Many are choosing the hot underdog from a cool place.
The FIFA World Cup 2018 has just kicked off in Russia, but for American fans, it may feel like there isn’t a lot to get excited about.
The U.S. Men’s National team failed to qualify for the tournament for the first time since 1986, after a shocking loss to Trinidad and Tobago in a qualifier match last October.
So who should America’s most devoted soccer fans root for now? It’s all too easy to cheer for favorites like Germany, Argentina, Brazil, France, Belgium, or Spain. Instead, why not choose the hot, new underdog from a cool place: Iceland.
Iceland is the smallest country to ever make the World Cup with a population of around 334,000. That’s similar to an American city the size of Corpus Christi, Texas, or Lexington, Kentucky, sending a team to the Cup. Plus, Iceland’s head coach, Heimir Hallgrimsson, is a part-time dentist who usually goes to a pub a few hours before game time to set his lineup and chat with fans.
Even though Iceland’s ascent to the top of the soccer world is a shock to many, Hallgrimsson and his staff still think they deserve respect.
“If people still think it’s a kind of Cinderella story, and that in some way we don’t deserve it, then they underestimate us,” he told The Guardian. “So I kind of like it when people come here and ask: ‘Are you still a dentist?’ In my opinion, it benefits us but I know some people among our staff who would like more respect, professionally, than they are getting.”
Plus, as a newly-minted Iceland supporter, you can get in on the best cheer going down at the Cup, the Viking Thunder Clap.
There is one downside to rooting for Iceland, however. Oddsmakers have its chances at winning the Cup at 200 to 1 and it’s not expected to advance beyond its group.
Not sold on Iceland?
The folks over at The FiveThirtyEight have created a quiz which will help choose the best team for you.
But American soccer fans may have another reason to cheer again soon enough. On June 13, the FIFA Congress voted to approve a U.S.-led bid to bring the 2026 World Cup to North America. The globe’s largest sporting event will take place across the U.S., Mexico, and Canada.
The plan calls for 60 of the 80 games to be played in the United States, while Canada and Mexico will host 10 a piece. The final is expected to be played just outside of New York City at MetLife Stadium.
The U.S. shouldn’t have a hard time making it in 2026, because the tournament will expand from 32 to 48 teams. But if it still doesn’t make it, there’s always Iceland.
Boom — Boom — Clap.