In addition to making your mornings suck less with Ben and Giselle, Dana Wessel is Go 96.3’s resident soccer expert, and an ardent supporter of MN United, Team USA and Chelsea. With the World Cup kicking off later this week, Dana’s inbox has been flooded with questions from listeners and coworkers, so he decided to put together a little primer about the biggest sporting tournament in the world.
So I keep seeing commercials and tweets about the World Cup. What’s going on? Has it started?
Not yet! Starts Thursday at 10:00am central time with a match between Russia and Saudi Arabia.
OK, great. Not too interested in those teams. When does the US play?
Wait, are those tears in your eyes?
No! I am fine! I swear! I just momentarily thought about the scene on the dock in The Notebook.
Oh, that one in the rain? When she asks why he didn’t write and he is like I wrote you 365 letters?
Yes! And he says “It wasn’t over! It STILL isn’t over!”
Seriously. SO good. Just so good.
OK, but back to the World Cup. When does the US play?
Yeah, they didn’t qualify for the first time since 1986.
Well then why should I even care about this thing then?
Because it is the biggest sporting event in the world! It only happens every four years. The entire world is watching. Over 3.2 BILLION people watched the 2014 World Cup final in Brazil.
OK, so I know very little about soccer. Are there any names I would even recognize in this thing?
Absolutely. Even casual sports fans will recognize Lionel Messi from Argentina and Cristiano Ronaldo from Portugal.
Yeah, they sound familiar. Ronaldo is the one with the abs that always takes his shirt off, right? So are these two just going to steamroll to the finals?
Not necessarily, neither Argentina or Portugal are favorites. Ronaldo and Messi are two of the best players to ever live and, at ages 33 and 30, this is their last realistic last chance to finally lift a World Cup. Messi led Argentina to the final in 2014 but they lost to Germany. The furthest Portugal has gotten with Ronaldo was a fourth place finish in 2006. Both could win (more so Argentina), but don’t expect a stroll.
OK, so who are the real favorites then?
All the usual suspects. Germany is the betting favorite at most sports books to win consecutive World Cups for the first time since Brazil in 1958/1962. Brazil, France Spain and Argentina are all right behind them in the odds books. Belgium is also a trendy pick to win their first World Cup.
But rooting for the favorites is pretty boring. Who should I root for as a casual fan who wants upsets and underdogs?
Iceland! These guys were the darlings of the 2016 EURO tournament when they made a run to the quarterfinals. This is their first ever World Cup. Their supporters are intense, passionate, and embody the best of sports fandom. Local Vikings fans will also feel a special kinship to Iceland because they are the founders of the SKOL chant that Minnesota adopted.
Anybody we don’t want to win?
Well, yeah, screw Mexico. Don’t misinterpret this, I love our border neighbors to the south and hate the rhetoric that our current administration spews towards them, but they are our biggest soccer rival. Seeing them do well in a World Cup we couldn’t even qualify for would be devastating. If they advance passed the Round of 16 I am just going to watch this video on repeat in an isolation chamber.
Alright, you are talking me into this thing. World Cup games are usually at weird times. What time zones are we looking at this time around?
The World Cup this year is in Russia…
I know, I know. Screw Russia. But the time zones work out pretty well. Matches will typically start between 7am and 1pm. Big time sporting events in odd hours are the best and these are great. The 1pm kicks will be perfect for taking nooners at the office and maybe or maybe not going back to the office.
So speaking of ditching the office to drink, where are the places to go? Brit’s Pub still the spot?
Yeah, Brit’s Pub is always the most popular spot in the Twin Cities. They have three floors and multiple rooms of TVs, including deck space and, most importantly, the giant big screen on the rooftop lawn where you can sprawl out with a pint in the sun. Doesn’t get much better than that.
The Nomad is another great soccer bar over near Seven Corners in Minneapolis. They will be open for every match, including the early ones. Other than that, I am sure most bars that are open will during a match will put it on for you. What else are they going to show at 10am?
Are these things on regular TV or do I have to go the bar?
The matches will be on FOX or Fox Sports 1, so even those with just the bunny ears will be able to watch matches on regular ol’ FOX. Just about every cable and satellite package has FS1 so watching at home shouldn’t be an issue. 1990 this is not.
So how does this thing work? March Madness style or what?
Kind of! All 32 teams start off with pool play in groups of four where you get three points for a win and one point for a draw. Top two teams from each group advance to the Round of 16 for knockout play where it becomes a Sweet 16-style bracket for the best trophy in sports.
OK, you actually have me kind of excited for this, but it doesn’t start until Thursday? What are we supposed to do until then?
I dunno…wanna watch The Notebook?
You read my mind.