FIFA World Cup

World Cup: The teams we’re cheering for

Photo: Earl Gardner

By the time you’re reading this, the 2018 World Cup will have kicked off in Russia. And, for the first time since 1990, the United States will be sitting out the tournament.

That doesn’t mean that U.S. fans are likely to tune out of the World Cup altogether.

Some of the magic of the World Cup is in the way it brings the world closer together, connecting people to a nation or team halfway around the globe. Particularly in the United States — a nation where the vast majority of residents are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants — the tournament is a reminder of the people and places that we feel close to.

We asked PSP writers to tell us their stories — who are they rooting for in the 2018 World Cup, and why?

Chris Gibbons: Answering this question is more difficult than ever in 2018. With Italy, Ireland, and Israel all home this summer, following any of my bloodlines just won’t do. Though I’m also 0.1% Sub-Saharan African (thanks, 23 and Me) and I love Nigeria’s kits, the fact that Egypt has Liverpool’s Mo Salah (or 4/5ths of Mo Salah perhaps), and the way in which Senegal bossed the group stage in 2002, I can’t in any explicable way adopt those teams (or any of the other African participants, if I’m honest). Saudi Arabia has some of the best kits in the tournament too (the green ones, not the white ones), but that’s not enough either.

In the end, I want to see Mexico try and get past Brazil and get off their Round of 16 schneid; England and Germany in the Quarterfinals; Messi against the world, Ronaldo, too. I want to see if Russia can get out of the easiest group in the tournament, if Iceland can get out of the toughest. I want to see the kind of passion that only a World Cup can elicit, and I want to do it during the work day for the next four weeks, spreadsheets on one screen and Japan v. Colombia on the other.

Nick Fishman: I’m cheering for the favorites. Screw the underdogs.

There’s nothing worse than watching cynical sides bunker their way into the quarterfinals. I want to see blockbuster matchups. I want to see if Brazil can avenge their embarrassing loss to Germany. I want to see Messi and Ronaldo battle for country rather than club. I want to see France and England go to war one more time. There’s nothing better than the high quality entertainment of high quality soccer.

And if I can offer some advice: If you root for the U.S. and the Union, jump on a heavyweight’s bandwagon. As hollow as it might be, it’ll be fun to watch a team with a chance to lift some silverware.

Peter Andrews: England is my ancestral home. My grandfather served in the Royal Navy during World War II, and — despite immigrating to America in 1957 — remained a British citizen until the day he died. According to genealogical records compiled by his sister Joan, there are something like ten generations of Andrews buried in the fields of England, scattered from Holme Hale in Norfolk to, now, a cemetery just outside the London borough of Sutton. That’s where my family gathered in January to say goodbye to Joan, the last member of our family to live in England. For better or for worse, the Three Lions are my team in this tournament… even if that means rooting for a bunch of loathsome Spurs players.

That being said, a couple other teams have a soft spot in my heart for this particular tournament. Nigeria wins the “best kit” award, and the Arsenal fan in me thinks this stage is a massive opportunity for the inconsistent yet talented Alex Iwobi. It’s tough to root against Iceland, whose presence in the World Cup is like if New Castle County, Delaware had somehow qualified for the tournament. And the sentimentalist in me wants to see Lionel Messi — the greatest player of our generation — lift the trophy, even if the Argentina squad around him doesn’t have enough quality to make it happen.

Jim O’Leary: I will unrepentantly be rooting for Mexico. I’ve always seen ours as a sibling rivalry, in that the US and Mexico are the only two teams in this confederation looking to play anything more than dirty CONCACAF ball. (Costa Rica tries sometimes, but isn’t quite there.) So while I want the US to play them off the field when it’s US-Mexico, when they’re playing anyone else (and it doesn’t effect the US) I want Mexico to win. Our cultures overlap too much, and our people are too directly connected, to pretend that a strong Mexico doesn’t also make the US stronger.

Also I refuse to root for European or South American teams on principle, because Germany or Brazil winning is boring. With that said I’m totally claiming Iceland for North America because they all live on our tectonic plate, so fyrir Island!

Ryan Rose: This is such a painful question for me. I can still remember the fight to get people to root for the United States as their first team as recently as 2006. Granted, I was quite young during that World Cup, but I can clearly recall: none of my friends were backing the United States. This kid’s grandparents were Portuguese, so he was rooting for Portugal. That kid adored Francesco Totti, so he was rooting for Italy. It was baffling to me.

Despite their early elimination, the USMNT fought hard and won a lot of those kids over – even the Italy fan. By 2010 the landscape had changed. The Outlaws had formed. Now, even the children of immigrants take pride in chants of “I Believe.”  It’s painful, then, to see U.S. fans forced to pick a different team to root for, after fighting so hard to convince them not to do so. The United States aren’t in the World Cup this year, so I’ll simply be rooting for the game. In lieu of a home team to root for, good soccer is going to be the best way to grow the sport here.

Christian Sandler: I’ve always loved British culture. My favorite books, my favorite music, and my favorite film actors are all British. My favorite beer is Newcastle Brown Ale. I once, drunkenly, convinced an Irish girl that I was from Manchester. Someday I will be knighted.

