SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Martin Rogers discusses Russia’s first time as a World Cup host, the underdogs of the tournament and if a South American country can their its World Cup in Europe since 1958.
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There will be no “America First” in this World Cup. No America anywhere, for that matter.
The U.S. will be sitting out the world’s biggest party and, as the old saying goes, misery loves company. Let your friends break out their Neymar jerseys or go ga-ga for Iceland. Every team that begins play later this week in Russia is flawed, and you’ll spare yourself a lot of pain over the next six weeks if you recognize now the ways that they, too, will break your heart.
So let’s rip the Band-Aid off and start knocking out your would-be favorites.
PORTUGAL: Cristiano Ronaldo might be brilliant, but his whining and diving makes him soccer’s equivalent of the third grader who’s always starting trouble on the playground and then tattling on other people. You can’t root for that.
MOROCCO: Not after it tried to steal a World Cup on U.S. soil! The United States, along with Canada and Mexico, had what was considered a gimme bid for the 2026 tournament until Morocco came along. The North Americans will probably still prevail Wednesday, but the Lions of the Atlas still deserve the stinkeye.
(Morocco is on borrowed time, anyway, having been drawn into Group B with Spain and Portugal.)
More: Every World Cup champion
COSTA RICA: The Americans have no one to blame but themselves for missing the World Cup for the first time since 1986. But the Ticos certainly didn’t help.
There was the stunning 2-0 upset at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. Even worse was Costa Rica’s 2-1 loss to Panama on the final night of qualifying, which sealed the Americans’ fate. Costa Rica took an early lead in a game Panama had to win to leapfrog the U.S. for the final automatic berth, only to give up the go-ahead goal in the 87th minute.
Thanks for nothing, Ticos.
PANAMA: See above. And to add insult to injury, replays show the tying goal shouldn’t have counted. Which would have made that late goal a moot point. Not that anyone’s holding a grudge or anything.
ICELAND: Borrrrriiiing. What’s the fun of jumping on an underdog’s bandwagon when everyone else is, too? Have some originality.
JAPAN: This isn’t the Women’s World Cup.
ENEMIES OF THE STATE: Half the field could qualify for this, but Mexico has to head the list. Despite there being no record of any Australians offending anyone, ever, President Donald Trump did hang up on their prime minister in one of his first days in office so that means we’re constitutionally bound to hate them.
Let’s not even get started on Iran.
SOUTH KOREA: It’s the wrong Korea to fawn over these days.
URUGUAY: You cannot be grossed out by Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand’s penchant for licking opponents and then turn around and embrace Luis Suarez.
NIGERIA: Nigeria would actually be the ideal team to embrace, what with its fabulous nickname – The Super Eagles – and jersey that’s all the rage. Except the jersey is almost impossible to get, and you can’t claim fandom if you’re not able to look the part.
BRAZIL: Still reeling from that 7-1 loss to Germany in the semifinals four years ago. On home soil.
THE FAVORITES: It would be easy to root for Germany, Argentina, France, Belgium or Spain. It’s also why you can’t. It’s too easy.
RUSSIA: Does anything really need to be said about the inappropriateness of rooting for a country that tried to hijack our elections? And did hijack an Olympics with an elaborate, state-sponsored doping scheme?
Besides, the Russians are bad, the lowest-ranked country yet to host a World Cup.
THE OTHERS: Colombia, Croatia, Denmark, Egypt, Peru, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia – they’re all fine. Some of them might even make a run. But short of Colombia declaring public holidays on knockout round gamedays, there isn’t much about these teams that stirs a whole lot of excitement.
Which leaves us just one team. There are plenty of reasons to nitpick England, but the British tabloids have that covered. And then some. Plus, this next month is going to be a constant reminder that England lost this World Cup long before it began, with FIFA choosing Russia to host instead.
Still, things could be worse. Just ask all of America.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.