The World Cup Guide for People Who Don't Watch Soccer
Ah, the World Cup. That time every four years when you realize that not only are you not athletic, you're also not cultured or worldly. Well don't worry, because Extra Mustard is here to help. We've assembled this guide as the ultimate rundown of the World Cup for people who know nothing about soccer. You'll find general info, a glossary of terms that will impress your friends and a breakdown of teams sorted by their first-round World Cup groups.
For each team, we've included some smart-sounding phrases to make you seem like an expert, a recap of how each team qualified for this year's tournament, and some information about who you should root for and why.
We've got everything except orange slices to eat at halftime (you'll have to ask your mom about those).
This guide is your primer, but if you'd like some more in-depth coverage of the World Cup, check out Planet Futbol.
And now, without further ado, allow me to present: The Extra Mustard World Cup Guide for People Who Don't Watch Soccer. (Or T.E.M.W.C.G.F.P.W.D.W.S. for short)
World Cup Newbie FAQs
We've assembled some of the most commonly-asked questions about the World Cup. For the most uncommonly-asked questions, consult your Ouija board or therapist.
How do teams qualify for the World Cup?
If you’re the host of the World Cup (Brazil), then you’re automatically in. For the rest of the world, qualifying for the World Cup is a grueling 2-year process of different tournaments and matches. The world is divided up into 6 confederations which each have slightly different rules for qualifying teams to go to the World Cup. The minutiae of the process varies from region to region, but they’re all round-robin tournaments, sometimes with an additional two-game playoff that's determined based on aggregate goals (For example if Team 1 wins the first game 2-0 and Team 2 wins the second game 3-0, Team 2 would advance).
It's not too far off from this:
Why is the World Cup a bigger deal than the Olympics?
The Olympics is meant to promote amateurism, so nearly all the players on a squad must be under 23 (basketball had a similar rule for many years). That basically disqualifies all of the most popular soccer players from participating in the Olympics, so it’s not really an accurate reflection of which country is the best at the sport. Not surprisingly FIFA hasn’t really made an effort to change the Olympics under-23 rule.
Why should I watch this if I'm not a soccer fan?
- Everyone is good looking.
- Referees are part of the game: they make important calls with little to no technological help, and they can make the decision not to call a foul if they think doing so would give an advantage to the team that fouled. We can argue about whether this freedom for the refs makes soccer better or worse than other sports, but it’s certainly different (and with all the complaints about MLB’s new replay system, hopefully it’s refreshing, too).
- Everyone gets REALLY emotional because everything (well, not everything, but you know what I mean) is at stake:
- Watching a World Cup held in Brazil will be a spectacle like none other. This will be the party of a lifetime (assuming strikes, riots and a bevy of other issues that the country has faced leading up to the event don't interfere)
- Flopping is a genuine part of the game, and everyone likes to watch good acting. Dwyane Wade would fit right in.
How can I watch it?
It’s likely that a bar in your area will be screening these, but if you can’t make it there, fear not -- ESPN is launching their most all-inclusive app ever so you can follow the World Cup like the psycho soccer fan you’re about to become.
What are the rules of soccer?
Here's everything you need to know in 280 characters (two tweets):
You can use anything but your arms. Each team starts 11 players. Offside: passing w/o 2 players between you & goal. Yellow card: slap on wrist. Red card: player must leave game. Out of bounds: throw in. Foul = other team gets free kick. Foul in box = Penalty shot. 3 substitutions
Glossary of Terms
Memorize these and no one has to know that you spent the past four years catching up on The Wire instead of soccer.
Added Time or Stoppage Time
Time added to the end of the first half or the end of a match to compensate for time lost to fouling, injuries, substitutions, or flopping. This time is added at the ref’s discretion, and it’s pretty much always there (which is why you’re going to see every game last beyond the 90-minute clock).
The number of times a player has played in a game for the national team (an English player playing for Manchester United would only get to count England’s national games towards this total).
A shutout. This term hails from the pre-digital days when scores for each team used to be kept on different sheet of paper. Ergo, if one team didn’t allow any goals, they had a clean sheet.
Direct Free Kick
A method of restarting play after a foul. The kick is taken from where the foul occurred (unless the foul occurred within a team’s own goal area). A goal may be scored off a direct free kick.
Literally, “two-to-zero.” This is its own term worth noting because it happens to be the score that the United States scores against Mexico almost every time (but you can use this when referring to other matches, too).
The end of the field, the third closest to the goal. To sound smart, simply say “They played hard, but they couldn’t finish in [name of other country]'s final third.”
An amazing goal that seemingly defies the laws of physics.
Group of Death
A really good group in which 3 or more teams are good enough to move on to the next round (only two of countries can advance per group). A good example is this year’s Group G, which features Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the United States.
