Picking a World Cup team out of 32 assorted squads really isn't that difficult, random bored sports fan stranded in the summer doldrums. You do the same thing every year with the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, after all, and often without the helpful framework of a national point of reference. So making the argument that pulling for Gonzaga -- a school whose location half of you probably can't name -- is somehow so much more logical or thrilling than rooting for Nigeria because you like their name (the Super Eagles) holds no merit here. You're picking your teams in the World Cup just the way you pick your teams in real life: arbitrarily, and with no real logic besides random preference.
Therefore, we are here to help by giving you a handy guide to General World Cup Likability for each team in the tournament from an American perspective. The key factors in determining each are as follows:
Underdog Status: Since there is no joy in rooting for obvious favorites, teams receive a hefty bonus for being massive underdogs. For teams like New Zealand -- who stand as much chance of advancing out of group stage as a paraplegic pig thrown into a tiger pit has of walking out of there unscathed -- this bonus is quite large indeed. The best teams are at the bottom by definition, because they need no help.
Quirk: Do they have cool shirts? Are their star players borderline mad? Do their fans bring flamethrowers and live chickens to matches? Most importantly, how is their hair? All of these make teams more or less likable.
National biases: These will become clear enough as the rankings go on, but if you harbor an irrational hatred for France because you got food poisoning there once or were talked into wasting money on an MC Solaar album by a gullible rock critic once, then feel free to exercise those. We did, and have the copy of "Nouveau Western" to prove it.
SPIN Magazine could really put you in some embarrassing social situations in the 1990s. Use these materials well, and proceed.
1. THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Your country needs you, and there is no debate. If you're not American and looking for a team, may we remind you we have 100% more Herculez now?
2. SOUTH AFRICA: The homeboys not only have sentiment on their side as the beloved hosts, but also boast a spiffy nickname (Bafana Bafana, literally meaning "The boys"), have a player named "Kermit Erasmus," and have a 32-year-old striker named Siyabona Nomvete whose legs might fall off at any second. They also have zero chance of advancing from their group, making them an underdog of unparalleled degree here.
Hair? Pretty standard, and the only weak point in their resume of World Cup Likeability.
3. NEW ZEALAND: Another hopeless underdog with likable quirk, but let's get this out of the way first: don't hold the 1982 World Cup anthem against them.
That wasn't their fault, really, and have acquired a much better anthem for this year's effort. They've only made the tourney once before, take your lame Lord of the Rings jokes well, and will likely flame out in the first round cheerfully. One downside: their team name (the All-Whites) isn't exactly user-friendly for a South African tournament.
4. NIGERIA: Dysfunctional, gifted, and spectacularly coiffed, the Nigerians stand a chance, sure. They also might flame out, fire their manager while stiffing him for six months' back pay, and have their luggage stolen by their own government halfway though the group stage. Nickname "The Super Eagles" can't really be beat; neither can their unpredictable selection of hairstyles. Prone to spurts of hyper-aggressive play and shot-taking from anywhere on the field. Due to chronic mismanagement, may be kicked out of their hotel in the middle of the cup when corrupt officials steal their per diem.
Hair? Braided, popped out in full afro, and spectacularly varied.
5. COTE D'IVOIRE: ESPN might be calling them Ivory Coast, but we here at SB Nation go by the CIA Factbook only in choosing our terminology. Les Elephants may not have Didier Drogba, but they have everything else to love: attacking football, a fantastic jersey, an awesome name, status as an African underdog playing on home soil, and this seal, the greatest in all of international soccer:
Hair? Braided elaborately.
6. AUSTRALIA: The team your girlfriend or wife will most likely choose due to adorable team nickname, "The Socceroos." Filled with rangy, mean-looking white guys who would not look out of place putting on brass knuckles prepping for a Kentucky barfight. Not very good, but certainly enthusiastic. Don't stand a chance, but can certainly put a pipe in someone else's spokes in the tourney, even if they do so in horrific, ugly fashion. Only team with three marsupials in the starting lineup. Goalie has venomous barbs to protect himself against overly aggressive strikers.
Hair? A team loaded with a few quality half and quarter mullets.
7. SLOVENIA: Another low-probability pick, but one with a spectacular fan cheer: "HE WHO IS NOT JUMPING IS NOT SLOVENIAN HEY! HEY! HEY!" The Dragons score in the nickname department and the celebration one, since the team does a well-coordinated belly slide in times of triumph:
They also play England in group play, so reserve some concern rays for them even if they'd all probably rather be out pursuing Slovenians' true passion: mountain climbing. In related news, Slovenians are ridiculously well-conditioned, and hate being called Slovakian.
