Tomorrow, the World’s Greatest Tournament kicks off in Russia as the 2018 FIFA World Cup starts. Naturally, there’s plenty of #content floating around, but you’re here so give us that sweet click money. Let’s compare our ACC friends to some of the teams you’ll be watching beginning at 11 a.m. ET over the next few weeks.
To the schadenfreude!
Egypt will go as far as Mo Salah drags them, and if you don’t know who Salah is, go Google him. Back? SEE?! Meanwhile, BC is going to go as far as AJ Dillon can drag them. Will that be a bowl? The Orange will probably play a big factor in that.
Supremely talented? Check. Some of the most fearsome lines ever assembled? Check. History of underperformance in the biggest moments? Check. Problem is that they’re now motivated with what seems to be the right leadership to justify their favorite status.
Russia’s only here because they’re hosting the damn thing, with plenty of shadiness along the way. Meanwhile, Duke football is only around the ACC because they’re one of the “hosts,” and want to be around for basketball. Make any other correlations as you wish.
Ruthlessly consistent and talented, both Florida State and Germany are always one of the favorites and always have some collection of talent that everyone envies due to talent pipelines in their backyards. While neither may win as often as their fans may want, they’re always in the final game to remind you the world is cruel and unchanging.
The option of soccer is the voodoo of the 4-5-1 hard counter Costa Rica has now made an international staple. When things click thanks to familiarity and some consistent above average talent, both teams can make a run that catches everyone by surprise but never quite knocks off the true elite.
Both teams are fundamentally solid, if often overrated locally and underrated nationally, but carry plenty of baggage. Louisville’s got bagman scandals and municipal scams, while Mexico can’t hold onto a coach, make it past the quarterfinals of ANY tournament, and both have their issues with supposed mobs.
You want the sexy pick, with all of the flash and a paper team with more talent than you ever thought could actually exist? That’s awesome and all, but there’s little proof that it can all come together, with shocking upsets and disappointing results to clearly inferior opponents keeping the hard-core prognosticators away from the hype.
Remember like 4-5 years ago when they burst onto the scene and were everyone’s favorite trendy pick to make it big in a few years? Both UNC and Colombia found ways to let it all fall apart, with players not quite panning out and failing to recapture any of that momentum. But they’re still here, decently talented and make enough noise every now again you won’t underestimate them, but you probably won’t be too challenged if pretty good.
N.C. State = Iceland
The media loves both of these teams, but there’s a glaring problem. Anyone not enamored with past performance is going to see less talent and an over reliance on defense that’s not going to work a second time around.
These teams are probably fine, but Pitt has Kenny Pickett and South Korea has Son Heung-Min. On paper, each of these teams is reliant on these young, talented players to take them from “fine” to “good,” but the reality is the former had One Good Game against an overrated sleepwalking opponent, while the later had One Good Season with one of the best goal scorers on the planet.
One team is based entirely around Eric Dungey, the other is based entirely around Xherdan Shaqiri. Both teams NEED this nationally overlooked superstar to perform to have any semblance of offense, otherwise their defenses break and crumble and you’re losing big to teams you didn’t know could score that much. But when those superstars are on? The team is humming with the upset to mess up a favorite somewhere along the way.
Both are pretty below average teams, the difference being that one is actually pretty open and honest about it. Both have also found out how to game the system enough to start building some kind of culture. Call me in 10 years, they may have figured out something by then.
The actual “Dark Horse Team,” because they have both talent at all the key positions and something resembling a cohesive strategy, though I’d take Justin Fuente over Roberto Martinez any day of the week.
Both teams are built around the idea of the sum of the parts being greater than any one cog, and in the case of Sweden, having a pretty public falling out with one of those cogs. Because of this lack of star power, the media has pretty much overlooked these teams, while the reality is that both are pretty solid and have the ability to pull some upsets.