Indirect Free Kick
A method of restarting play after a foul. The kick is taken from where the foul occurred (unless the foul occurred within a team’s own goal area). A goal may NOT be scored off an indirect free kick.
Soccer uniform, head-to-toe.
Another term for team. Example: Brazil has a strong side this year.
When you pass to another player and you don’t have at least two players (including the goalkeeper) between you and the goal.
Watch this awful video to learn more:
Parking The Bus
Using all 11 players to defend the goal (you’re essentially “parking a bus” in front of the goal). Less gifted teams will use this against the major contenders in an effort to earn a 0-0 draw.
A penalty for a major foul. The player is ejected and the opposing team gets a direct free kick.
When the ball is returned to play following a stoppage and the team has a goal-scoring opportunity, usually by means of a corner kick or a free kick, but sometimes with a throw-in. This is one of the few times that tactics and plays can be completely worked out in training, so they are often highly-choreographed.
A penalty for a minor foul. Essentially a slap on the wrist. Results in an indirect free kick from the other team. Not to be confused with Yellowcard:
And if you hate reading, just let Minnesota United FC explain it to you:
Group A - Brazil, Cameroon, Croatia and Mexico
World Cup history: Won in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, and 2002.
Team value based on player salaries: $718,299,900.
Odds to win the tournament: 11/4
How they qualified: No one really knows. Rumors have been spreading that they’re like... hosting the tournament, or something. Very unclear.
People you should know: Probably their entire team, but you can get away with just knowing Neymar and Dani Alves (who you might remember from his brilliant response to racist fans earlier this year).
Why you should root for them: You like rooting for a successful team -- in addition to having the most World Cup victories of any country (5), Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com believes Brazil has a 45 percent chance of winning the tournament. But if you don't have a vested interest in who wins this World Cup, you might as well go with this favorite. Victory at this year's tournament means everything to Brazil, and if they pull it off, we can all look forward to watching the party of the century unfold on the streets of Rio.
Why you shouldn’t: Come on, rooting for Brazil in the World Cup is like ordering vanilla ice cream. With all the great flavors, why would you make the safe choice?
Smart-sounding phrase to say: There’s no question that they’re talented – but they’re very young and not at all cohesive. If Neymar doesn't improve on the form he showed with Barca, Brazil may be upset.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: Hey do you guys know if those Brazil Butt Lift videos really work? (spoiler alert: I have them. They’re okay.)
World Cup history: Made it to the semifinals in 1998 (the first Cup they participated in after gaining independence), but other than that, nothing notable.
Team value based on player salaries: $258,755,400
Odds to win the tournament: 175/1
How they qualified: Barely even qualified for the playoff round, where they fortunately drew Iceland instead of a more difficult team. They defeated Iceland 2-0 to qualify. This is probably due in part to a last-minute change of managers from Igor Stimac to Niko Kovac.
People you should know: Luka Modric will be the backbone of this squad, but this time without his flowing hair. Mario Mandžukić will miss the opener thanks to a red card he got during the playoff, but it shouldn't matter because they're playing Brazil.
Why you should root for them: Nico Kovac, who is 42 and retired from soccer only five years ago, is the most green manager in the whole tournament. This is truly his chance to prove himself.
Why you shouldn’t: Frankly, they're kind of a boring team.
Smart-sounding phrase to say: Sure, they’re a well-rounded, balanced team. But when have you ever heard of a team that was simply “well-rounded” going all the way? They lack that X-factor but Mateo Kovačić will be salty in 2018.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: Hey, you guys remember 1998? Remember that? That was pretty great, right?
World Cup history: Hosted the Cup in '70 and '86, the latter of which you might remember as the extremely emotional event following the Mexico City earthquake that killed 20,000 people. They've appeared in 14 World Cups total.
Team value based on player salaries: $94,490,334
Odds to win the tournament: 200/1
How they qualified: An intercontinental playoff win against New Zealand, which they barely qualified for:
People you should know: Oribe Peralta scored 5 goals in 2 matches against New Zealand. The team has also had four head coaches in less than a year, so it would probably be futile to bother trying to memorize the name of the current placeholder.
Why you should root for them: They’re not allowed to have sex. They should get SOMETHING out of this.
Why you shouldn’t: Mexican food makes you gassy.
Smart-sounding phrase to say: Regardless of how far they get in the tournament, you’ve got to be excited to finally see a team play a three-man defense.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: “GOOOOLLLLLLLLLL” forever and ever.
World Cup history: This is their seventh World Cup appearance, the most of any African team.
Team value based on player salaries: $184,251,690
Odds to win the tournament: 750/1
How they qualified: Things looked bleak when they lost 2-0 to Togo, until it was revealed that Togo had selected an ineligible player, giving Cameroon a 3-0 default victory. This gave them a leg up on Libya, and then Cameroon surprised everyone by winning against Tunisia 4-1 at home to secure their spot.
