Even my compatriots who are least interested in soccer can get excited about it once every four years, but since the U.S. team didn’t qualify for the men’s tournament this round, I’m hearing many of them eyeroll and defect. Do not despair, for not only does this country already have three World Cups to its name, but rooting for your own country isn’t even the most fun part of the World Cup! The most fun part of the World Cup is adopting random far-off flags and following obscure defensive midfielders on Instagram. (Please just give my boy Hossein Mahini a cap already! His adorable daughter deserves this!)
I’m taking my usual approach: root for Argentina (for my porteño past and Messi forever) and Poland (for my family). In all other matchups, I’m team Latin America and/or Team Underdog.
But for you, my fellow Americans who want to care about soccer for a month but don’t know what to do with that energy now, here are my suggestions on whom you may want to support:
- If you love a compelling narrative, you can’t beat Egypt and Iceland.
- If you get intense secondhand stress, support Argentina and its long-suffering captain. You’ll get invested in Lionel Messi’s personal happiness either way so you might as well follow along.
- If you’re seriously mad about the USMNT missing out, you can always root for Panamá, they wear red, white, and blue and will go up against England. Plus a bunch of their players are on Major League Soccer teams so there’s some kind of transitive property going on there.
- If you watched the royal wedding, you’ll be glad to know England counts as an underdog this year. You can also root for Australia, which is like rooting for England, but exotic somehow.
- If you’re a glory hunter, just go buy your Germany jersey already.
- If you are not German but already own a Germany jersey for some reason, you have worn it to several final exams and frat parties, and describe their play as “technical,” despite it being wonderfully artistic. Why are you like this? You don’t deserve them. Please root for France instead so I can disdain you properly.
- If you specifically hate me, root for France.
- If you’re in this to piss off Trump, you’re probably rooting for Mexico, but may I suggest rooting for Iran instead? I say this because the Mexican team is the perpetual underachiever and deserves a plucky success arc instead of a stupid political revenge story. Meanwhile, Iran is definitely going to get knocked out in the group stages so you can go back to not caring about soccer early on in the tournament.
- If you know nothing about soccer and are eager to get really into it, support Mexico. They have a fair shot this year, imo. Their team is full of quasi-legends: their captain, Rafa Márquez, is 39 and will probably play until he drops; Guillermo Ochoa has goalkeeping skills as wildly excellent as his hair; and the Dos Santos brothers are extremely precious despite playing for one of my least favorite club teams ever. Take a chance on them! Because after the tournament ends and you don’t know what to watch, Liga MX is such a fun domestic league to follow.
- If you are a Catalan separatist, root for Morocco to kick Spain out of the group stages, they’ll absolutely hate it.
- If you’re in it for the aesthetics, Nigeria is too cool for all of us, but as long as you know this, you can honor them from afar.
- If you’ve got a tragic streak, I guess you can support Tunisia. I’d like to recommend them wholeheartedly but they’ve got too many injuries and too difficult a group for me to wish you down that Cinderella road.
- If you are Russian, you may root for Russia. If you are rooting for Russia because you’re Orthodox and don’t have a lot of options this year, am I going to get in trouble for suggesting Serbia as an alternative? Probably. Oh well. Listen, Serbia is great. Back when they were Serbia and Montenegro, they once played a World Cup in which they didn’t even have a country to represent because they split mid-tournament. This is my all-time favorite World Cup factoid. I watched them lose six-zero to Argentina in 2006 and the whole time I was actually just thinking about what it means to be a team without a country, where is the locus of authenticity, what does it all mean. Yes, I was 12 in 2006, what’s your point. Also, Nemanja Matić is the man and it’s a shame he has spent so much time in England where I can’t possibly care about his career. SUPPORT SERBIA. If you are rooting for Russia out of Republican transference or something, just root for Saudi Arabia, I’d admire the commitment to the bit.
- Similarly, if you are Polish, you may root for Poland. There isn’t really any other good reason to, except that Robert Lewandowski is charming, in which case, I get it. If you’re here because you’re a J-P-two, we-love-you Catholic, try literally any Latin American team instead.
- If you have to be a hipster about everything, support Belgium (as if you already don’t). They are not-so-secretly-great the way your favorite foreign film was a critically acclaimed Oscar winner and your favorite craft beer is on tap everywhere. Belgium’s squad is full of people whose names you already know but whose nationality was a mystery to you. Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen, Thibaut Courtois, the Hazards, Romelu Lukaku, Mousa Dembélé, yes every single one of those dudes is Belgian!! What a blessed country!! Enjoy watching them!!
- If you read that and eyerolled at the idea of Belgium counting as a hipster choice, very good, root for Senegal. This is only their second qualification and they’re up against Colombia, Japan, and Poland in the group stages, which is exactly the kind of group where they could either prove a disaster or pull off an “upset.” This is the sort of specific choice that will make you feel more original than everyone else, which is exactly what you want, isn’t it? Also their jersey is understated and gorgeous, just like you.
- If you just want to watch some dudes be good at soccer, watch Brazil. You were going to anyway. I think they’re ready this time. Neymar sure as hell is.
- If you want to support Brazil but you don’t want to be the guy who goes from not caring about soccer to supporting Brazil, go for Colombia instead. You’ve got an equally charismatic showy star player in James Rodríguez and a deep bench to go with it. They’re going to destroy Poland in the group stages and I’m gonna be sad about it, but at least you’ll be happy.
- If you’re a history buff, support Uruguay, the original World Cup hosts! You can download so many podcasts about this! And they’re pretty good, too.
- If you don’t actually care but need to blend in and don’t want anyone to ask follow-up questions, root for Denmark. They’re European so everyone will assume you picked them for a reason but they’re terrible so nobody knows anything about them and you won’t have to either.
- If goalkeepers are your favorite, root for Costa Rica and the brilliant Keylor Navas. I know I will, it’s the only time I can support him in good conscience due to his pesky Real Madrid contract.
- If you’re more of a midfield person, may I suggest Croatia? Ivan Rakitić and Luka Modrić on the same team is bordering on unfair.
- If you prefer the women’s game but need your World Cup fix, you can always root for Japan or Sweden! In both cases, their women’s team is so dramatically superior to them that they don’t often get the spotlight; this is a state of affairs to be lauded.
- If you got lost on your way to the Name of the Year tournament, just know that Switzerland features Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri. (Who are both amazing, by the way.)
- If you’re a middle child who has been bridesmaid at too freaking many weddings this summer and needs a raise like yesterday, South Korea aka Korea Republic is here for you. They also merit more success than they’ve gotten. They get called things like consistent and solid, but never dark horse or underdog. It’s exhausting. Please be the enthusiastic fan they deserve.
- If you’re a human being with a soul, YOU ALREADY KNOW WHO YOU’RE ROOTING FOR: PERÚ PERÚ PERÚ!!! PERÚ PERÚ PERÚ
P.S. Don’t talk to me about Iberia. May we toast Catalunya someday with a glass of Ronaldo tears.