Just like that, the United States national soccer team is out of the World Cup.
I’m incredibly disappointed that we didn’t capitalize on a favorable draw (England, Slovenia, and Algeria), nor a quite realistic route to the semi-finals (Ghana -> Uruguay/South Korea). So what now? Who should we cheer? Who should we jeer?
Far be it from me to tell you who to pull for or against, but most Americans could use a little help, so here it goes.
- FOR -
Spain – They play beautiful attacking soccer. They haven’t quite lived up to their full potential in the group stage, but it would be great for soccer viewers everywhere if Spain stays around. It would be nice to see them win their first World Cup after decades of underachieving. [On a selfish note, Cesc Fabregas plays for them]
The Netherlands – While they don’t quite live up to the Total Football of the nation’s glory days, the Oranje are dedicated to attacking soccer. Add a match-ready Arjen Robben, and the Dutch are ready to dazzle. They, like Spain, have yet to win a World Cup, and it would make for a good World Cup to see them in the final. Also, their language is hilariously entertaining to hear.
Japan – Why pull for Japan? First, they’re major underdogs. Secondly…Nintendo, Honda, hibachi, Sony: need I say more? We’ll forgive them for anime, by the way. Japan have little to lose, and there’s something mesmerizing about watching image-conscious Japanese soccer players fight their way to victory.
Brazil – Everyone knows that Brazil rules international soccer. Names like Pelé, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and Kaká have been synonymous with excitement. While their manager, Dunga, has emphasized a less-aggressive (and maybe less-Brazilian) style, Brazil are still always a great draw for soccer fans. It benefits the tournament to see them go far, though perhaps not as much to win it, as they have already won five times.
- AGAINST –
Mexico – They dive, they cry, and they complain their way to victory. Welcome to Mexican soccer, where eleven prima donnas prance around the pitch until someone gets within a few feet of them. Then they fall, grab a random appendage, and scream in agony until a referee pulls out a yellow card to administer to a helpless opponent. They’re the U.S. team’s biggest rivals, and they’ve found their way into good form. If you root for anything, root for them to return to reality and lose. [Note: I actually don't have anything bad to say about their young striker, Chicharito.]
[EDIT - I'm not feeling as harsh against Mexico today. I'm actually pulling for a great game for them against Argentina - 1:34 PM 06/27/2010]
Portugal – The world’s most hated player also happens to be one of the best, but Cristiano Ronaldo alone is reason to hope for Portugal’s exit. Known as one of the world’s most prominent divers (video proof – fast forward to the replay), Ronaldo leads a team full of jock brats that are very difficult to like, even though their brand of soccer is certainly fast-paced and attack-driven. [more Ronaldo diving - and more - ...and more!]
Ghana – They’re the only African team to make it to the round of 16, and it’s hard to root against Africans from any nation (other than Egypt, Libya, etc.). Those guys are so good-natured. However, they eliminated the U.S. for the second Cup in a row, and for this they deserve to perish.
- UNSURE -
Germany - The Germans showed a brilliant attacking mentality in the 2006 World Cup, but c’mon…they’re German. Germans are boring. Germans are a bit too organized and bland. Right? Or am I? We’ll see.
Argentina – It’s difficult for me to not hate Argentina. They dive. They whine. They actually like Maradona. But Argentina has the world’s best player, Messi, and every tournament needs its superstar. He’s brilliant on the pitch, but off the pitch is quiet, humble, and dignified. He’s the anti-Maradona! I don’t know about these guys…
England – I have always pulled for the U.S. first and England second, but the entire country is getting on my nerves. Their last World Cup win was in 1966 (at home), and ever since that time, the media and fans have put an ever-escalating pressure on their national team. The sad fact is that England is a bit overrated, but the media and fans expect them to deliver, OR ELSE! I have nothing against the English team, but plenty against the supposed fans who booed them off the pitch in their group match against Algeria. Settle down, England. Settle down.
- APATHETIC -
Chile, Paraguay, and Slovakia – I literally have nothing of value to say. They’ll be gone soon, and we probably won’t remember them at all, unless one of the players decides that they’re already losing and might as well live out Ray Steven’s song “The Streak” on the biggest stage of all.
Don’t stop caring, America! There’s still a lot more soccer to enjoy.
Round of 16 recommendations:
Germany/England, Sunday, June 27 – 9:00 AM CST
Mexico/Argentina – Sunday, June 27 – 1:30 PM CST
Netherlands/Slovakia – Monday, June 28 – 9:00 AM CST
Spain/Portugal – Tuesday, June 29 – 1:30 PM CST
[Note: all of these games are available for replay online on ESPN3, with many of the games featured live ]