People you should know: Samuel Eto’o and Alex Song -- they’re not exactly friends. Draaaamaaaaaa!
Why you should root for them: If you're a fan of dysfunctional teams (think '86 Mets), this is your team.
Why you shouldn’t: They’ve got so much in-fighting and cliquiness it would be like rooting for a group of mean girls from an '80s high school movie.
Smart-sounding phrase to say: How can you hope to build a consistent team when you’ve been playing musical chairs with your managers since 2007?
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: Cameron who?
GROUP B - Spain, The Netherlands, Chile, and Australia
World Cup history: They were the winners of the last World Cup, and have appeared 13 times.
Team value based on player salaries: $673,567,074
Odds to win the tournament: 6/1
How they qualified: In a calm and collected fashion. They qualified first in UEFA Group I with six wins and two draws, scoring 20 points out of a possible 24 (3 points ahead of France).
People you should know: Everyone. It’s a pretty stacked team. But Andres Iniesta is probably the most important to know – he’s generally acknowledged as one of the most gifted players in the game and since last season at home was good, but not great, he’s got something to prove this time around. And Gerard Pique is so gosh dang handsome:
Why you should root for them: You know how basketball die-hards like the WNBA because they play better fundamentally? Imagine a team with mesmerizing fundamentals but also LeBron dunks. That’s this team.
Why you shouldn’t: Because you’re from the Netherlands and are still bitter about losing in the 2010 Final.
Smart-sounding phrase to say: They’re a possession team that usually controls the ball 65 percent of the game. You win the middle of the field, and you can beat them -- but that's much easier said than done.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: Wasn't Columbus from Spain? Wait? It wasn't Spain, right?
World Cup history: They’ve lost three times in the final – 1974, 1978 and 2010. They ushered in the era of Total Football (totaalvoetbal, in Dutch) in the '70s, a style of play in which any outfield player (an outfield player in soccer is any player on the field that's not the goalkeeper) can take over the role of any other player on the team.
Team value based on player salaries: $248,775,524
Odds to win the tournament: 28/1
How they qualified: They scored 34 goals and won 9 out of their 10 games en route to earning qualification.
People you should know: Striker Robin van Persie and manager Louis van Gaal. Van Persie plays for Manchester United. Louis van Gaal was just hired as Man U’s new manager. If van Persie plays well, he could win some points with van Gaal. If he plays poorly at the World Cup, he could be seeing a lot of bench time.
Why you should root for them: There’s so much infighting on this team that it could be like watching a really great soap opera.
Why you shouldn’t: Very few people look good in orange.
Smart-sounding phrase to say: Now that they’ve finally eschewed Total Football, maybe we can see this team play some creative soccer.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: *does interpretive clogging dance*
World Cup history: Hosted in 1962, but got banned from two World Cups in 1990 after Roberto Rojas pretended to get hit with a firework so they could avoid losing a match against Brazil. Seriously, that happened.
Team value based on player salaries: $200,026,562
Odds to win the tournament: 50/1
How they qualified: Chile got off to a terrible start before manager Jorge Sampaoli took over and led the team to five wins and a draw to finish third in the difficult South American confederation.
People you should know: Gary Medel. His nickname is Pitbull and he’s been arrested for making death threats outside a grocery store. Not much of a people person.
Why you should root for them: This awesome World Cup commercial featuring the Chilean miners that made headlines in 2010.
Why you shouldn’t: The Top Gear guys almost died there:
Smart-sounding phrase to say: They drew a tough group, but the pace they play with should result in some dazzling goals, even if the final result isn't in their favor.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: Wait, like the restaurant?
World Cup history: Their most notable performance was making the final 16 in 2006, when they lost to eventual-champion Italy following an injury-time penalty.
Team value based on player salaries: $61,119,810
Odds to win the tournament: 2500/1
How they qualified: Earned automatic qualification by placing second in the Asian Football Confederation behind Japan.
People you should know: Tim Cahill, who is… not young. But he’s Australia’s all-time top scorer.
Why you should root for them: Everything in Australia can kill you. It’s a miracle these men are still alive.
Why you shouldn’t: Soccer isn't even the country's most popular sports (but admittedly, it's getting there).
Smart-sounding phrase to say: It's almost assured they won't advance out of this group, but they're capable of having a say in who does by pulling at least one upset.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: “That’s not a [knife]. THIS is a [knife].” Repeat any time someone near you mentions any noun.
GROUP C - Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, and Japan
World Cup history: Surprisingly bleak for a team that typically qualified so highly in such a difficult confederation. Their best year was 1990 when they made the top 16 and the team was notorious bankrolled by drug money.
Team value based on player salaries: $229,395,926
Odds to win the tournament: 40/1
How they qualified: Second in the South American confederation (which is the most difficult). Most impressively: A 4-game winning streak against Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay with a combined score of 14-1, which is remarkable on its own, but also way better than any previous Colombian team’s record.
People you should know: Should have been star striker Radamel Falcao, but it was recently announced that he’ll be out of the tournament with an injury. Everyone should be talking about James Rodriguez -- who is so clutch I think my car just changed gears.
Why you should root for them: Colombia is the second-most populous country in South America, but has never had much success on the international level. The vast majority of their World Cup history is quite ugly. A strong showing at this World Cup, without Falcao no less, would mean a lot to the country and maybe change the narrative surrounding Colombian soccer.
Why you shouldn’t: They already won the 'Wool' Cup, winning the World Cup as well would just be greedy:
Smart-sounding phrase to say: "Well of course the first round’s going to be easy, but let’s see how they fare against Uruguay or Italy in the next round."
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: Double check all texts and tweets to make sure you didn’t type “Columbia.”
World Cup history: Made it to the World Cup in 1994 and 2010, but weren’t anything to write home about once they got there.
Team value based on player salaries: $120,767,391
Odds to win the tournament: 200/1
How they qualified: Had to face-off against Romania in a playoff, in which they won one and tied one, which was good enough to get them to the World Cup.
People you should know: Kostas Mitroglou, who has played very well in Greece, but not so much since he started with Fulham F.C.
Why you should root for them: They basically invented math. Do you have any idea how important math is?
Why you shouldn’t: If you hate soccer because it’s a low-scoring game, you won’t like Greece. Their strategy is more about preventing the other team from scoring than it is about scoring themselves. (see: Parking the Bus)
Smart-sounding phrase to say: "It’s a shame they’re kind of a transitory team right now. With a defense that stubborn, they could stand to do a lot of damage if they’d had more time to play together."
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: "Opa!" (over and over again while you pound shots of ouzo before you are asked to leave the bar you snuck ouzo into)
World Cup history: They qualified for the first time in 2006, but unfortunately they faced the gargantuan talents of Argentina, Holland and Serbia. They didn’t stand a chance.
Team value based on player salaries: $207,628,902
Odds to win the tournament: 150/1
How they qualified: They defeated Senegal in a 4-2 aggregate after a tense series of matches in a group with Morocco, Tanzania and Gambia (but they’re basically Africa’s star team, so everyone kind of knew they would qualify).
People you should know: Didier Drogba is the Ivory Coast’s top all-time goal-scorer, and Yaya Toure was nominated for Personality of the Year at the 2014 MTV Africa Music Awards (and also, he loves his birthday).
Why you should root for them: In all likelihood this will be the last World Cup for Drogba, a guy who, in addition to being one of the most feared strikers in soccer history, has also dedicated millions of dollars towards improving life in his home country.
Why you shouldn’t: Hope you know the Heimlich maneuver, because these guys love to choke.
Smart-sounding phrase to say: "You couldn’t ask for a more creative midfield than this team has."
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: Wait, so that’s not the Irish flag?
World Cup history: They’ve qualified for every World Cup since 1998, but haven’t ever made it further than the Round of 16.
Team value based on player salaries: $167,655,654
Odds to win the tournament: 150/1
How they qualified: Before anyone else. They dominated their federation, becoming the first team to qualify for the tournament last June. These guys made it look easy.
People you should know: Keisuke Honda, who has scored 20 goals for Japan, has played considerably better during international competition than he has for Milan. He's also one of two men on Earth who looks pretty good with bleached hair (along with Eminem).
Why you should root for them: Their mascots look like Daffy Duck:
Why you shouldn’t: The team is largely untested and could flop against stiff competition in Brazil.
Smart-sounding phrase to say: “Sushitaka” might be a funny-sounding name, but they can call it whatever they want as long as they keep pressing their opponent like they do.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: Repeating any of the insensitive racist bile that was on Twitter while the U.S. women's team played against Japan at the 2012 Olympics.
GROUP D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, and Italy
World Cup history: Of course the highlights for Uruguay were in 1930 (the first ever World Cup) and 1950, their only two tournament titles. They also have three fourth-place finishes and made it to the quarter-finals in 1966.
Team value based on player salaries: $260,495,307
Odds to win the tournament: 28/1
How they qualified: They came in 5th place in their confederation, which qualified them for a playoff (but they’re a good enough team that they should have been able to secure automatic qualification). Fortunately, they were playing against Jordan, and a 5-0 aggregate allowed them to easily qualify for the World Cup.
People you should know: Luis Suarez, one of the world’s best strikers but who is, unfortunately, known as much for being a racist (he has since tried to clean up his image, but like… come on…). Oh also, he’s bitten more than one person and that’s insane.
