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Today’s List: My Five World Cup Favorites

June 13th, 2018 · No Comments · English Premier League, Football, Germany, Lists, Russia 2018, soccer, World Cup

I find it nearly impossible to be a neutral observer in any competition. Give me five minutes in a game involving teams I don’t know … and I will have a favorite. It could be about geography or playing style or history, but I will have made a choice.

A girlfriend from a long, long time ago noticed this, as it pertained to my approach to life. Up or down, left or right, right or wrong, home team or visitors. She said I practiced dualism and didn’t see the gray between the black and white. Hmm.

Which leads to today’s topic: With the 2018 World Cup beginning tomorrow, let’s rank the five teams I would like to do well — from the perspective of “always rooting for them to win unless they play someone else on my list”. In which case the higher-ranked team in my personal rankings will be my favorite.

(And no U.S. to get the inevitable No. 1 spot in this item.)

Following this?

I suppose this is a list, and I never do enough of those. People love lists. Even those who are not dualists. Read on.

We will do this counting down from my fifth-favorite team.

5. Japan. I like that these guys are reliably solid, serial qualifiers out of the gradually improving Asian Confederation, and this is only their second-favorite sport. (Hello, baseball!) They strike fear in almost no one — but neither are they afraid of more highly regarded competition. They will run till they drop, and their technical skills are underrated. And they never complain. This is a no-whining club. Classy. That is rare in world soccer.

4. Egypt. This in part is about Mohamed Salah, the gifted scorer. He may not play in this tournament because of a dislocated shoulder suffered during a dirty play by Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos in the Champions League final. Salah set a record for goals in a Premier League season, for Liverpool, and I like the way he bustles about in the attacking end and his sublime skill on the ball in tight places. Egypt is a huge soccer nation that last played in the World Cup in 1990; a lot of suffering was involved in that 28-year wait. Egypt success also represents a “greatest good for the most people” situation because its population of 95 million is the biggest in its part of the world.

3. Germany. Of the six or seven teams that have a real chance to win this World Cup, these guys are the least cynical. They play the game the way it ought to be played, as a cohesive 11 — as opposed to all the variations of individualistic, me-me-me play popular in much of the world. Never a lovable team, but always deeply respected.

2. England. Yeah, I can hardly believe it either. The problem here is that I have watched too much Premier League game over the past decade, and I know too much about English soccer — which has led to me sorta/kinda being sucked into the England vortex. I regularly see all their guys play; I have opinions on most of them. I also think England respects the game (their game, actually), which makes them ripe for an emotional investment, especially when you know they almost always exit tournaments in painful ways. (Shootout loss, anyone?)

1. Australia. Easy call. OK, yes, this is rooting for America by proxy, and I wrote about this at length more than three years ago. If you do not care to follow that link, here is a condensed explanation: Australia plays like the U.S. — semi-primitively and with no aversion to more than a little contact. But neither team dives. Neither team embraces simulation. Also, neither team is technically gifted or strong on the ball. Each will be mostly defensive and try to hit on the counter; each will seem big (“soccer big”; not real-world big). And both teams have a history of not giving up. Never. Down 2-0, five minutes left, Yanks and Aussies are still chasing the game. And both call the game “soccer” and come from a country where soccer is no more than the fourth-biggest sport.

When I watch Oz, I see the U.S.





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