Later on today the Russia 2018 World Cup begins, and as Wales failed to qualify, I have to pick a foreign country to root for. Luckily, I’ve had lots of practice as Wales’ 2016 campaign is the only one I’ve really had skin in the game for, and it broke me.
So, the question is, out of the 32 nations in the running for the trophy, who do I pick?
First of all, I’ll address the England question. My Dad is English, so some may be wondering why as the metaphorical Land of my Fathers failed to qualify I’m not rooting for the literal one. Well, it’s not that complicated. While I may have got behind England in 1996 to the extent I wept as Southgate ballsed up his penalty, I’ve experienced a lot since then.
And a lot of that is that some English people are massive bellends. I know not all of my neighbours across the bridge are, but there are a lot that are. I went to a Welsh university, but Welsh students were a minority and dealing with a certain breed of Englishman soured me on the country, as does watching the predictable tournament circus unfold.
- England qualify.
- One player is singled out as the Great White Hope. If the player is carrying a knock this adds drama. (This year it’s Harry Kane, filling a role previously filled by Wayne Rooney, David Beckham and Paul Gasgcoine)
- Another player in the squad is singled out as a “gamble” or “risky” inclusion. He is also criticised for some perceived flaw- laziness, being a bit flash, not being English enough. (Raheem Stirling for 2018, but in ’90 it was John Barnes. Another player who got a lot of flak was Owen Hargreaves, which is odd as in the 2006 QF he was the only player to convert his penalty, while missers Lampard, Gerrard and Carragher are held in higher regard).
- Some pundits advise caution, and fans talk about not getting carried away.
- England get through the group stage. Probably second in their group or having squeaked into first in solid, but hardly amazing performances.
- The fans begin to get carried away.
- They win their first knock out game against a smaller nation.
- The Quarter Finals are the end of the road with the fans utterly stunned as they are either (a) outclassed or (b) screw up a shoot out.
- The press single out one player or referee decision to blame the exit on. They invoke memories of 1966 and we are treated to someone with a St George’s cross on their face crying.
- The manager is fired and the players are slagged off for continuing their lives and being seen smiling because they should be walking through the streets flogging themselves and lamenting for at least six years.
Seeing this play out as an outsider is rather depressing, because it’s predictable and massively unfair. A team is eleven men, it seems unfair to pin it all on one poor bastard. It’s even more unfair when it’s clearly because the tabloids have decided to enter the “tear them down” part of the cycle.
Also, I don’t think I could stand an England win because I would never hear the end of it. It’s been 52 years since the last time they won and I hear about Hurst, Moore, Banks et al. frequently. Hell, the final goal is probably the most played historic footage in Britain.
And before any English fans take issue, can you say hand on heart that you’d genuinely support Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland if they qualified and you didn’t? Honestly?
This isn’t “anyone but England” by the way. If the final was England vs Russia, or Switzerland, or Saudi Arabia, I would have to concede that I’d want England to win. But I’d probably regret it within weeks.
So, who’s it going to be. Well, I’ve narrowed it down to four.
Underdogs. Minnows. Viking warriors.
One of the best things about Euro 2016 was the success of the Icelandic team. Coming from a pretty small country they arrived with little expectation and probably would have been a footnote if not for two things. Firstly, their fans, who were massively passionate and intimidating thanks to their primal “Thunder Clap” chant. Seriously, even on TV that was awesome, in the stadium it must have been immense.
Secondly, they more than held their own. They passed through their group undefeated, having managed a solid draw against the Portuguese, the eventual winners. In the knock out stages they dumped out England in a giant killing that warmed the heart and while they may have been thrashed by the French, they still did themselves proud and impressed.
I’m going for the Germans because when I was asked who I thought might win it, they were my pick. I also like the fact that they could match Brazil’s five wins and they boast a decent squad. Also, I’ve never fully understood the anti-German feeling a lot of British fans have. World War II was a long time ago, people, let it go.
I don’t know what it is about Mexico, but I’ve long had a soft spot for them. They’ve never won it before, or even come close.
My go to international team on FIFA, and boasting some world class players like Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard. Plus, they need something other than waffles to brag about.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO