Gylfi Sigurdsson, left, celebrates with Iceland teammate Birkir Bjarnason after scoring a goal in 2016.

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Zawaski: Casual Soccer Fan's Guide To The World Cup

With the U.S. out, finding a team to root for is of the utmost importance.

June 13, 2018 - 11:05 am

By Jay Zawaski--

(670 The Score) I’m a casual soccer fan. I’m going to put that right out there. Like many people, I got swept up in the 2014 World Cup and told myself, "That's it, I'm getting into soccer." I chose my Premier League team in Liverpool and vowed to dedicate myself to the beautiful game.

Well, that didn’t happen. Sure, I watch Liverpool when it's on ... sometimes ... every now and again. I play the FIFA game and even try to learn a couple of new teams and players every year, but it’s a huge commitment.

Games typically air early in the morning in America, and while I’m up, I’m a dad. I have grass to cut. I have medications to take. I have softball teams to coach. Soccer time is a luxury.

With all that said, I’m all in on the World Cup this summer. Truly. I’m going to watch, I’m going to care, but like I did with Liverpool in the Premier League, I had to pick a team to support, because the U.S. didn’t qualify.

I’m not going to tell you who to root for, but I’m going to tell you who I chose to root for and give you some tips on how to choose your team.

If you’re using my method, you need to choose two teams -- one underdog and one country with a real chance to win. You want to have someone to root for until the end, but you also don’t want to be a front-runner and pick a mega favorite like Brazil (4/1) or Germany (4.75/1).

Choosing an underdog

There are several criteria you can use to choose your underdog. Maybe a team has a player you like. Maybe you vacationed there once. Maybe a team is super fun to use in FIFA. Maybe you once worked with a girl from that country, and she was cool so what the hell? (This was me with Argentina in years past).

For my underdog, I’ve chosen Iceland (300/1). After a strong showing at Euro 2016, they’re not a total longshot but still fill the role of underdog. They also all have badass Viking names like Ragnar Sigurdsson, Birkir Bjarnason and Kjartan Henry Finnbogason. If that’s not enough to inspire you, years back, Iceland manager Heimer Halgrimsson (a former dentist) started a unique tradition. Two hours before every Iceland national team home game, he heads to a popular soccer bar near the team’s home stadium. He closes the doors and shares the day’s gameplan with the fans. Since this tradition began seven years ago, not a single bit of information has leaked from these meetings. Somewhere, John Fox is throwing up.

Choosing a contender

For my contender, I’m apprehensively going with England (16/1). Lame, I know. Historically they play a boring style, but I know most of the players from the squad from watching the Premier League. Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are stars for Liverpool, while another Anfield standout, Adam Lallana, is on the standby list. Other Premier League favorites like Tottenham’s Harry Kane (the most British looking dude ever), Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling and Leicester’s Jamie Vardy are on the squad as well. If you want your kids to be excited, let them know the goalkeeper’s name is Butland. That’s funny. Ha ha. Butt Land.

Don’t let me influence your picks, though. There are a lot of other great options.

I mentioned Argentina (9/1). This dude named Lionel Messi is on that team. He’s the Michael Jordan of soccer. Plus, they have awesome uniforms and a cool history.

And that other guy, Cristiano Ronaldo, plays for Portugal (25/1). There’s a third name climbing the ranks of the soccer world who could soon be mentioned in the same breath as Messi and Ronaldo. That's Egyptian star Mohamed Salah. Yes, I’m a Liverpool fan and I’m biased, but Salah is a joy to watch. He set a Premier League record for a 38-game season with 32 goals. He was injured in the Champions League Final against Ronaldo’s Real Madrid and is questionable for Egypt’s (200/1) debut match against Uruguay, but he should get in at least a couple of matches. 

If I’m allowed to have a third team, I’ll take Poland (8/1), an underdog nation with a real chance. Robert Lewandowski is one of the best players in the game. Poland has a lot of talent, especially on the attack, butis in a tough group with Columbia, Senegal and Japan.

Here are some other teams to consider that I don’t really know enough to build an argument about:

Columbia (45/1) – Cool uniforms, exciting play and really excited fans.

Brazil (4/1) – I mean, Brazil is synonomous with soccer. The have cool unis and incredibly attractive fans.

Spain (6/1) – Really good and have a player named simply ... Nacho. Nacho is the official soccer player of the "I’m Fat Podcast."

Belgium (11/1) – Like Germany, but not quite as front-runnery.

Mexico (100/1) – Our brothers to the south are typically the USMNT’s main rival, but they’re in and the US isn't. So...

If you’re a soccer hater, chances are you never truly gave the game a chance. I implore you to at least invest a little bit in the World Cup. It’s the game at it’s highest level and converted me from a doubter to a genuine fan of the game, even if I don’t give it the attention I wish I could.

(Author's note: For actual soccer insight, check out the Screamers and Howlers Podcast, hosted by Mike Mulligan and Kevin Dziepak. They’ve forgotten more about the game that I’ll ever know.)

Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Bernstein & McKnight Show on 670 middays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. He's also a columnist. Follow him on Twitter @JayZawaski670.