Why you should root for them: They’re a take-no-prisoners team. If you like Rambo, this is probably a good choice for you. Also, if you choose the team you're rooting for in the World Cup based on your affinity for Rambo, you should probably look introspectively because you're pretty weird.
Why you shouldn’t: Suarez+racism, that’s not what the World Cup is all about!
Smart-sounding phrase to say: They’ve got a killer counter-attack, but their defense is all geriatric. You need more speed and agility in the back-end if you want to win.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: No, YOU'REaguay.
World Cup history: Their most notable appearance was also their first -- in 1990, they made it to the final 16 by defeating Scotland and Sweden, which is a pretty big deal.
Team value based on player salaries: $51,751,080
Odds to win the tournament: 2500/1
How they qualified: Qualified automatically after finishing second in CONCACAF behind the United States.
People you should know: Goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who has managed 15 clean sheets (games in which he didn’t allow any goals) this season alone. He’s not the biggest keeper at the World Cup, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in agility.
Why you should root for them: They’re in a Group of Death against teams who have won a combined 7 World Cups. They need someone to root for them. Did you see their odds?
Why you shouldn’t: They played in the snow in Colorado, and when they lost against the U.S. they tried to appeal the result to FIFA (they lost). Waaaa! Waaaa! (But seriously this game probably shouldn't have counted, look at this mess:)
Smart-sounding phrase to say: It’s a shame they’re in a Group of Death so we can’t see what this team is really capable of. Bad luck.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: That's where Jurassic Park is, right?
World Cup history: Sure, they won in 1966, but they also lost to the United States in 1950 before soccer was even really a thing in America. So, lots of ups and downs.
Team value based on player salaries: $493,232,648
Odds to win the tournament: 25/1
How they qualified: It’s... complicated. Probably too complicated to explain to someone who needs this guide. Suffice it to say, Xanax prescriptions hit an all-time high in England this year.
People you should know: Wayne Rooney is arguably the squad's most famous player, but what you should really talk about is who isn’t there: Ashley Cole. England is taking a gamble on replacing him with a younger player -- Luke Shaw. Let’s see if it pays off.
Why you should root for them: I want to see as much Hooliganism as possible.
Why you shouldn’t: The scathing British tabloid headlines if they get knocked out early will be glorious.
Smart-sounding phrase to say: This is one of England’s youngest squads ever. They're really playing for victory in 2018 and beyond.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: ‘Allo, guvna! Let’s take the lift to watch some footy on the telly! Jolly good!
World Cup history: They’ve won 4 times, most notably against the odds in 2006.
Team value based on player salaries: $448,802,087
Odds to win the tournament: 25/1
How they qualified: Against Denmark, with two games to spare. They qualified automatically in UEFA Group B.
People you should know: This is Andrea Pirlo’s swan song – he’s retiring after this tournament. He’s really good, and it’s all anyone will be talking about. Looks-wise he's like Italy's Kevin Costner (I don't know if this comparison is apt at all):
Why you should root for them: One of the few teams whose great attacking actually matters more than their defense.
Why you shouldn’t: Too mainstream.
Smart-sounding phrase to say: If you’re a team facing Italy, your primary concern should be not fouling. Pirlo’s free-kicks will finish you.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: It’s-a me! Mario Balotelli!
GROUP E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, and Honduras
World Cup history: Switzerland appeared at 10 World Cups, but boasts only three quarterfinal appearances: 1934, 1938 and 1954.
Team value based on player salaries: $194,773,250
Odds to win the tournament: 100/1
How they qualified: Easily, but they were also in an easy group. They’re one of 7 teams to go into the World Cup undefeated during qualifying.
People you should know: Xherdan Shaqiri, who had six goals and two assists in just ten starts this season, is one of the most versatile players in the World Cup. Also: Josip Drmic, who makes up for a lack of vowels with his abilities as a striker.
Why you should root for them: They're permanently neutral, which is infuriating. CHOOSE A SIDE, SWITZERLAND!
Why you shouldn’t: Swiss cheese and Toblerones are making you fat.
Smart-sounding phrase to say: They're permanently neutral, which is refreshing. KEEP ON KEEPIN' ON THE PEACE, SWITZERLAND!
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: Oh, I love IKEA!
World Cup history: Has appeared in only three World Cups, with their best finish in 2006, when they advanced to the round of 16 (and lost).
Team value based on player salaries: $114,994,127
Odds to win the tournament: 125/1
How they qualified: Secured the final automatic spot for South America despite the tragic death of striker Chucho Benitez. They were unbeatable at home, probably because of their stadium’s altitude of almost 12,000 feet above sea level.
