Sports

United States? Italy? England? How do you choose which team to cheer for?

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REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

National flags of the countries that will participate in the 2014 World Cup decorate a commercial gallery in Sao Paulo.

32 national teams representing 32 nations. Not sure who to root for in the upcoming World Cup? No worries, we've got some help from The World's soccer editor William Troop and Roger Bennett, from the soccer podcast, Men in Blazers.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

Marco Werman:  William Troop, how do you choose a soccer team and what's your process?

William Troop: What I tell everybody is the best thing you can do is choose with your heart and not with your head. I'll give you an example. I could root for a number of different countries. I could root for Mexico, the country where I was born. I could root for the US, the country where I live. Or I could root for Italy, the country where I grew up. And guess what? Italy wins. It just reminds me of when I first started playing and rooting for my childhood teams.

Roger Bennett:  It's truly an American question.  Where I come from — Liverpool, England — you are saddled with the team that you grew up with, for better or for worse. Unfortunately in my case, it's England which is for the worse right now, which is remarkably underachieving. The English jersey is like a suit of armor that just weighs them down when they take the field and they wilt. Normally its penalties which are their poison of choice, crushing a nation.

The USA, I have to tell you, what a gorgeous group of gents. The basic question for your audience is, "where was I born?” If you believe in USA, you're also backing a winner. I believe they're going to win the World Cup in 2014.

Marco: Wait a minute.  Are you kidding me?

Roger: I believe, in the middle of July, Clint Dempsey is going to wipe his hands on his jersey, look up and see Sepp Blatter, the FIFA honcho, hold out that World Cup trophy. And Clint will lift it up over his head and America is going to fall in love with the sport it's long kept at arm’s length. But that's a dream. It may not come true.

Marco: I think we've got a dissenting opinion from William Troop.

Roger: William Troop may disagree, but the real question is who would be your second team if the US team defies my expectations and does not win at all.

Marco: OK, let's pretend the US defies your expectations and doesn't win the World Cup. Where would you go for second place?

Roger:It depends on what kind of person you are. There are so many gorgeous teams that are playing. And you look at them and see the jerseys. You are drawn to Croatia with that red and white checkered pattern that harkens back to the kingdom of Croatia in 1525.  Then it depends on what kind of person you like, what kind of value you like, what kind of literature you like. If you like the movies of John Woo or the Clockwork Orange, then you're immediately drawn to say, Lionel Messi and Argentina.   

Marco: How do you get from Clockwork Orange to Lionel Messi?

Roger: The way Argentina plays football so beautifully. But also with a true respect for physicality, violence, the dark arts, whatever it takes to win. The classic team in the 1950s was called, "The Angels with Dirty Faces."  And they play a beautiful style of football called 'la Nuestra' where whatever you need today, would be it, beautiful or pragmatic. Of course, it's winning that really counts.

Lionel Messi, one of the world's great players, has never, ever played well at a World Cup. This is his third. The team has gone out in the quarter finals, both times, but this is a team that's now completely built around him. Last time they had (Diego) Maradona, a gentleman who many of you may actually know by name. He was Rob Ford before there was a Rob Ford — and the campaign was a bit of a mess. It will be very different this time. And if you support Lionel Messi and Argentina, you may support a team that will go deep on rival Brazil's turf.  And that will be a remarkable, dramatic narrative to cheer for.

Marco: So Roger, you're laying out your flow chart on how you pick your own team. Let's say, you're a soccer virgin in this country and you don't necessarily have an affection for the national team. Give us some guidelines on how go about picking a team to root for?

Roger: If you like watching Game of Thrones on a Sunday night, go and pick Spain. That midfield, the tiny, tiny, little cluster of gentlemen is like watching four or five Tyrion Lannisters just troddle all over that field, passing that ball to each other in an inevitable style, that they call 'tiki taka" — tiny little passes and movements where they paper cut their opponents to death. They're the defending champions. People are counting them out. They're aging now, as opposed to the team that took the field in 2010.

William: I have a question for you, Marco. Who do you root for and how do you go about choosing them?

Marco: I guess it should be the United States because I was born in the United States. But I spent so much time in West Africa and then I was at the BBC, working for the BBC African Service in 1990, when Argentina played Cameroon in the first match and my heart just went for Cameroon. They had the old guy, Roger Milla, the retired police chief who was in his late 40s.  And I just thought, "I'm rooting for Cameroon." I put £5 on Cameroon to win; odds were 8-to-1. And they won. I took my office down to the pub for a drink. So, it's Cameroon, this time. It's always Cameroon, I love that team.

William:  And Cameroon has this great crest on their jerseys with the indomitable lions on it.

Roger:  Most of things in life should be indomitable. I adore them. I've saved you five bucks this time Marco. But in 1990, they were finally knocked out by England in a very hard-fought game. Where the English manager, and this is a classic way to surmise English football, he said, "we didn't disrespect Cameroon, we didn't underestimate them. We just didn't think they'd be that game." 

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