8. GHANA: Have one of the finer nicknames in "The Black Stars." The connaisseur's choice for African squads, since Cameroon is the obvious popular choice after the injury to Cote d'Ivoire's Didier Drogba. Insanely aggressive. Feature three dudes named "Prince," "Junior," and "Sully." Have an Olympic team name of "The Black Meteors," which should count for something here. Are already complaining about accommodations like true divas. If you like geographically skinny countries, Ghana and Chile are your choices.
Hair? Potentially spectacular, and highly variable.
9. SOUTH KOREA: The ADD kids' pick, since the South Koreans attack, attack, and then continue attacking like Asian commuters elbowing each other out of the way on crowded subway platforms. All effort and little defense, so if you like Big 12 football or run-and-gun basketball, the South Koreans are a lock for your affections. Additionally, they have the team logo most easily used as a beer label:
Korea Football Association Lager: it tries really hard all the time, and offers up no defenses. That's drinkability at its finest, there.
Hair? Floppy and frantic.
10. CAMEROON: Africans, yes, but the aristocracy of African soccer and the continent's team that has gone deepest in the Cup by reaching the quarterfinal in 1990. Makes up for all this unflattering success by being The Indomitable Lions and by having the frenetic Samuel Eto'o, who plays soccer like a rabid chicken trying to kick a balled-up armadillo to death. A quality choice for those looking to back the home continent here.
11. HONDURAS: Big and mean, and just lucky to be there, which is appealing enough on its own. Their president also knows how to wear a cowboy hat properly, and this also earns them enough points as a team you might want to take an enthusiastic but hopeless flyer on in the group stage (and definitely no further).
12. SLOVAKIA: Godfather fans and Sopranos freaks, your team is Slovakia if only because midfielder Marek Hamsik has a fondness for being photographed with mafiosi and bragging out his ability to speed with impunity thanks to "the cops in Naples all knowing who I am." They're also quite stingy with allowing goals, so cheap people, style up with the Slovaks like now. Their fans also drink like fish even by soccer standards, if you're into that. Ironically, don't mind being called Slovenian, because Slovenes are very nice people.
13. CHILE: Don't sleep on Chile, the most tactically complex side according to the geeky and necessary Zonal Marking. They won't advance, mind you, but it should be a fiery and spectacular pyrrhic victory for whomever gets on the end of their goal cannon. Additional selling point: Chile is very long and skinny on the map, so for those fans of geographically anorexic countries there is no other choice.
14. ALGERIA: Boast a fantastic nickname, "The Desert Foxes." Fans capable of extreme violence, as some unfortunate Egyptian fans found out this year when a spat between Egypt and Algeria in soccer resulted in rioting and the delay of oil shipments between the two countries. Goalkeeper Lounes Gaouaoui has what is believed to be the only surname in the world with seven vowels in a row. Don't stand a chance of winning the whole thing, and are generally likable (except when playing the US, of course).
Hair? Close-cropped, because it's hot in the desert and even soccer players have their practical limits.
15. URUGUAY: A charmingly retro pick, since Uruguay did host and win the first World Cup in 1930. A good team to pull for if you love violence, since Uruguay eschews any notion of actually scoring in favor of booting the kneecaps off their opponents and picking up red cards with glee. The Baltimore Ravens of the Cup.
16. PARAGUAY: If you like landlocked countries, this is your bet. Smart uniforms, too, which is nice because the pretty colors liven up their otherwise stultifying style of play. Shots all around if they score two goals, and for three, finish the whole bottle.
17. JAPAN: "Samurai Blue" is a hell of a name, and recent strange roster choices have reduced their chances in the World Cup to increase their general hopelessness here (and therefore their inherent likability). If you lean toward Asian imports for your World Cup adoptees, they remain a fine choice, though not as manic as the South Koreans by any stretch.
Hair? Floppy, and often dyed to match favorite anime characters.
18. DENMARK: Butter cookies. Ohhh, sweet butter cookies. These alone should engender some kind of warmth in your heart for "Olsen's Eleven," as should their general skill and effort despite a thin line. Additional charm: their fans are roligans, the anti-hooligans of Europe and generally beloved among soccer fans.
19. NETHERLANDS: Play in a hypnotic shade of orange, and certainly are very close as teammates. Very, very close:
As favored as they will be in many of the matches, the Dutch remain really likable here for their attacking style of play, and are even more likable now that dive-y forward Arjen Robben is missing at least their first match with a hamstring injury. Nicknames come strong here, too: "The Flying Dutchmen" or "Clockwork Orange."