People you should know: Antonio Valencia is the one everyone knows (he plays for Manchester United), but you’ll impress your soccer friends if you talk about Segundo Castillo, who played every minute at the World Cup in 2006. That’s a lot of running.
Why you should root for them: Even though there are no stars, this is a team that has played together a LOT. Instead of seeing a team just assembled for the World Cup, you’re kind of seeing an actual team.
Why you shouldn’t: A popular dish to eat in Ecuador is cuy… which is a whole cooked guinea pig. You probably don’t want to look up pictures of this.
Smart-sounding phrase to say: The only reason they’ve made it this far is because of the altitude in Ecuador. Now that all the other teams can breathe, they don't really stand a chance.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: WHY WOULD THEY EAT MR. NIBBLES?!
World Cup history: Won at home in 1998, runners up in 2006.
Team value based on player salaries: $555,070,372
Odds to win the tournament: 22/1
How they qualified: Just barely. They were unlucky in that they had to qualify against Spain, so they had their work cut out for them from the start. They made it to a playoff, where they lost the first leg 2-0 to Ukraine in a game that was truly ugly to watch. Fortunately, they got it together and won 3-0 in the second game to secure a spot in Brazil.
People you should know: Karim Benzema is going to need to pick up the slack from Franck Ribery, who is out of the tournament this year.
Why you should root for them: Paul Pogba’s got a cooooool haircut:
Why you shouldn’t: Their 2010 squad was a hot mess.
Smart-sounding phrase to say: Everyone knows they’re not really trying, they just want to prepare for Euro 2016, when they can win at home.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: Everyone knows they’re not really trying, they just want to prepare for Euro 2016, when they can win at home. (Call people out when they say this -- they clearly read this guide for people who don't watch soccer)
World Cup history: Has qualified for three World Cups, never advancing past the group stage.
Team value based on player salaries: $45,053,928
Odds to win the tournament: 1500/1
How they qualified: Honduras defeated Mexico at Azteca Stadium during qualifying, which was a big deal -- it was only the second time Mexico lost a World Cup qualifier at their stadium. They were able to keep the momentum going to beat Costa Rica and draw with Panama and Jamaica to qualify automatically in 3rd place in their confederation.
People you should know: Andy Najar. He’s 21, started in MLS with D.C. United, and is now a rising star at Anderlecht, a club in Belgium.
Why you should root for them: If you like rooting for underdogs (they’ve never won a World Cup game).
Why you shouldn’t: The other teams they’re up against will be way more fun to watch in future matches.
Smart-sounding phrase to say: You’d think by now they would have come up with something better than a 4-4-2 formation, but I guess without a solid defense or a star striker, what else are they going to do?
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: Oh, yeah, I went on a mission trip to Honduras that changed my life.
GROUP F: Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, and Nigeria
World Cup history: A perennial power, Argentina has appeared at 15 World Cups and won two, including in 1986 with the help of Diego Maradona's famous 'Hand of God' goal:
Team value based on player salaries: $654,482,640
Odds to win the tournament: 4/1
How they qualified: They won 14 qualifiers in a row. That's, uh, pretty good.
People you should know: Everyone knows Lionel Messi, but pay attention to Javier Mascherano, who is infamous for his poor behavior and how frequently he gets away with it.
Why you should root for them: Messi's skill translates even to non-soccer fans. Every game you get to watch him play is truly a pleasure. Even opposing players worship him:
Why you shouldn’t: They're the favorites behind Brazil to win the tournament. You might as well root for the Heat (ew).
Smart-sounding phrase to say: These guys are a little bit like the Knicks of the World Cup. The Knicks just give it to Carmelo and stand there and watch him shoot, and Argentina does the same thing with Leo.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: “Don’t cry for me Argentina…” when they lose.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
World Cup history: This is it! Their first one! Awwww, babies!
Team value based on player salaries: $177,098,968
Odds to win the tournament: 150/1
How they qualified: It was close, but they were able to avoid the playoff round thanks to their high goal differential.
People you should know: Miralem Pjanic, an all-around great player and one that the guys who are really into soccer can all get behind.
Why you should root for them: Several of the players on the team grew up in war-torn Yugoslavia. Qualifying for the World Cup for first time since the country was founded in 1992 is quite a big deal and most definitely makes this a team worth cheering for.
Why you shouldn’t: They need to pay their dues before advancing. Get back to me about winning a World Cup after you qualify 8 more times.
Smart-sounding phrase to say: All the work Susic has spent perfecting the charge has really paid off -- this is a team that knows how to attack.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: Oh yeah I’m a HUGE fan of Bosnia and Herzug-- Herigin--Hegzof... I’m a huge fan of England.
World Cup history: This is their fourth world cup appearance (following their efforts in 1978, 1998, and 2006).
