In light of the news that the U.S. men’s soccer team will not be hopping a flight over to Russia for the World Cup because of international sanc … oh wait, never mind, we just didn’t qualify because we couldn’t beat Trinidad and Tobago.
Anyway, America has no team to root for, and so we at the intersection of Byte and Bear have decided to compile a scientific, five-star safety-rated, and most importantly Leonard-approved list of World Cup squads to follow. Here are four teams from the last four groups that you should follow — Costa Rica, Germany, Belgium and Senegal.
Group E: Costa Rica
Everybody’s dream vacation destination also has a damn good soccer team. La Sele had a great run four years ago in Brazil, advancing all the way to the quarterfinals before losing in a shootout to the Dutch. The team qualified again for the World Cup this season, easily dispatching the United States on two different occasions along the way. Costa Rica will be looking to repeat the success of its last World Cup campaign in Russia.
This year’s squad is headlined by Keylor Navas, the Real Madrid goalkeeper who is far and away the team’s best player and perhaps one of the most underrated goalkeepers playing today. The rest of the squad is filled with quality players who have found success in Major League Soccer, such as Marco Ureña from Los Angeles FC, David Guzmán from the Portland Timbers and Francisco Calvo from Minnesota United FC. Costa Rica’s central defender Kendall Waston may or may not have a crush on our very own Clint Dempsey as well, so you can’t say at least one of its players doesn’t love America.
With Brazil all but guaranteed to advance out of Group E, Costa Rica is a strong contender for advancing out of the group with a second-place showing, but it’ll have to take care of Switzerland and Serbia if it hopes to do so. If Costa Rica reaches the knockout stage, then that could create some wildly entertaining matchups with Germany or Latin American rival Mexico.
Furthermore, Costa Rica is a great hipster team to root for to stand out from the mainstream rooting interests such as Mexico, Germany or Brazil. The team also has a nickname that’s fun to yell in a bar (LOS TICOS!). Not to mention that Costa Rica is gorgeous, happens to be one of the few countries without a standing army, and more than 98 percent of its electricity is produced from renewable sources — this country has the perfect team to upgrade your Berkeley street cred.
Honorable mention: Brazil
Group F: Germany
Hey remember that time I suggested you shouldn’t root for teams such as Germany because it’s mainstream? Well that was only to pander to a specific demographic, and my editors want me to hit as many as we can, so it’s time for what we in the “biz” call the pivot*. As your World Cup guide, I strongly advise you to root for Germany for several reasons.
For one, Germany is the defending champion and many players from the title-winning squad of 2014 are returning for the 2018 campaign. Rooting for this team is like investing in blue chip stock. It is going to perform. Secondly, the team is absolutely loaded with world-class talent. There are dudes on Germany’s bench, such as Marc-André Ter Stegen or Marco Reus, who would easily rank among the top players on other squads. Germany fields players who dominate in France (Julian Draxler — Paris Saint-Germain), Spain (Toni Kroos — Real Madrid), Italy (Sami Khedira — Juventus) and of course Germany (Manuel Neuer — Bayern Munich). Any soccer fan who takes a look at this roster will find it difficult to find an unfamiliar name.
Germany is basically the Golden State Warriors of the international soccer ecosystem. The team has the same kind of potential to harness all that talent and unleash an infinity gauntlet of soccer powers on any team unlucky enough to come across its radar. There’s certainly a possibility that someone might get Brazil-ed again.
The team makes for great television, its coach is the consummate “cool dad” and Germany has the history, tradition and style that any fan would want out of its team. The ultimate “contrarian contrarian’s” choice has little to hate except its brilliance and dominance.
*Confession: I totally made that up.
Honorable Mention: Mexico
Group G: Belgium
With as much talent as any of the top teams in the tournament, this is the nation’s last chance to capitalize off the genius of its golden generation. The team fields premium talents such as Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Vincent Kompany, but has yet to really live up to its vast potential. Will Belgium go the way of England’s “failed” golden generation or finally put all the pieces together to make a serious challenge for the title? Personally, I have no idea how this team is going to perform once the lights come on — therein lies the drama.
If you like hair, look no further than Marouane Fellaini. If you have a soft spot for siblings, then let me introduce you to the Lukakus and the Hazards. There are a lot of Dembélés in the footy universe, but why not make Belgium’s Mousa Dembélé your top pick? If you love tattoos and mohawks, holla at my boy Radja Nainggolan — wait, wait, hold on a moment. I just checked the roster and I don’t see. … Oh no it can’t be. … Are you serious?! THEY CUT HIM?!
Hey NSA, cue the reaction shot from inside my bedroom. Thank you.
Otherwise, Michy Batshuayi could be the James Rodríguez of this World Cup installment — a fresh sensation who makes a massive name for himself. If the Red Devils make a deep run, then Christian Benteke could be a real wild card for Belgium. Of course both of these players could fail to make a substantial impact in the tournament, and the same goes for this squad as a whole.
My best advice when it comes to rooting for Belgium can most aptly be described by the words of one of America’s finest wordsmiths, Hunter S. Thompson: “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” The destination could be a World Cup title.
Honorable Mention: England
Group H: Senegal
Group H might be the most difficult group to predict in this tournament. Colombia is the clear favorite to take first, but the battle for second place could go to any of Japan, Poland or Senegal. If you really want to style on the masses, the Lions of Teranga welcome you to the party.
Senegal’s most high-profile player is Sadio Mané. Liverpool’s speedy star is one of the quickest and craftiest athletes in the English game and should be on everyone’s short list for dudes you’ll develop an irrational but undeniable affection for by the end of the tournament. The hair, the smile, the confidence and of course, the skill, create a package too magnetic to resist.
Aside from Mané, Senegal’s midfield is one of the squad’s strong points, with fellow Scouser and Everton midfielder Idrissa Gueye patrolling the pitch alongside West Ham’s Cheikhou Kouyaté and Birmingham City’s Cheikh N’Doye. Monaco’s young winger Keita Baldé Diao and Stade Rennais’ striker Diafra Sakho could potentially help Senegal steal an extra game or two, and in the process, you can pretend you predicted these upsets.
The Lions of Teranga have nothing to lose and no one believes in them — that’s like two sports movie premises stuffed into one team, so some magic has got to come out of it, right? Cue the opening credits already.
Honorable Mention: Colombia
Rory O’Toole writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected].