It’s down to 16 teams; single game elimination in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Just like in March madness, it’s “survive and advance” time. So I decided to match each country with their corresponding college basketball program. If you’re a college hoops fan, but still need a rooting interest in the World Cup, this will help you pick a team.
I’m still not sure how much Americans have embraced soccer; as of yet. I do know they’ve embraced skipping work to go drink and watch sports during the day.
1. Algeria = Penn State
They do, once in a great while, qualify for the tournament. They don’t usually go very far once they get there though. The order of teams here is alphabetical, not a power ranking. It’s the only reason Algeria is first.
2. Argentina = North Carolina
They both wear light blue, and have a very proud tradition of winning. They can boast the best player of the previous generation (Michael Jordan and Diego Maradona) as well as the best player in this generation (Tyler Hansbrough and Lionel Messi). Yes, we hate admitting that; but Psycho T arguably deserves that status (college level only, not professional obviously).
3. Belgium = Maryland
They both used to routinely make deep tournament runs; and they both each have one glorious chapter in their history book. Belgium had a fourth-place finish in 1986, Maryland won it all in 2002. Neither team usually makes the sweet 16 these days, as the Terps have been rebuilding for awhile now. Yes, Belgium found their stride in this time, but they failed to even qualify for the Cup in ’06 and ’10.
4. Brazil = Duke
Futbol is everything in Brazil, just like basketball is everything in North Carolina. And these two are about as dynastic as it gets. Brazil has won the World Cup five times, more than any other nation. And as ESPN will certainly tell you each winter: Duke is the biggest and boldest program in college hoops.
5. Chile = Arkansas
There’s only been “one shining moment” to speak of. Chile had a third-place finish in 1962, and the Razorbacks won it all in 1994. However, it’s been a very long time since either side has really accomplished anything, and those glory days seem like a very long time ago.
6. Colombia = Wake Forest
They reside in a part of the world where the game IS EVERYTHING, and all their neighbors have had, as Borat would say, “great success.” Wake is very close to UNC-Chapel Hill (5 titles), Duke (4) and NC State (2). The Demon Deacons have yet to join the Carolina national championship club. Likewise for Colombia, they’re not far from Brazil and Argentina, the Duke and Carolina of South American soccer. Of course, this Colombian team could be the hottest in the tourney right now. So I guess this side would be the 2004-05 Wake Forest team of Chris Paul.
7. Costa Rica = Gonzaga
Costa Rica went to the knockout round of 16 in their first World Cup, but until just now haven’t accomplished much since then. Gonzaga shocked the college hoops literati with their Elite Eight run in 1999. They haven’t been able to advance that far since then. They’ve been to a few sweet sixteens, but haven’t succeeded when they’ve been favorites. Both the Costa Ricans and the Bulldogs are so called “mid-majors.”
8. France = Kansas
Both France and KU have won it all; and they’re accustomed to making deep runs in the tourney in years they don’t win it outright. They’ve got red, white and blue uniforms and that rooster on the French kit somewhat resembles the Jayhawks mascot. However, the main reason they’re paired is that both sides completely bombed in their most recent tournament, despite all that elite talent they possess.
The French will try to change the discussion versus Nigeria.
9. Germany = UConn
The Germans have three World Cup championships and seven appearances in the final. UConn have four national titles and five Final Fours. So both programs are as elite as it gets. Despite the fact that everyone hates them. No one really enjoys seeing Connecticut in the Final Four anymore; we’re sick of it. And every American action movie made from the 1960s through the 1990s had either Germans or Russians as the bad guys. That kind of PR is difficult to undo.
And this World Cup promo poster doesn’t exactly help:
10. Greece = Michigan State
This one is obvious, with the Spartans name, and the Greek imagery all over the MSU program. ESPN World Cup Analyst Alexi Lalas, of Greek descent, referred to Ethniki’s victory over Ivory Coast as “a typical Greek way to win.” And that game mirrored how Greece usually performs in the World Cup, as well as a typical Michigan St. season:
start fast, struggle in the middle, put yourself in a bind with your own mistakes, but get it done at the end. Both Greece and the Spartans seem to try harder when it really counts.
You’ve seen Tom Izzo acquire signature wins in November, some head-scratching losses in January/February, but of course, do very well in March. Also, both teams have issues closing the deal. Greece has never reached the Final Four of the World Cup, and although Michigan State has won two national titles, their last six Elite Eight appearances have all ended in disappointment. Since 2000, they’ve only reached the title game once- a blowout loss to Carolina.
No, this analogy isn’t perfect, but like Lalas said “we all have a little Greek in us.”
Yes, we all like to let our hair down and party once in awhile like they do in East Lansing, Michigan. OPA!