Team value based on player salaries: $54,269,392
Odds to win the tournament: 2500/1
How they qualified: It was a rough process. They scored just 8 goals over 8 matches, but they allowed even fewer (2). They secured their spot by defeating South Korea to finished atop their group in the Asian confederation. Fans flooded the streets to celebrate:
People you should know: Reza Ghoochannejhad scored 8 goals in 10 games and was instrumental during their victory over South Korea. Also, he’s pretty much their only forward. Also also, his nickname is “Gucci,” which is super luxe. Also also also, listening to commentators try to say his name is going to be so fun.
Why you should root for them: Steve Beitashour was born in California, but he’s playing for Iran. Supporting him is supporting diplomatic efforts between America and Iran! (kind of)
Why you shouldn’t: Not touching this.
Smart-sounding phrase to say: Quieroz has made this by far the most structurally-organized team Iran has ever had. Even if they’re lacking a little creatively, that stability is going to be huge for them.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say:
World Cup history: Qualified in 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2010, which was most memorable because their mediocre performance spurred Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan to ban them from playing internationally for two years (he ultimately didn’t follow through on this threat)
Team value based on player salaries: $138,455,956
Odds to win the tournament: 300/1
How they qualified: Without a lot of fuss. Their 5th place ranking in Africa gave them an automatic pass to the second round of qualification, where they competed in a pretty easy group.
People you should know: John Obi Mikel and Ogenyi Onzai. Get ready for some tackles!
Why you should root for them: Their team is known as the ‘super eagles’ which sounds like a really cool super hero.
Why you shouldn’t: Still bitter you sent all your money to that prince via Paypal.
Smart-sounding phrase to say: They’re great when Moses is up front and Mikel is deep, but let’s just hope they don’t try to get too creative here.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: “Sure, you can have my social security number! I’ll email it to you!”
GROUP G - Germany, Portugal, Ghana, and the United States
World Cup history: Won three times, in 1954, 1974, and 1990.
Team value based on player salaries: $621,815,994
Odds to win the tournament: 6/1
How they qualified: Like a wrecking ball. They won 9 out of 10 games and tied the last one.
People you should know: The German team is basically built around Mesut Ozil and his priceless left foot, but keep your eye on Mario Götze, who can play 4 different attacking positions and has a very unfortunate last name.
Why you should root for them: You get to drink the best beers in support of the team. Plus, a little CGI birdie told me they're going to win.
Why you shouldn’t:They are in Group G, so chances are even if you want to root for them, you’ll want to root for the USA or Portugal more.
Smart-sounding phrase to say: Sure they’re great attackers, but we’ve seen it in every sport -- defense wins championships. They'll have trouble outscoring South American teams on their own turf.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: Just... don't be an idiot.
World Cup history: Third place in 1966, 4th in 2006. Logical conclusion: Since there’s not a 6 in this year’s date, they won’t win.
Team value based on player salaries: $399,518,890
Odds to win the tournament: 22/1
How they qualified: Cristiano Ronaldo.
People you should know: Cristiano Ronaldo.
Why you should root for them: Cristiano Ronaldo.
Why you shouldn’t: You're putting too much pressure on Cristiano Ronaldo! What if his little heart can’t take it?
Smart-sounding phrase to say: Everyone is too busy talking about Ronaldo to notice how weak this team is in their defensive third. Smart opponents are going to exploit that.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: Who is Cristiano Ronaldo?
World Cup history: Made it to the quarter-finals at the last World Cup, which was only their second appearance ever.
Team value based on player salaries: $150,743,365
Odds to win the tournament: 200/1
How they qualified: Handily. They were the top scoring teams in qualifying, and they defeated a feisty Egypt squad in a playoff to punch their ticket to Brazil (in the African confederation, there is no automatic qualification. A playoff determines who goes to the World Cup).
People you should know: Their manager, Kwesi Appiah, is the first Ghanaian coach to manage the team at the World Cup. Also keep your eyes on star center Kwadwo Asamoah (arguably the most complete midfielder in the game).
Why you should root for them: Because we want to see as many of their celebration dances as possible:
Why you shouldn’t: They’re the first team to play America and they've eliminated the U.S. from the past two World Cups. Ergo, if you’re rooting for Ghana, you hate America.
Smart-sounding phrase to say: If their back line can hold it together, they could make it out of the group, but they’re such a midfield-heavy team that it seems pretty unlikely.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: I think they’re GHANA win it all! Right, guys?!
The United States
World Cup history: The best USA performance came in 1930 when the team reached the semi-finals, and another highlight in 2002 when they reached the quarter-finals. Also, we beat England in 1950 (how you like them apples, royalists?)
Team value based on player salaries: $77,464,104
Odds to win the tournament: 250/1
How they qualified: They struggled early with a draw against Guatemala and a loss against Jamaica, but bounced back to qualify at the top of CONCACAF.