20. GREECE: If their stagnant style of play weren't enough to cost them points here, their Euro 2004 championship reduced their underdog status to previously unimaginable level. There is an upside to their country's financial ruin, though, since the implosion of the Greek economy and subsequent fallout just made any potential European vacations a lot cheaper. So they've got that going for them, at least.
21. SPAIN: Fans favor rich hams, promiscuity, red wine, and dancing until 3 a.m.. Style of play is goal-friendly, highly skilled, and festive. Obviously gorged with talent from La Liga and blessed with a killer nickname, "The Fury." We're short on downsides because separating the Spanish team from the thought of tasty tapas and going out in Barcelona until six in the morning is clouding our judgment, so yeah: they're too good to be likable, but too sexy to resist.
22. GERMANY: A hard sell based on their skill and popularity, but nasty, aggressive, and precise soccer never loses favor here. Fearsomely nicknamed with a moniker that could double as a metal band name: Die Mannschaft. Otherwise, far too good and predictable to like.
23. ENGLAND: The Notre Dame of international football, forever moaning on about how fantastic 1966 was. If you are American, you may not root for them until after group stage, because tyranny cannot be tolerated. Have Wayne Rooney, the Super Chav who, if American, would hang out with Jared Allen in the offseason killing deer with spears and drinking beer out of cans. Prefer tea to coffee, which is how you lose a global empire in half a century.
24. SERBIA: A nation with a PR problem to start with, Serbia would just like you to ignore words like "genocide" and "sorry for starting World War I" and focus on their burly defender Nemanja Vidic and their coach Raddy Antic, who as a player really did look like the Balkan Christopher Walken. Otherwise...yeah. Serbia's got an uphill battle for your random affections, especially with fellow Yugoslav alumni Slovenia acting all charming and fun over there.
25. ARGENTINA: More likable than they've been in recent years simply for two factors: the incomparable Lionel Messi and the deranged team management of Diego Maradona. On one hand, you have the possibility of watching the greatest footballer alive rip his way through the tourney as no player in recent history has. On the other, you have the possibility of Diego Maradona inserting himself into the game in short shorts and no shirt in the second half of the World Cup final. Either way, for a dominant favorite they remain remarkably likable and capable of generating chaos in both positive and negative directions, and thus land higher than they might otherwise.
Hair? Shorter than in previous years, and no longer reminiscent of a crew of Nickelback roadies.
26. BRAZIL. The style of play isn't even what it once was: reliant on counter-attacking, and nowhere near the free-dancing sambalero play of the 1970s Selecao. Skill still remains intergalactically unfair at times, but each player has eight girlfriends, each more beautiful than the next, and really there's nothing likable about that kind of level of masculine overkill. (Anything after three is just bad taste, really.) A thing of beauty, yes, but almost alien to our species in terms of the game and how they play it.
27. FRANCE: Likability factor very, very low as they've won the Cup before, made the final in 2006, and are generally successful and very, very French about it. Coming off one of the more controversial qualifiers in European history where Thierry Henry's blatant handball caused an international political furor. Final nail in likability: French. Only real selling point? Their coach is functionally insane, and relies on astrology to determine lineups.
28. MEXICO: Mexico may not be pulled for at any time unless you are actually Mexican. If they play Italy somehow, root for a meteor to strike the stadium. There are no exceptions to this rule.
29. ITALY: Fantastically talented returning World Cup champs, and therefore near the bottom of the likability rankings instantly. They'd be here anyway for being diving, theatrical, and possessed with some of the stupidest goal celebrations of all time. (If I see one more Italian soccer player suck his thumb, I will RPG the nearest television.) They need no help from you or anyone else, because they are very good, very beloved by their home country, and everything bad Americans mock about the sport of soccer.
30. THE DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF KOREA: You just can't. I know, it might be ironic, like the asshole hipster wearing a CCCP jacket to watch a match. Aren't the players trying just because they love the game? Sure they are, but they're not going over the fence to defect because the DPRK's government probably has their relatives under armed guard while they're abroad, and would do horrific things to them if they left. You might joke, "Ha ha, Italy's evil," but no, you can actually say "The DPRK is evil." It's a fact, and as a fan, rooting for them is simply not done no matter how many layers of irony you pile onto it.
PORTUGAL. No data found for "likability."
SWITZERLAND. We remain neutral regarding the Swiss.