After years of qualifiers, months of hype, and weeks of roster speculation, the 2018 World Cup is set to finally kick off Thursday in Russia. Thirty-two teams from around the world will descend on Moscow, St. Petersburg, and nine other cities to compete for four years of global bragging rights.
The U.S. men’s national team, after a spectacular flameout on a muggy night last October in Trinidad and Tobago, will not be among them. So if you’re an American outlaw — or just another neutral fan marooned without a favorite team — who should you root for?
With so many options to potentially bandwagon, it can be exhausting to try to pick your new favorite squad. You could always do the tenuous “I’m 1/64th Danish, go Christian Eriksen!” reasoning, or the even more tired, “I studied abroad in Lisbon, so clearly Cristiano Ronaldo is the G.O.A.T.” But you’re better than that. So here are five smart choices, varying from tournament favorites to fun underdogs, to guide your quest.
1. The wild card: Egypt
One of the biggest questions heading into the World Cup centers on a 25-year-old forward and his shoulder: Will Mo Salah be healthy enough to lead Egypt in only its third World Cup ever? Liverpool’s historically prolific scorer was taken out of the Champions League final — some say maliciously — by Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos, and the resulting shoulder injury will hang heavy on the Pharaohs. Even the most optimistic reports have Salah returning only in the team’s second game, against Russia; it’s also very likely that he’ll be operating at less than 100 percent if he does return in time.
Egypt does have other weapons that it could use to stay afloat until its best player returns. Mohamed Elneny, of Arsenal fame, will help solidify the midfield, while Mahmoud Hassan “Trezeguet” and Ahmed “Kouka” Mahgoub can push the attack just enough to grind out some points. And if Salah does return with Egypt still in contention, the morale boost (along with his deadly left foot) could help the Egyptians make the knockout stages for the first time ever.
If they make it there, with a hopefully game-fit Salah, then Egypt can beat anyone … especially likely first-round opponent Spain, whose captain will be none other than Sergio Ramos. You can’t script a better story than that.
2. The powerhouse: Germany
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Source:: The Week – Sports