0618 dispatch world cup rccsek

Good news and bad news. The bad: Last fall, the United States men’s national soccer team failed to qualify for the every-four-years World Cup for the first time since the 1980s, a demoralizing setback in the sport’s American evolution. The good news: That means you’re free to choose any of the 32 countries actually competing to root for in the every-four-years event, which kicks off in Russia June 14. Which one? Here’s some help to find your new favorite, and scroll down for a little more info on each team.

Click here for a high-resolution flow chart.

Are you watching?

The last two weeks of June see three or four games per day, most starting at 5, 8, or 11 a.m. Pacific time (schedule at fifa.com/worldcup). Then there are fewer games but higher stakes as July 15’s final in Moscow approaches. Watch for early opening hours and fun at places like Kells, Toffee Club, Bazi Bierbrasserie, and 4-4-2.

Who's playing? Let's break down the competitors.

Egypt
Phenom Mohamed Salah promises great hair and (maybe) great goals.

Morocco
The Lions of the Atlas return to the Cup after 20 years, with nickname (and win streak) on point.

Nigeria
Soccer nerds often expect the Super Eagles to be amazing. Maybe this time it will happen!

Senegal
Made an upset run to the 2002 quarterfinals. Haven’t been seen since. 

Tunisia
The Eagles of Carthage! The Eagles of Carthage! THE EAGLES OF CARTHAGE!

Australia
Hard-tackling randos repping a country that prefers other sports: consider the Socceroos 2018’s America stand-in.

Iran
We don’t have any jokes about Iran. The Iranian people love football and deserve nice things, just like anyone.

Japan
Panicked and replaced their coach just two months before the tournament. Should be fun!

Korea Republic
This is the “good” Korea, if you’re keeping track. Son Heung-min is a star to watch.

Saudi Arabia
Zany, lighthearted, charismatic fan favorite. Kidding.

Belgium
The slick, creative Red Devils are a hipster choice for title contender.

Croatia
A first-round match against Argentina could be an early tournament highlight. 

Denmark
Organized, stingy in defense, and ridiculously blonde, watch for the Danes’ star and playmaker Christian Eriksen to try to create some magic.

England
Overwrought tabloid insanity guaranteed, tragicomic exit in a penalty shootout probable.

France
The likes of Paul Pogba promise some tutti-frutti football from Les Bleus.

Germany
It’s anyone’s guess whether the defending champs will become only the third country to ever win back-to-back World Cups, but one thing is guaranteed: mid-game cuts to Angela Merkel awkwardly drinking beer.

Iceland
RIYL: indie bands no one else likes, hard-core grain liquor, boutique vacations, Westeros.

Poland
With players drawn from many top European leagues (and plenty of historical motivation to make some noise in Russia), the boys in red and white could be a sleeper hit of summer.

Portugal
One reason to watch Portugal: chiseled Adonis Cristiano Ronaldo, a.k.a. the best player in the world, may do something amazing. 

Russia
A great nation—a very strong nation—that will do a fantastic, just outstanding job.

Serbia
Known for their friendly, hard-partying fans and the occasional upset run.

Spain
The Iberian powerhouse put on shameful performance in Brazil in 2014, bowing out in the group stage. But … it’s 4 years later! La Furia Roja returns!

Sweden
Zlatan Ibrahimovic retired from international play, so…right, there’s not much to say.

Switzerland
Kinda the Hamilton cast of international soccer: a strong corps of players with immigrant roots.

Costa Rica
Los Ticos made a miracle quarterfinal run in 2014, and feature debonair Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas.

Mexico
Ordinarily USA’s top soccer rival, but screw it: maybe El Tri can redeem the whole continent. 

Panama
Last-minute heroics doomed the USA’s bid, so here’s your punk rock antihero pick.

Argentina
This could be genius player/adorable Muppet Lionel Messi’s last chance at the Cup. Tango!

Brazil
Last seen losing 7–1 to Germany + having a nervous breakdown. Not as fun at parties as you expect.

Colombia
Featured some of the coolest goals and (easily) the best celebration dances of 2014. When they catch fire, fun ensues.

Peru
Currently embroiled in a coca-tea scandal featuring a ban for one top player. It’s a little on the nose, but it’s true.

Uruguay
Sometimes, they bite people!

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