ve sworn it was Chile. I guess I have to re-watch that movie.
Australia – The Australian National Team has gone by the nickname “The Socceroos” since 1967, which quite frankly is long enough for them to realize they should be embarrassed. Seriously, didn’t New Zealand ever pull them aside and say “Hey, your name makes you sound like specially designed underwear for soccer-loving children.”?
Colombia – Colombia has a long, rich history in soccer filled with great moments, thrilling victories, and heartbreaking defeats. Despite that, they will always really be know for one thing – being the nation where a player was murdered for scoring on his own goal in the 1994 World Cup. Kind of puts people who troll athletes on Twitter into perspective. (Just kidding – people who troll athletes on Twitter are still the worst.)
Greece - Greece has a long history of, well, being terrible at soccer. Until this decade, they only qualified for one World Cup. That was 1994, when they went 0-3 and were outscored 10-0 by such powers as Nigeria and Bulgaria.
(Things are looking up for Greece. This is their second straight World Cup and they won the Euro Championship in 2004.)
Ivory Coast - The team captain for Ivory Coast is Didier Drogba, who is so beloved in his homeland that in 2006 he helped broker a cease-fire after five years of civil war just by asking. He is a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador and in 2009 donated his 3 million pound signing fee in it’s entirety to build a hospital in his hometown of Abidjan.
Seriously, I have no jokes here. I just think everyone should know Didier Drogba is an awesome human being.
Japan - The Japanese national team traditionally wears a blue and white uniform, going against the rising sun, red and white color scheme the nation is known for. This is because they wore blue and white in the 1936 Olympics and beat Sweden in their first major international match 3-2. The fact that they failed to qualify for every World Cup until 1998 somehow did not dissuade them from thinking these were their “lucky” jerseys.
Uruguay – Uruguay is the Green Bay Packers of soccer. With a population of just 3.25 million people, Uruguay has won two World Cups, and the Copa America 15 times. To put that into perspective, imagine that the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area had won the World Cup. TWICE.
Costa Rica - There is so little of interest about Costa Rica’s national team, that I’ll use this space to show you the Official Song of the World Cup. This, like the NBA Finals, proves there is no sporting event that can’t be made worse by Pitbull.
England - England is one of the first nations most people think of when it comes to soccer. They are one of the oldest international teams and their professional league, The Premier League, is one of the best in the world. Which is why it’s sort of surprising how poorly they’ve traditionally done at the World Cup. They won in 1966, but other than that they have only made the final four one other time. At least they have a good sense of humor (humour?) about it – their unofficial team anthem is “Always look on the Bright Side of Life” from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”:
Italy - Italy has won four World Cups, most recently in 2006. Their most well know player is Mario Balotelli, who has denied being crazy numerous times which is of course the best sign that someone is in fact nuts. He once set his house on fire by lighting off fireworks inside it (this happened at the same time he had been named Manchester’s “Ambassador for Firework Safety”, which apparently is a real thing no matter how made up it sounds), he threw a dart at a youth player “as a prank”, and is allergic to grass, which is not great for someone who’s livelihood depends on a field of it. Terrell Owens looks at Mario Balotelli and says “Man, that guy has issues.”
Switzerland - Switzerland’s claim to fame is being eliminated from the 2006 World Cup in the round of 16 despite not giving up a goal the entire tournament. Just go ahead and put that fact in your back pocket the next time some idiot hipster in a retro Chicago Sting jersey tries to sell you on the “Beautiful Game”.
Ecuador – Ecuador’s past clashes with it’s present on the international pitch and DEAR GOD I’M STILL WRITING HOW MANY TEAMS ARE IN THIS STUPID TOURNAMENT?
France – One cannot talk about French soccer without mentioning the great Zinedine Zidane, and one cannot mention Zidane without mentioning this moment from the 2006 World Cup:
Honduras - Honduras holds the distinction of having the most MLS players of any country except the United States. Honduras will not be winning the World Cup.
