Beyond Yelling GOOOAAAL!
How to Pick A Team to Cheer for in the World Cup


June 20, 2006

A sports marketing firm recently estimated that roughly 100 million people world-wide watch the Super Bowl. The draw for this year’s World Cup was watched by an estimated 350 million people. This was just the draw, the soccer equivalent of the NCAA’s Selection Sunday, where the only things determined are the groupings for the first round of play. Needless to say, the actual matches will draw substantially more than 350 million viewers, totally obliterating in the ratings the event (the Super Bowl) most Americans think of as the single most watched, most talked about, most hyped, and most important single sporting event around, as opposed to the Olympics, which consist of mostly obscure sports wrapped in nationalism, pageantry, and pre-packaged heartwarming stories.


Much like the Olympics and NCAA men’s basketball tournament, many people will watch the World Cup simply because it’s a huge event or because they just like sports. These folks don’t have a dog in the fight, and don’t know who to cheer for. OSFan is here to help. Below is a handy guide for picking a team to root for while watching the World Cup (or any other large sports competition with many entrants).


In no particular order:


Root, Root, Root for the Home Team? In most cases, people’s natural inclination is to cheer for their home country (unless they happen to be under audit by the IRS). In most situations, this inclination is correct and you should cheer for your own country. However, it is acceptable to cheer against your country if three caveats hold:

1.      Your country is generally apathetic about winning this event. If the vast majority of the populace can’t name a single player and care more about how their favorite game show contestant is doing (how did Pedro Gomez find time to shadow Barry Bonds AND win American Idol?) than about how the country’s team is doing, you clear the first hurdle towards cheering against your own country.

2.      The “Great Satan” clause. There is no significant political or cultural animosity between your country and the opposing country. Cheering against the US as an American is NOT ok when the US is playing, say, Iran. Losing to Iran in 1998 was an international embarrassment and had Iranians spilling onto the streets, chanting about beating the “Great Satan.” If the term “Great Satan” comes up in relations between the two countries, stick with your own country.

3.      The other country wants it more. This includes fans and players. Why would one country’s players have more motivation to do well? Money and glory would flow to whoever won, and all have put years of their lives into this one event, but some may face being executed by angry fans for causing a loss (as Columbian player Andres Escobar was after an own-goal led to a loss to the US and Columbia’s elimination from the tournament).  


The Default Rule All else being equal, always root for the underdog. Unless you’re a fan of the Lakers or Yankees, you probably understand that it’s not as fun or interesting to root for Goliath and you don’t pick a team based on who is doing well at the time. America loves its little engines that could. Notre Dame’s Rudy, the 1980 Olympic hockey team, Rulon Gardner, and George Mason University in the 2006 NCAA tournament are all well known examples of this. There’s a reason Gonzaga is America’s team and Duke is just ESPN’s team. If Togo plays France, and you have no reason to root for either, then it’s “Lets go, Togo”. You will fondly remember watching a major upset for years. You won’t remember what teams were involved in a favorite blowing out a major underdog 10 minutes after it’s over.


Style Points The main exception to the underdog theory espoused by the default rule is Brazil. With the possible exception of a few South American countries that get the Washington Generals treatment from the Brazilian team, virtually everyone likes Brazil. This is mostly because of their style of play. Everyone from soccer purists to soccer virgins can enjoy Samba Soccer. But if defense and counterattack is what gets you going, then it’s Forza Azzuri. If pathetic incompetence is your preferred style, then cheer on the Saudis. They’ve been mocking you by raising gas prices anyway.


National Importance Cheer for the country to which a win would mean the most. Going into the 2004 Olympics, Argentina hadn’t won a single team gold in the country’s history. The country was not far removed from total economic ruin and a revolving door of presidents. But when their soccer and men’s basketball teams brought home the gold, there were huge parties all over Argentina. If only for a few days, Argentines were on top of the world. Ivory Coast is embroiled in a civil war, but the combatants have agreed to lay down their arms for at least the duration of the country’s World Cup run. An Ivory Coast win might unify a bloodily divided nation. A France win might get a few people to take much needed victory showers. Which seems like a cause you’d rather support?

Call it sports fan charity, call it having a heart, call it whatever you want, but you’ll feel better when you’re cheering along with an entire third world country than when you’re yawning along with an entire first world country.


Anaheim Angels Corollary In 2002 when the Anaheim Angels of Anaheim won the World Series, there was an explosion in the number of “life-long” Angels fans. Ninety percent of these people had never heard of a single Angels player up until that point. But suddenly they wouldn’t shut up about the greatness of “their” Angels. If a certain team winning would cause you the misery of having to put up with a bunch of idiots who claim to be lifelong diehards, you’re free to break out the voodoo dolls, go Tonya Harding on a player, and do whatever else it takes to ensure that team does not win.


Office Gloating This is a cousin of the Anaheim Angels Corollary. Do you have a coworker or other acquaintance who you would love to torment that is a big fan of one of the teams involved? Cheer for that team to implode in the most painful way possible for hours of office place fun. 


Act Like a Man Unless you are a know-nothing (about sports) female whose sole sports purpose in life appears to be to make her male sports fan friends and coworkers insane by annually winning NCAA tournament pools, you are under no circumstances allowed to pick a team based on uniform colors, cuteness of team mascots, how much your friend’s cousin enjoyed their vacation to a particular country, etc.


Sex Sells Go for the country with the hotter populace. If you’re going to watch a victory parade, would you rather see images of the beaches of Brazil, where there is so much eye candy you might actually get eye diabetes, or images of the beaches of Poland, where there is so much flabby paleness that you may actually get temporarily blinded?


Chameleon Clause This applies to those watching the World Cup in a bar filled with fans of a particular national team. For better or worse, you’ll have a more enjoyable watching experience if you’re rooting for the same team as everyone else in the place. If you’re in an Irish pub, it’s “Go Lads, Go!” In a sake bar? “Go Japan!" In a Mexican bar? “Vamos Tri-colores! Ay ay ay ay, canta y no llores...” At a British pub? Go home before their team loses and they turn you into a piñata.

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