About eight years ago, Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, and Brian McBride seduced me with a quaint, storied little club on the river Thames. I’ve been through a lot with Fulham, from being one of the top 8 clubs in the country, to being painstakingly close to League One. We’ve just recently been promoted to the Premier League again and now, locked in arm with Tim Ream, I feel that much closer to the club. That much closer to England.

A few Fulham players have graced the Three Lions national squad over the years and Ryan Sessegnon, a little English angel, will be at multiple World Cups in the future. I’ll be riding with England this summer, as a small piece of my heart lives in west London. I am well aware of what this means for my well-being and, as a true Englishman should, I expect pain and sorrow. And Raheem Sterling missing a crucial sitter. Cheers, mate.

Tim Jones: I’m a cold war kid, born two months after the end of the Berlin Blockade.

When you grow up jogging distance from the boundary fence of a late 1950s SAC bomber dispersal base, you subliminally absorb that Russia is both malevolent and important. A group tour package in 1985 to the Soviet Union, Outer Mongolia, and China is my only major international travel experience. Long ago and unsuccessfully I made some efforts to learn Russian.

Like the 1980 Moscow Olympics, having to accommodate an influx of cash-carrying foreigners will force a habitually closed society to loosen a bit. In 1985 in the capital after the day’s tour program was over, we Americans were allowed to get ourselves to Gorky Park to see the circus, unchaperoned. That would not have happened before those Olympics, nor did it elsewhere back then.

I also know that I, as every foreign tourist, have an evaluation on file somewhere in the archives of the secret police.  The Agency that supervised visiting foreigners was the fifth directorate of the committee of state security (KGB).

My interests? Underdogs who are succeeding, matches generated within the heavyweight eight, and a hope that a single hero may lift his side to the pinnacle as the culminating act of a career.

Pete Mazzaccaro: I wrote a few weeks ago here about my own World Cup favorites. My traditional rooting interest based on nation and heritage are the U.S., Italy and Ireland – all nations that failed to qualify for Russia. The next best thing for me is Argentina, a nation whose football I’ve been fond of since my first World Cup watching experience in 1990. It was the Argentina of Diego Maradona. It’s also a nation that’s almost as Italian as Italy. And New Jersey. Beyond Argentina, I’m rooting mostly for teams in this hemisphere to outplay their European competition – Brazil, Peru, Panama, Uruguay Colombia and Costa Rica. Come on COMNEBOL!

Chris Sherman: I’m going with Senegal for my second team.

While looking for a fun angle to approach the World Cup, I’m eagerly seeking a plausible underdog to have fun watching and rooting for. The best opportunity I have for this is to look at teams who the FIFA ranking system systematically overlooks.

When I run my computer mumbo-jumbo, I’ve noticed that some of the biggest disagreements between my models and the FIFA rankings are with top performers from Africa and Asia. FIFA’s ranking system has flaws, one of which is how it prevents strong teams from weaker regions from getting real recognition since their potential for obtaining ranking points has a much lower ceiling than those of comparable European teams.

Senegal is, according to the model I’ve built, the 6th best team in the world (5th best in the tournament), contrasting with FIFA’s ranking of 27. For them to do well would, of course, feel good for validating my work in predictions, but it could also make them a Cinderella story that would be fun to follow, even if they fail to advance from their group. South Korea is my runner-up for the same reasons.

Dan Walsh: It’s my one World Cup while living in Europe (Italy) before I come home next year, and this is the year that:

  1. The U.S. misses the tournament.
  2. Italy misses the tournament.
  3. It’s in Russia, which … yeah. You know.

Who am I rooting for?

Egypt and Uruguay, at least in the group stages. Because then the bad guys (Russia) who likely bribed their way to host a World Cup (among much worse things) go down in embarrassment on the world stage. Other wealthy human rights abusers (Saudi Arabia) get no joy either. And maybe great soccer revives the dampened spirits of the insurrectionists in Egypt whose freest avenue of discourse was soccer.

And then Brazil. Because … family. There’s no party like a Brazilian party. And that drubbing by Germany — in my wife’s hometown, no less — needs to get washed away.


  1. Donald J. Trump says:

    Russia all the way!

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Well done. Infuriating… but well done.

    • Oh, c’mon. At least try to get the character right. Something along the lines of:

      “Putin is a really terrific guy. I mean, Russia…. It’s the best. The women are the greatest in the world? Have you seen these women? I hope Russia wins. It will be so huge for our friends in Russia. The best.”

  2. The Truth says:

    Brasil, of course. This new ad is beautiful.

  3. None. Never got over the disaster in T&T…

  4. None. I might get pulled in as the tournament progresses, but right now I’m still wishing paper cuts and lemon juice on Bradley, Altidore et al.
    Yeah, nothing critical, chronic or that leaves a scar…just painful at random times and people laugh at their pain when they learn what’s going on.
    Like being a US Soccer Fan.

  5. Watched Senegal lose in round of 8? in rural Uganda and saw my Ugandan colleague wipe away a tear. This was across a continent but it meant that much. Subsaharan Africa first, because they are the underdogs in so many ways.

    Then Messi. That man lifting the trophy will feel like a right and just harvest. Definitely a longshot.

  6. I can’t root for anyone besides the US. I’ll root for good games and hope that nobody gets bitten

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