“Victory? We’re French! We don’t even have a word for it.”
— from “The Simpsons”.
Gotta say it. I lack enthusiasm for the World Cup. I am a huge soccer fan. I live for the World Cup, but not this year. America is out. So much for us being great again. Italy is out, too. That’s just weird. I still got Germany and England, but that just does not light my fire.
Despite my tepid acknowledgement of the World Cup, I would be remiss if I did not offer a preview of the tournament. Instead of analytically weighing one team against others, I will just make snarky comments.
The format for the tournament has 32 teams drawn into eight groups of four. Each group plays a round robin. The top two teams advance to a knockout round.
GROUP A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay
Wow! This group sucks! You would think it easy for the hosts, Russia, to fix the draw after they rigged a U.S presidential election. I am picking Uruguay to go through because they are the only team in the group that wears blue shirts and blue is my favorite color.
Egypt has the best player in the world, Mo Salah. But they are in Russia’s way. So expect Egypt’s players to get food poisoning, or another mysterious illness, or just disappear entirely. Russia squeaks through.
GROUP B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran
I am nicknaming this group the Iberian Massacre. If either Iran or Morocco advance over the other teams, I will quit drinking, go to Mormon Church every Sunday, wear a BYU hat in public and change my name to Jaxtyn Christensen.
Spain and Portugal pretty much have a bye to the knockout rounds. Book it.
GROUP C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark
There are more llamas in Peru than people. That does not shock you at all, does it?
France gets through so long as they don’t bicker amongst themselves. And when in history have the French ever screwed up something important with in-fighting?
The Aussies will get through over the Danes because their nickname is the Socceroos and their fans drink a biologically impossible quantity of beer. I respect that.
GROUP D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
The film version of the musical “Evita” was on TV this week. That is a sign from God that Argentina goes through with ease.
Has there ever been two nations to play in the World Cup more diametrically opposite to each other than Iceland and Nigeria?
Croatia has one of the best sports uniforms on Earth. That is enough to pick them to advance.
GROUP E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia
Brazil advances because, if they don’t, the sun would implode and our last minutes of life would be filled with terror, confusion and bitter regret.
Serbia always has a good team, but someone on that team gets a red card for losing their temper every tournament and they get knocked out. I’m picking Costa Rica to make it past Switzerland because the Swiss live a great life. They don’t need this.
GROUP F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea
Germany is the defending champs and has the best starting 11 every time they take the field. They will not sweat much.
Every time an opponent has a free kick on Mexico’s goal, I will giggle when the Mexican defenders form a wall. Donald Trump jokes will abound.
The Koreans are not good and Sweden stole Italy’s spot in the tournament…so (BLEEP) them!
GROUP G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England
“In Bruges” is one of the funniest movies I ever saw. It was filmed in Belgium, and that is enough to pick them. Panama and Tunisia are not anywhere near the class of England, which is what scares the English.
England always finds inventive and mesmerizing ways of choking, but not this time. They get through without much effort.
GROUP H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan
Poland’s best player is named Lewandowski. One of my best friends in Philly is named Lewandowski. Jerk move not to pick them.
I am going to pick Senegal to advance because I have not chosen any of the other African nations to make the knockout rounds and I do not want a Twitter mob looking to make people’s lives miserable to target me as a racist. Because that is what Twitter does!
Also, Senegal is really good.
So, who will win? The World Cup is like horse racing. The elite always rise up. The safe bet is to pick a former champion to make it to the end.
While picking Poland, Belgium, Mexico or Senegal to go far looks bold, the odds are all but one of them exits before the semi-finals.
Portugal is a great team that never won the World Cup. Again, a former champ would most likely best them somewhere.
Three former South American winners are in the tournament: Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Only one of them, Brazil in 1958, won the World Cup on European soil. It just doesn’t happen.
Brazil and Argentina are very good, but they feel like also-rans.
How about the other former winners, all from Europe?
Germany is the defending champions. They have the best overall squad in the tournament. But history shows us that when Germany defends a championship that they tend to underwhelm. Bet against the short odds that they repeat.
Spain? Always a threat. They are building a new dynasty that should win major tournaments in the very near future. Hard pass this year, but still a pass.
Yes, I am letting my Francophile inner-child roam free. “Les Bleus” will overcome their own crippling vanity and—so long as they are on opposite sides of the bracket—beat Spain in the Final.
If only I cared.