How to Decide Who to Root for in the World Cup?

Ethan Zuckerman has an excellent round-up of selection strategies for who to support in the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament. Options include strategic support, support through spite, non-FIFA support, and aesthetic considerations. A couple he left off:

Flopping Artistry: To American eyes, one of the most notable features of international soccer is the way that players dive on the ground wailing at the slightest hint of contact. Inexplicable as this is, it is evidently an essential part of the sport, so why not select teams based on their players' ability to mimic a gut-shot Tim Roth in Reservoir Dogs? Until the whistle blows, of course-- at that point, they hop up and sprint back into position as if nothing happened, which it did.

Stalling Artistry: Another annoying-to-Americans feature of international soccer is the way that some teams with a one-goal lead will simply stop even pretending to play offense, and just content themselves with running out the clock. For forty or fifty minutes, sometimes. Again, this makes no sense to me, but it's evidently essential, so why not rank teams on their ability to do nothing at all for as long as possible?

Sheer Perversity: This is kind of an all-purpose strategy for any sport: root for the outcome that will upset and distress the hard-core fans the most. This typically involves rooting for the underdog, which is good fun anyway, but in soccer can also mean rooting for the flakier outcomes-- major powers eliminated in penalty-kick shootouts, or by fluke goals, etc.

And, of course, the negation of each of these strategies is also a valid strategy (though you could probably argue that each of these negated is a subset of Ethan's "aesthetic" option...). Other possibilities are endless-- rooting for countries based on the number of Nobel Prizes in Physics they have received, for example, or the quality of their beaches, or whatever.

What's your favorite strategy for choosing between teams in the World Cup when you're not from either of the countries involved?


More like this

A couple more to consider:

Support the team with the highest total of red and yellow cards (at least then the flopping artistry of the opposing team will be warranted).

Support the team that adopts the strategy of hoofing the ball through the air from defense to attack, bypassing midfield completely, on the off chance that one of the attackers can run fast enough to pick it up, despite the fact that the centre forward looks like he has eaten one too many kebabs recently.

By the way, either of these strategies will commit you to supporting England.

OBVIOUSLY, the prettiest uniform.

The sport mentioned in this post is actually called Football, because unlike the American sport called football, the ball is moved around by the players' feet 99% of the time. ;)

I tend to root for the side with the less boorish fans. Historically, that has meant whoever is playing England, but some of the east European sides have been catching up there lately. Fortunately, soccer isn't that popular in the USA yet; if it ever became popular here I'd probably have to take any USA opponent other than England.

If the boorishness factor doesn't decide it for me, then geopolitical considerations come into play. In most cases this amounts to root-for-the-underdog, so the general rule (with exceptions for some of the nastiest countries such as North Korea) is sub-Saharan Africa > North Africa/Middle East > Asia > Spanish-speaking Latin America > Brazil > Europe.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 08 Jun 2010 #permalink

There's so much in soccer that should appeal in the USA. You've got the sheer naked capitalism of the teams and players. You've got the fact that if your team really really sucks, it gets demoted. How awesome is that?

But then there's the flopping. Oy, the flopping.

I'm a relatively reluctant supporter of the US in the World Cup, because it seems that we still dominate so many other spheres--athletic and otherwise--that we don't need to dominate something else, especially something that we care relatively little about. And I'm unsympathetic to arguments about why we ought to care about soccer, as I think that professional sports are only about providing entertainment and ought to be looked at on the same footing as any other entertainment venue.

I'm conflicted on the upcoming USA-England game, because I usually root for England also, because more of my ancestors immigrated from England a few generations ago than from any other country, and because England invented (or at least standardized) soccer and thus promulgated it around the world.

But after the US and England, it's the African countries all the way. There is probably more need for something to cheer about in Africa than elsewhere.

I love the perversity angle very much, so I'll be rooting for North Korea to win it all by playing the dirtiest, ugliest, slowest (yes, slow even by the normal glacial pace) soccer humanly imaginable, with multiple hideously missed calls (14 players on the field at once, two consecutive handballs, a knee to the groin followed with an uppercut to the jaw; all uncalled) and preposterous penalties (a red card for an opposing player sneezing on a North Koren player), to a series of 0-0 ties that are decided by mostly-botched penalty kicks.

I have a complex algorithm for international competitions. It goes something like:

1. Canada
2a. Places I have lived (Kenya, the Netherlands)
2b. Places my ancestors came from (England, Scotland)
3. Places friends or their ancestors come from (this allows me to support, among others, Latvia, Czech Republic, Finland, Lebanon, and Iran)
4. Places I have visited (France, Italy, Ireland, Brazil, South Africa, Egypt, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Mexico...) -- this is fairly customizable depending on how long ago it was, how long I was there, and how much I enjoyed it.

Underdog status is usually the tiebreaker. And I reserve the right to pick some other country just 'cause.

By my reckoning, different members of our household will root for England (me), the USA (my wife), Australia (the cat), Brazil (one parrot), and New Zealand (4 other parrots - the Solomon Islands didn't get through, so they're the closest).

So, I might root for the kiwis, just to avoid the pecking.

Since I don't really follow soccer, I go with which ever team my soccer obsessed boss is into.

Regarding the flopping and the stalling, why do Americans seem to think that football fans in the rest of the world think that's okay?
The stalling tactic is just a bad strategy most of the time, and I don't know anyone who doesn't get thoroughly pissed off with the diving and acting. If a player reacts like they've been hit by a sniper just because someone touched them they should be carded, even if it's only noticed after the game. It's cheating.
As for who to support, I'll be supporting England, closely followed by South Africa (I am South African with English parents - but am much more interested in the English game than SA football).
I'll be attending six of the World Cup games, one of which is the England/Algeria match. For the rest I'll be supporting either the underdog or the team which makes it easier for England and SA to get further into the tournament.
Sadly I think SA will struggle to get past the first round.

Sports Illustrated had a handy-dandy flowchart to help you determine which team to root for, depending on a number of factors from whether you liked your team to score lots of goals to whether you giggled when you heard the name "Socceroos." My path through the chart resulted in the Ivory Coast, and I was all set to root for the Elephants, and then the next day, their best player, Didier Drogba, breaks his arm in a friendly. Oh well, the last item on the flowchart that brought me to IC was "Can you tolerate heartbreak?" I just didn't expect the heartbreak to start before the Cup!

About half of the people in my lab are from Europe, mostly Italy and France. Whichever option leads to the most interesting lab dynamics.

Like none of these tactics is ever employed in American sports. Get a topic worth discussing, guys.

"Regarding the flopping and the stalling, why do Americans seem to think that football fans in the rest of the world think that's okay?"

Because the rest of the world loves soccer unreservedly, while most Americans find the flopping, stalling, and general slowness of play to be so offputting that they'd rather watch golf?

i am rooting for the dead oil soaked marine birds to come back to life, fix the leak and eat the BP executive brains.

rob, those birds are oiled up already, why not put em on a grill?