11. Mexico = Notre Dame
If you only know one thing about Mexico’s national team, it’s playoff failure. They’ve reached the sweet 16 in the past five World Cups, but haven’t advanced beyond that in any of them. Mike Brey leads his Fighting Irish to the NCAA Tournament just about every season; and they almost NEVER survive the opening weekend of the tournament.
Mexican Coach Miguel Herrera is doing all he can to build new associations with El Tri; like his excessive celebrations and Mel Kiper Jr like hairdo. Herrera looks like a bizarre hybrid of Pete Rose, Tom Crean and Chris Farley.
12. Netherlands = Florida
Soccer is far from the first thing you think of when Holland is brought up. Marijuana, Amsterdam, fine art, windmills, wooden shoes, putting mayonnaise on fries…but you can’t deny how great they are at soccer. They were runner-up on three occasions; and also have a fourth place finish in 1998 on top of that.When Gainesville comes up, you think…Tim Tebow, Steve Spurrier, football in general, sun, co-eds, drinking…hoops isn’t exactly top of mind. I almost paired Holland, who wear blue and orange with the Illini; another blue and orange team. Why?
Because both Illinois and Oranje are the greatest program never to have won it all.
However, Florida is a better program (two national titles, five Final Fours, eight Elite 8s) so they analogize better. And there aren’t many better in the coaching game than Louis van Gaal and Billy Donovan.
13. Nigeria = Loyola University Chicago
Nigeria made the round of 16 in their first two World Cup appearances. But they haven’t won a World Cup game since 1998, and they’re extremely obscure. There hasn’t been a whole lot of Nigeria coverage by the media, and you don’t often see the Nigeria hashflag in your Twitter timeline, do you? Loyola is even more irrelevant, with their glory days even more forgotten.
The Ramblers won a national title in the 1960s, the only one that the state of Illinois has ever produced, but no one in Chicago remembers they exist. 99.999% of local sports fans can’t even name the coach.
14. Switzerland = Northwestern
The Swiss went 20 years without even qualifying for a World Cup. A drought like that needs a partner who…..yes, Northwestern, the only team from a power conference to have never reached the NCAA Tournament. Also, both of these teams are impossible to hate. The Swiss are known for their neutrality, and no one despises Northwestern. Most of the local Chicago media acts as a de facto PR Department when they “cover the team.”
In a weird coincidence, NU’s student tailgate party zone is actually named Fitzerland.
16. USA = Florida State
Like the Netherlands/Florida analogy, here’s a place where the sport isn’t all that high on the priority list, but they’re pretty decent anyway. When you think FSU, you think football first; and second through…65th.
You also think party school, sunshine etc. With America, soccer is far from the favorite sport, but #USA has made it to round of 16 in three of the last four tournaments. FSU (see even the abbreviations are similar! U-S-A! U-S-A!) has advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament eight times.
Also, Florida might be the most American of states. No other state embodies the political diversity and ethnic melting pot that Is these United States. Also, every “Ugly American” stereotype held throughout the world, is on display the most in Florida. Or as Homer Simpson put it “Florida? That’s America’s wang.”
16. Uruguay = Indiana
Uruguay won the World Cup twice, the most recent time in 1950. Indiana has five national titles, the most recent of which in 1987. Both programs are solid today as well, but the main connection is that both are well known for the guy who is the biggest (hmmm, how can I put this delicately?) “jerk” in the entire sport.
Luis Suarez seems to be about as wholesome and likable as Bobby Knight. Both individuals have a long tradition of committing disgusting acts; and both are,unfortunately for IUBB and La Celeste, the face of the program.
Honorable (or dishonorable) mention: England = Kentucky
Too bad England crashed out so badly, because they had perhaps the most obvious and natural college basketball program comparison of all: Kentucky. Both even have the same abbreviation (UK). England is not the entire United Kingdom, but it is the most dominant nation and focal point of the UK. And UK basketball is the most over-covered and over-analyzed college basketball team on the planet. Because there’s always a demand for Kentucky analysis and discussion.
Just like England is the most over-analyzed and over-discussed world football team. Again, because fans demand coverage. Big cat nicknames too (Three Lions and Wildcats) John Calipari and Roy Hodgson are both polarizing figures, well you get the idea. I guess this England team is the 2013 Wildcats NIT squad.
Paul M. Banks owns The Sports Bank.net, an affiliate of Fox Sports. He’s also a frequent guest on talk shows across the world. Banks has been featured in hundreds of media outlets including NFL.com, Forbes, Bleacher Report, Deadspin, ESPN, Washington Times, NBC and the History Channel. President Barack Obama follows him on Twitter (@paulmbanks)