People you should know: Clint Dempsey led the U.S. in scoring during qualifying, and Michael Bradley has just transitioned from a defensive role to do more attacking, with stunning results. Whatever you do, don’t be an idiot and say Landon Donovan, because he’s not going to the World Cup and if you say it everyone will know that you’re not an actual soccer fan. You're probably not a dedicated follower of U.S. soccer if you're reading this, but if you're planning on faking it, a good place to start is by familiarizing yourself with all the players on the team.
Why you should root for them: BECAUSE THESE COLOR DON'T RUN! 'MURICA!
Why you shouldn’t: There is literally not one single reason.
Smart-sounding phrase to say: What nobody wants to admit about the USA is they’re a great counter-attacking team. If they catch Germany or Portugal on their heels, they could put a few goals away.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: Chanting USA any time anything happens. And not stopping.
Group H - Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea
World Cup history: Fourth place in Mexico in 1986, but didn’t even qualify in 2006 or 2010. The good news? A brand new lineup can give these guys a fighting chance.
Team value based on player salaries: $467,856,476
Odds to win the tournament: 20/1
How they qualified: Eight wins and no losses. How you like me now, Serbia?
People you should know: Lots of bright exciting talent on this team -- Thomas Vermaelen, Romelu Lukaku, Jan Vertoghen, Mousa Dembélé, Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois... When in doubt, if you need to talk about one, just snap your fingers and go, “Oh, you know who... the handsome one” (because they’re all handsome).
Why you should root for them: This is the country that brought us delicious fries, delicious beer, and In Bruges.
Why you shouldn’t: “Maybe that’s what hell is. The entire rest of eternity spent in f**king Bruges.”
Smart-sounding phrase to say: With that much young talent and such a strong bond with their manager, this team could go all the way.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: You know, the secret to their success is carbo-loading on waffles before each game.
World Cup history: Their most impressive win was against West Germany in 1982, and since then they’ve been middling. Although at the last World Cup, they ended with a 0-0 draw against England.
Team value based on player salaries: $104,932,697
Odds to win the tournament: 1500/1
How they qualified: Played extremely well at home, which allowed them to get away inconsistent performance when they were away. However, they just barely made it through the playoff against Burkina Faso (1-0).
People you should know: Islam Slimani, who has scored 9 goals in 17 international matches, and old reliables Essaïd Belkalem and Adlène Guedioura. Good ole' Essaïd.
Why you should root for them: Their national anthem is basically one big “F-U” to France, so we should get to hear that as much as possible
Why you shouldn’t: Algeria is known as a team that plays well at home, and last time I checked Brazil isn’t home.
Smart-sounding phrase to say: Vahid Halilhodzic gave these guys a fighting chance by finally getting rid of the old guys on the bench.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: Islam Salami? Is that kosher?
World Cup history: Fourth place in 1966 back when they were the USSR, but post-Soviet Russia has never made it past the group stage.
Team value based on player salaries: $261,968,904
Odds to win the tournament: 80/1
How they qualified: In what was essentially a two-horse race in a group with Portugal, Russia edged slightly ahead -- but just slightly -- to secure a spot in Brazil.
People you should know: Alan Dzagoev killed it at Euro 2012, and since forward Andrei Arshavin was unceremoniously omitted by manager Fabio Capello and Roman Shirokov was injured, Dzagoev stands to get a lot of minutes.
Why you should root for them: Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov are the best books ever.
Why you shouldn’t: They’re so evenly-matched against Portugal that getting to the Round of 16 might mean matches that are as long as Anna Karenina or The Brothers Karamazov.
Smart-sounding phrase to say: Their whole style of play centers on an energetic midfield, but you can’t make up for a lack of creativity with energy.
Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: In Soviet Russia, ball kick YOU!
World Cup history: This is their 8th successive World Cup appearance. Most notably, they finished in 4th place when they shared hosting duties with Japan in 2002.
Team value based on player salaries: $83,329,629
Odds to win the tournament: 250/1
How they qualified: Automatically on goal difference. They struggled a lot, but managed to avoid going to a playoff match because they had enough aggregate goals.
People you should know: Son Heung-Min. But watch him carefully – he’s so fast, if you blink, you could miss him.
Why you should root for them: Arguably the most technically sound team in the tournament.
Why you shouldn’t: The general consensus is that referees have been instrumental to their past success, and I won’t abide a cheater. Also, their recent friendly match against Ghana, a 4-0 defeat, doesn't bode too well.
Smart-sounding phrase to say: These guys are masters of the quick counter-attack, but that all depends on whether their defense can hold in group with some major offensive firepower. Not-so-smart-sounding phrase to say: World Cup Gangnam Style!