As with all posts in my ‘Surviving the Watercooler’ series, this post isn’t meant to be a grand preview of this global event. It is simply meant to prepare you for conversations you’re likely to find yourself involved in during this month long event. Just like I mentioned in my March Madness StWC, it’s important to remember that if you’re talking about soccer(yes I’ll be calling it soccer) in America, it is unlikely the person you’re talking to truly has a solid grasp of the historical rivalries present between the nations or appropriate winger strategy to hold a lead late in a match.
I will be focusing on the 2014 world cup, except for this paragraph. The 2022 World Cup has already generated a hooligans’ riot worth of controversy. There is an ongoing bribery and corruption investigation looking into how the world cup was given to a country that has: extremely strict rules about alcohol(including not letting foreignors import it), outdoor temperatures reaching into the 120 degrees, and concerns about the egregious human rights violations present in the country including the over 1,000 migrant workers already estimated to have died in the construction of the world cup facilities.
Brazil has had its share of problems leading up to the world cup as well. Graffiti in many Brazilian cities reads, “Copa pra quem?” translated as, “Who is the cup for?” Spending on the world cup is estimated to be 11.5 billion dollars with 3 billion coming from the taxpayers of the host country. One example of why the people of Brazil are particularly upset is the host site for the US team’s second game. The stadium is in the city of Manaus, cost 270 million dollars to build, and is expected to host a grand total of 4 world cup games. The city of Manaus also has no local team to fill the stadium afterwards.
Much of the facilities and accommodations built with the money will almost certainly be used for the 2016 summer Olympics which are also set to be hosted in Rio. I would venture the guess that Brazil already hosting the world cup was probably a point in its favor when bidding for the 2016 Olympics. Unfortunately the current set of headlines the 2016 Olympics are getting are largely centered around the bay in which the sailing events will be hosted which is currently filled with, “a deluge of rubbish including floating mattresses, car tyres, submerged sofas, dog carcasses and even human corpses,” That sort of press and Brazil’s promise that they should be able to clean up the bay by 50% doesn’t fill me with Olympic spirit.
The world cup itself starts with 32 teams split into 8 groups. Each team plays the three other teams in its group and is awarded three points for a win, one point for a draw, and zero points for a loss. The top two teams in each group advance to a single elimination tournament. If a team advances to the championship match they will have played seven games. You’ll hear variations of ‘let’s win seven!’ as a rallying cry.
The groups themselves are as follows:
Group A: Brazil(the favorite to win the group), Mexico, Cameroon, and Croatia(least likely to advance)
Group B: Spain(the favorite to win the group by a large margin), Chile, Netherlands, and Australia(least likely to advance)
Group C: Colombia(the favorite to win the group), Japan, Ivory Coast, and Greece(least likely to advance)
Group D: Italy(the favorite to win the group just barely), Uruguay, England, and Costa Rica(least likely to advance)
Group E: France(the favorite to win the group by a large margin), Switzerland, Ecuador, and Honduras(least likely to advance)
Group F: Argentina(almost guaranteed to win the group), Bosnia, Nigeria, and Iran(least likely to advance)
Group G: Germany(the favorite to win the group), Portugal, Ghana, and the US(least likely to advance)
Group H: Belgium(the favorite to win the group), Russia, South Korea, and Algeria(least likely to advance)
Brazil is the favorite to win the whole thing with Argentina and Spain also viewed as strong contenders. The US is currently being given a 5-10% chance of winning the group and a 0.5% chance of winning the entire tournament.
The US is guaranteed to play three games though. The first match is against Ghana, will be Monday June 16th 6pm EST, and is a match the US absolutely has to win in order to have a chance of making it out of the group. The second game will be against Portugal Sunday June 22nd 6pm EST, and finally US plays Germany Thursday June 26th 12pm EST. If you want the US to advance you should cheer for Germany to win their first two matches so they are guaranteed to advance and may not play as hard against the US in the final match of group play. It should be noted that an elephant in a German zoo did pick the US to beat Germany in the group stage. The world cup has a long history of prophetic animals, a Brazilian loggerhead turtle is already 1-0.
I’m not going to go through individual players, but if you want some factoids about the big names of the world cup I would recommend this CBS sports piece.. You may also enjoy the Onion’s story on the same topic which includes Christiano Ronaldo’s strength as, “Hair gel slathered all over body allows him to easily slip away from defenders.” 
The first match of the world cup has already been played with Brazil beating Croatia 3-1. In the match a foul was called which is causing accusations of referees being paid to give the host country the win. You can see the foul here. I can’t recite too many soccer rules, but I know a flop when I see one. Flopping works particularly well in soccer because each match only has one referee and obviously it’s hard for one person to keep unobstructed views of the entire field during play.
The official reason for sticking to just one ref is that FIFA wants the world cup officiating the same way as any other game in the world. That sounds nice but it isn’t the same as every other game in the world. The whole world is watching and will see what you get wrong. On the plus side, this is the first world cup to use cameras on the goal line for controversial goals, but that is all that is being reviewed.
If you are not into soccer, but have decided to give a match or two a chance because this should be the best soccer the world has to offer, watch one of the first matches of the elimination tournament. Counter intuitively, don’t watch the championship match and judge everything off that. That match has a history of being on the boring side because no coach wants to make a gutsy decision, get it wrong, and be a permanent pariah in the country they’re coaching.
The US really doesn’t have a great chance of making it out of group play, so I’d recommend picking a team that is slightly more likely to make a deep run and follow them. I have a friend with close ties to Belgium, so I’d like to close this post by saying GO RED DEVILS!
As always, questions, comments, and criticisms are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.