Hey there! June and July are also known as The Months Where Nothing Happens if you’re a fan of college football. Fortunately, there is a top-level competition over the summer with all of the passion and fan stupidity that you would expect out of something covered on Sports Talk Radio: The World Cup, which . . . HEY! Get back here!
As most of you may know – either as soccer fans yourselves or through osmosis from acquaintances who are – the World Cup begins later this week, with 32 nations sending teams to Totally-Not-A-Dictatorship Russia to compete in the quadrennial tournament through the championship final on July 15. For College Football fans, think of it as a condensed regular season with only the top 32 (not picked by writers or a computer, thankyouverymuch) participating, followed by the 16-team-playoff that the NCAA should really have every year.
I’m not going to waste time with a lengthy rehash of rules for beginners, since you know the basics – put the ball in the goal and don’t use your hands. Other than that, college football fans may be bewildered by some facets of International Soccer: Corporate greed, the system of haves and have-nots, high-level corruption, arbitrary rules, mismanaged video replay, fan irresponsibility, political involvement…you know what? I think you’ll pick it up just fine.
Anyway, to make this preview easy, we though we’d compare World Cup national teams to college football powers
Argentina is… Oklahoma
We’ll take care of the locals first. Both the Sooners and Albicelestes were at their apex in the 1980’s, led by icons known for awesome hair, outstanding skill and era-appropriate attitudes. And both are lands rich with cowboy culture, wealth disparity and unreasonable expectations for their football teams. Still, Leo Messi is every bit as fun to watch as Baker Mayfield, even if the defense will crap out when most needed. You’ll see them get very far in the tournament, maybe even to the Final – but winning it all isn’t a safe bet.
Mexico is… Oklahoma State
With a talented roster that can score goals at any moment, is it any wonder that so many local soccer fans are drawn to Mexico? Granted, many local soccer fans are of Mexican descent, but still…
Much like their Stillwater counterparts, Mexico has a nasty habit of losing to teams and situations that they should handle with ease. And while El Tri fires coaches frequently and for any reason – a loss, a bad TV interview, internally processing sugars, you name it – T. Boone only wishes he had that Steinbrennerian power over Mike Gundy.
Panama is… Tulsa
They’re thrilled to be here. They’ll show up, get slaughtered by Belgium and England (and probably Tunisia, too), and then the Canaleros will go back home to an impressed local media that cares more about baseball and the other football teams in the region.
Italy, Netherlands, Chile, USA are… Nebraska, Florida, Oregon, Baylor
Let’s address the elephants NOT in the room. Much like their NCAA analogs, these teams were expected to at least BE in the Cup, just by reputation alone. They ranged from Regular Favorites (Italy, Netherlands) to Consistently Pretty Good (Chile, USA) – but they all failed to qualify. If your soccer nerd friend was sad last October, it’s because they just watched all four of these teams fall in the FIFA Red Wedding.
Germany is… Alabama
They’re both the reigning champs and overwhelming favorites. Skilled, athletic, and well-coached by disgusting human beings. They’ll romp their way through the early stages and then lift the crown in a close-but-not-really Final. Exception is that Die Mannschaft is actually loved internationally as a team, while the Tide are loathed by most of the nation.
Brazil is… Ohio State
A humiliating defeat or two isn’t enough to wipe out the proud heritage of the Heartland! Sure, Brazil was on the business end of a 7-1 shellacking by the Germans that still gets replayed by soccer fans in need of a good laugh, but Brazil didn’t whimper away the last four years – they loaded up for vengeance. And they sent Amanda Nunes to beat up Ronda Rousey in the meantime.
Spain is… Clemson
We all cheered when they finally won their long-awaited title – and then we cracked up when they collapsed the next time out. We soccer fans love to see great teams get humbled. They produce some of the great pro talent and are a joy to watch. Plus, they actually play some defense, even if Sergio Ramos is a total thug that NHL teams would shy away from.
England is… Notre Dame
Forever holding onto past glories and a literally poetic obsession with the game itself, “England Expects” is a cliché every four years. As teams who are considered the formative innovators of their respective sports, the Three Lions and the Fighting Irish may not be the favorites any longer, but they are the souls. This time out, Airstrip One is going through a bit of a reformation of talent, and will hang around until the middle stages.
France is… Georgia
Legit National Contenders that are all too often the culprits behind their own demise, but have been unstoppable lately. They tend to do very well on European soil, and Russia is mostly Europe. Often overshadowed by neighboring powerhouses, Les Bleus may have their number called this time.
Portugal is… Penn State
You’d expect them to be kind of stodgy, but they’re actually a fun team to watch, especially with goal scorer and abs model Cristiano Ronaldo again leading the charge. The supporting cast isn’t that great, however, and they’ll bow out just as things get interesting.
Egypt is… Louisville
Mohammed Salah is easily the best player to ever come out of the continent of Africa, and just like Lamar Jackson, has not much of a supporting cast behind him. The Pharaohs will only go as far as Mo can carry them.
(Editor’s Note: We didn’t want to pay our photo editor overtime pay this week, so we’re going without photos for the rest of the article).
Russia is… Georgia Tech
Usually decent, but not right now, and the key host for this whole shebang. Since the host automatically qualifies, Russia didn’t have to even try to put together a decent roster and, by God, they sure as hell didn’t. But expect at least ONE win to go Russia’s way due to home cooking/pressure from local authorities – probably the opening match against equally-woeful Saudi Arabia.
Belgium is… Wisconsin
They had a really good run last time, and it looks like the table may be set for them be a real threat as a dark horse. Both the Red Devils and the Badgers are deep in every position, they can win on any given day, and are physical to the point of violent. Last time, they couldn’t deal with a high-pressure defense (lost to Argentina, almost lost to the US), but this may be their time.
Peru is… Texas Christian
They haven’t been to the World Cup since the first Reagan Administration, but they broke in this time and have looked very solid over qualifying and in recent games. Could be a flash in the pan, but could be the Cinderella of the tournament.
Iceland is… Boise State
They’re not that great, they’re the smallest nation in the tournament (Iceland has fewer people than Tulsa), but they overachieved at the European Championship two years ago, and even won their qualifying group outright. Sentimental favorites, but they’ve looked very shaky in the last few months.
Colombia is… Miami
Flashy and doomed by their own hubris. They were the darlings of the late 80s and early 90s, but the illicit money dried up and tragedy befell these once proud programs. But now, they’re contenders again. Watch James Rodriguez (just “James” in the world of soccer mononyms), he will make some highlights.
Nigeria is… UCF
Nigeria is not just another African team. They tend to get dismissed because of their continent, but The Super Eagles (international teams have great nicknames) have a roster of players that play for clubs in top European Leagues. Ignore them at your peril.
Saudi Arabia, Australia, Morocco, Tunisia, Iran, Senegal, Japan, Australia and South Korea are… Mid Major also-rans that get into the bowls
Thank you, drive through. Very little is expected of most Asian and African teams. Sure, one of these will make a wave and cause and upset or two, but nothing to remember. They add a little spice to the festivities, and that’s about it. Think about it like this: You might watch the Popeye’s Bahamas Bowl between Eastern Washington and Florida Atlantic, but you probably won’t remember much about it.
Uruguay, Costa Rica, Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden, Croatia and Serbia are… those SEC/Big 10/Pac 12 also-rans who limp along with 8-4 records
They aren’t fun to watch, they don’t last that long, and they tend to play down to the worst traits of teams from their region: Latin American teams are creative but undisciplined, and European teams work in a structured system that wilts under pressure.