Believe it or not, the United States has a rich history in soccer’s World Cup. Unfortunately, the Stars and Stripes won’t be adding to that history since the team didn’t qualify for the 2018 tournament. We won’t have to worry in 2026 since America is hosting and gets an automatic bid. Just because the U.S. won’t take the field in the 2018 World Cup doesn’t mean fans have to avoid the tournament. Americans can still watch the World Cup and have fun cheering on these 10 teams.
We won’t follow any particular order, but we’ll discuss one team that won our hearts in 2016 (page 6), plus a real dark horse you might have forgotten about (page 10).
FIFA rank: 45
Egypt probably has no shot of winning the 2018 World Cup, but there are a couple reasons U.S. fans should be rooting for the Pharaohs. First, it has one of the best players in the game in Mohamed Salah, the man named the Player of the Year in England. Also, onetime American coach Bob Bradley basically got the country into the tournament, so rooting for Egypt isn’t too far away from rooting for the U.S.
Next: Let’s just get this one out of the way.
FIFA rank: 2
You expected this one, right? You can’t discuss soccer’s biggest event and not mention Brazil. It’s the country that has the most World Cup wins (five), and it’s always a contender to add more. This is the team U.S. fans should root for if they want to cheer for a team with a shot to win it all. With super wealthy and ultra-talented Neymar leading the way, Brazil is ready for a deep run in the tournament.
Next: It’s time for this player’s crowning achievement.
FIFA rank: 5
Sure, some people know Argentina as much for its soccer scandals as its World Cup finishes, but the way we see it, there’s one major reason to root for this team: Lionel Messi. He’s probably the best player in the world, and he deserves to hoist the trophy at the 2018 World Cup. He turns 31 during the tournament, which means he’ll be 35 the next time, which means now is probably his last chance to win the big title as an impact player.
Next: Let’s check in on a sleeper.
FIFA rank: 3
This might be hard to swallow for fans who remember what the European side did to the U.S. in 2014, but Belgium is one of the teams American fans should root for at the 2018 World Cup. The squad has talented players all over the field, including playmaking forward Eden Hazard and star midfielder Kevin DeBruyne. The Red Devils should easily make out of the group stage, so U.S. fans will be able to cheer for this team for a few weeks instead of just a few days.
Next: The next best thing to cheering on the United States.
FIFA rank: 15
It’s going to be hard to root for a huge rival, but U.S. fans should think about cheering for Mexico at the 2018 World Cup. One columnist makes a case for it, and we offer a couple more reasons:
- Rooting for El Tri is like rooting for a neighbor. Mexico’s success can make the U.S. and the entire Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) collective look good.
- This might be Mexico’s best team in years.
- With 57.5 million people of Hispanic heritage in the U.S., many of them Mexicans, chances are you’re going to hear a lot about the team anyway. Why not get on board now?
Next: The sentimental favorite in our hearts.
Odds: + 1200
FIFA rank: 22
Iceland has no chance of doing anything at the 2018 World Cup, you say? Well, people said the same thing about the tiny country at the 2016 Euro Cup, and all the team did was go undefeated in group play and knock out England on the way to the quarterfinals. It was a moment to remember, and it taught us not to doubt Iceland’s ability.
Next: The sure thing
FIFA rank: 1
You have to go all the way back to 1938 to find the last time Germany didn’t win a game in the big tournament. The 2018 World Cup is shaping up the same way. The No. 1 team in the world dominated qualifying, and it’s almost guaranteed that the country survives pool play and moves on. If you’re an American fan looking to cheer on a team for the long haul, Germany is a very safe bet.
Next: The U.S. is basically a western outpost of this country.
FIFA rank: 8
Poland quietly slipped into the top 10 of the FIFA rankings before the start of the 2018 World Cup, and the country seems like a safe bet to survive Columbia, Japan, and Senegal to get out of its group. Even though Poland’s recent performances don’t provide a lot of confidence, rooting for the White and Reds is basically like rooting for the U.S., in a sense. New York and Chicago are two of the most Polish cities outside of the Motherland.
Next: If you like goals, this is the country to root for.
FIFA rank: 4
Unless something goes really wrong, Portugal is going to join Spain and move on from its group at the 2018 World Cup. (Heck, Spain might not even make it out of the group after firing its coach days before the tourney). This is the country fans of goals need to root for. If Portugal moves on, it’s going to do it on the back of prolific scorers Cristiano Ronaldo and Bernardo Silva.
Next: This dark horse might surprise you.
FIFA rank: 11
Is it safe to cheer for a team that hasn’t played on the world stage since 1982? In this case, it might be. It took a bit of luck, but Peru survived South American qualifying and defeated New Zealand to take the final spot in the 2018 World Cup. The country surrendered just one goal in its friendlies leading up to the tournament and it has a handful of capable scorers, so it looks like it’s ready to go when it gets to Russia.