On June 14, one of the greatest sporting events on the planet will literally “kick off.” Fans from around the world will stock up on body paint, flags, and flares and gather together in Russia to cheer on their heroes. Over the course of an action-packed month, 32 nations will compete for global supremacy of the world’s most popular sport. We’re talking, of course, about the World Cup.
To the millions of faithful fans around the world, soccer is about more than just 24 players hitting a ball into a net. Just look at the reactions of these fans during the 2014 World Cup. Legendary soccer (also known as “football” outside of the U.S.) coach Bill Shankly famously opined:
“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.”
Soccer is about passion and pride in your nation and team. It’s about cynically winning at any cost vs. the pure joy of joga bonito (“play beautiful” in Portuguese). It’s about David and Goliath stories or teams grasping their destiny and ascending into the history books. That’s why you may want to tune in this summer to soccer in its purest form — the World Cup.
What Is the World Cup?
The World Cup is an international soccer tournament organized by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). The first tournament was in 1930. One is held every four years. Only a world at war (World War II) could stop the World Cup from occurring in 1942 and 1946.
Throughout its history, the World Cup has had eight different winners. Brazil has the most wins with five. Germany and Italy follow close behind with four, while Argentina and Uruguay both have two. England, France, and Spain have each won it once.
The tournament takes 32 qualifying teams and organizes them into eight groups of four. Each team plays the rest of the teams in their group twice, and the two best teams qualify for the final rounds. After that, it’s a classic knockout tournament until only two teams remain.
This year’s final will be held on Sunday, July 15, at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
The Controversy Facing This World Cup
The location selection process was marred with rumors of bribery. This later culminated in a 2015 corruption case. In all, nine FIFA officials and five executives were charged with corruption and FIFA President Sepp Blatter was pressed into resigning. The tournaments will remain in Russia and Qatar despite ensuing controversies, such as Qatar’s reported use of slave labor and a laundry list of scandals and concerns for Russia.
Notably, there are growing concerns toward racism and LGBTQ relations in Russia. Racism has long been a problem in Russian soccer, while Russia also has a history of oppression towards the LGBTQ community. Hooliganism is also a genuine worry, with fan violence still a real issue.
Who Should You Root For?
You may have heard, since it was everywhere, that the United States did not qualify for this World Cup. This is possibly for a long list of reasons, from lack of real planning and overall quality to poor coaching from Jurgen Klinsmann and his replacement, Bruce Arena.
This leaves many looking for a team to support. Many will choose the country of their ancestors. You can also take a quiz to see which team fits you and what you like to see.
For a quick guide heading into the tournament, we’ll list who we think are the favorites, the teams with an outside chance, and a potential underdog.
- Style: Brazilians play with a passion that only comes from being born with a ball at your feet. They’re fluid on the field and play with a confidence and style that leaves viewers breathless.
- Star Player: Neymar — This forward player can do it all. He can score and create goals out of thin air and carry a team on his shoulders. There’s a reason PSG paid €222 million for his services.
- Chances to Win: 9/2 odds on SkyBet. Their attacking flair could crush anyone who stands in their way.
- Style: Germany plays with the epitome of a team-oriented style. They are well-drilled, driven, and relentless. It also helps that they’re defensively sound and can control a game with ease.
- Star Player: Thomas Müller — The Bayern Munich forward always seems to turn it on for the World Cup. At the age of 28, he’s the only current player with a shot of breaking the record for most World Cup goals ever.
- Chances to Win: 9/2 odds on SkyBet. They’re the current World Cup champion. Their team is also stacked in every position and have the experience needed to win.
- Style: France has a strong, but savvy team, with the squad to switch up how they play when they need to. They can also call on an arsenal of attacking players that few other teams can match.
- Star Player: Antoine Griezmann — It’s tempting to name teenager Kylian Mbappé, but Griezmann is France’s main man. There’s a reason Barcelona sees him as Neymar’s replacement.
- Chances to Win: 11/2 odds on SkyBet. Like Germany, they have great players in almost every position, but lack the experience that the Germans have.
- Style: While they’re not the all-conquering team from the 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euros, Spain still can pass their way around any team in the world. Watch for intricate, technical displays of skill.
- Star Player: David De Gea — This goalkeeper gives Spain the confidence to attack without fear. He’s arguably the best current goalkeeper in the world and definitely in the top 2 keepers.
- Chances to Win: 6/1 odds on SkyBet. Despite riches in midfield, Spain lack the forwards that were in their dominant, earlier teams.
*Update: With only two days left before the World Cup is set to kick off, Spain has announced that they are sacking their manager, Julen Lopetegui. This is connected to Lopetegui’s unveiling as Real Madrid’s new manager ahead of next season. With such little time, this decision could be disastrous for Spain.
- Style: Brazil’s greatest rival is also the team that most closely matches their style. They’re incredibly fluid with a wealth of attacking options, which means they can outscore almost any opponent.
- Star Player: Lionel Messi — Even non-soccer fans have probably heard of Leo Messi. He simply can do it all and is widely regarded as potentially the best soccer player ever.
- Chances to Win: 9/1 odds on SkyBet. This will most likely be Messi’s last World Cup, and he’ll be desperate to drive his team to a win. That said, his team may not have the defense to do it.
- Style: Egypt built their success on having a tighter defense than Fort Knox. They’ve only conceded more than one goal in a game once during qualifying, and they count on fast counterattacks to break through teams.
- Star Player: Mohamed Salah — With Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo aging, Mo Salah could be set to step into their void. He’s been in electric form, scoring or assisting 60 goals for club and country this season.
- Chances to Win: 250/1 on SkyBet. They’re extremely unlikely to win according to the experts. But with a solid team and a star player in the best form of his life, they could shock the world.
The 2026 World Cup
This morning, FIFA announced that the joint bid of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico won the right to host the 2026 World Cup. The decision coincides with the new rule allowing 48 teams to qualify, making it the largest World Cup in history. All three hosts will most likely automatically qualify. This is the first time three nations have hosted a World Cup, so this decision has never been made before.
FIFA announced that the U.S., Canada, and Mexico will host the 2026 World Cup. After 32 years, soccer’s biggest tournament will return to the States!
There will be 16 host cities scattered across the continent. Ten will be in the U.S., while three will be in both Canada and Mexico. This will be narrowed down from the current list of 23 cities. Over the course of a month, 60 games will be held in the U.S., with the other 20 games played in Canada or Mexico. No matter where you are in North America, there’s a good chance a game will be near enough for you to attend. This is especially true if you live in the Northeast, with Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and the New York metropolitan area, Toronto, Boston, and Montreal all qualifying as host cities.
FIFA hopes that this tournament will take after the last World Cup held in North America, the 1994 World Cup, which remains the best attended and has the best per game attendance.
FIFA — Laws of the Game 2017/18