Argentina – Another of the all-time great teams, Argentina also boasts arguably the best player in the tournament in Lionel Messi, also known as “that guy on the cover of my soccer video game”. In the 2011-12 season, Messi scored 73 goals which I can only assume based on soccer’s normal offensive output would be the equivalent of someone hitting 214 home runs in a season.
Bosnia and Herzegovina - The wonder twins of international soccer, Bosnia and Herzegovina will be competing in their first World Cup in 2014. In 2007, their fans caused an hour long delay in a game against Norway by throwing numerous flares onto the field to protest corruption in the Bosnian Football Federation, which kind of sounds like David Stern’s worst nightmare.
Iran - Iran’s Ali Daei is the world’s all-time leader in international goals, with 109. That’s 32 more goals than Pele, who is actually 5th all-time but was the first name I recognized on the list.
Nigeria – There is literally not a single interesting thing about the Nigerian National Team. Moving on.
Germany – Germany has three World Cup wins, though they all came as West Germany, pre-unification. Their forward Miroslav Klose needs just two goals to become the World Cup’s all-time goal leader. In 2005, Klose refused to accept a penalty given to his opponent because the call was incorrect. Remember that PSA from a few years ago with the kid playing basketball who touched the ball going out of bounds but the ref doesn’t see it and he tells his coach and they give the ball back to their opponent because it’s the honest thing to do? I hated that PSA. “Who in their right mind would do that?”, I always thought. MIROSLAV KLOSE, that’s who.
Germany also features Lukas Podolski, who once said “Football is like chess, only without the dice.” I can only assume Podolski is far better at soccer than he is at chess.
Portugal - When it comes to soccer in Portugal, it begins and ends with Cristiano Ronaldo, also known as “that other guy from the cover of my soccer video game.” Ronaldo also wins the “strangest athlete tweet ever” award:
“Thank you all for participating in the CR7 boy’s underwear competition – it’s been a real pleasure to see all your photos”
That was a tweet he sent out last year after a contest tie-in with an underwear company he endorsed, so in actuality, harmless. Still, nice way to creep out 26 million twitter followers.
Ghana – Team captain Asamoah Gyan released a song in 2010, called “African Girls” featuring a video that has him and his background dancers doing his “goal scoring dance”:
Gyan is also a brown belt in Jiu-Jitsu who wants to compete in the UFC someday, so let me say in case he ever reads this – your song is fantastic, sir. Please don’t kick me in the face.
United States – The U.S. has tried hard to put itself on the map internationally, but is still pretty far away. Still, it says something that every one of the U.S.’s top 10 goal scorers all-time but one started their career after 1990.
The U.S. actually reached the semi-finals of the first World Cup in 1930, but by 1934 the nation as a whole realized there were at least seven or eight sports they’d rather play and they haven’t been back since.
Belgium – Belgium had one of the most uninterested fanbases in all of soccer until recently, when they hired a marketing firm, rebranded themselves the “Red Devils” and began using social media to hold fan contests and publicity stunts. They asked fans to fill their home stadium with children’s drawings of their favorite players, they created a mural of fan faces on the side of the team busses, and literally asked the country to paint itself red, leading the town of Geel (Belgian for yellow) to temporarily rename itself Rood. The campaign has been a resounding success.
Algeria – Algeria’s nickname is the Fennec Foxes, which sounds like it might be menacing until you realize that fennec foxes are about the most adorable damn creatures on earth.
Whatever you do, don’t feed him after midnight.
Russia – Fun fact – it is every bit as enjoyable to watch Russia lose at soccer and see Vladimir Putin pout as it was in hockey.
Korean Republic – Our final nation. This would be South Korea, which has a long history of international success and has been to every World Cup since 1986. Not North Korea, who is probably staging their own World Cup right now and surely winning it.
So there you have it, 32 teams, one winner. Who takes the prize? Why are you asking me? If this post did nothing else, it should have shown you I know nothing about this sport.
Still, I’m going to watch the whole damn thing. I’m going to try to really crack this nut and become a soccer fan. And like I do every four years, I’m going to fail. See you in Russia in 2018.