The World Cup is a competition consisting of 32 teams from around the globe, and these teams battle their way through qualification in each country’s respective region, coming away with the chance to show their talent and skill on the world’s stage. When the US hosted the World Cup in 1994, the tournament consisted of only 24 teams (the total attendance record from the that World Cup stands to this day), and the bracket was expanded to the current 32 team format for France ’98. Each of these teams have their country’s support, many even more so than during the Olympics. A recent survey showed that Only 1/3 of Americans plan to follow the World Cup, but another way to look at that is roughly 100 million Americans plan to watch the World Cup. Soccer might not be a big deal to some, but it’s a spectacle of sport that only comes around every 4 years.
The competition consists of two stages. The first stage or “Group Stage” is a round-robin style tournament featuring 8 groups with 4 teams in each. This stage determines the seeding for the second stage, known as the “Knockout Round”. The “Knockout Round” is a single-elimination tournament that pits these 16 teams against each other until only one remains(Like the Sweet 16, but instead of frat boy pranks between old rivals, opponents might have had family that fought on opposite sides of a World War).
Only 8 teams have ever won the World Cup. Host nation Brazil has won it the most, hoisting the trophy 5 times. When the US hosted the World Cup in ’94, they faced the eventual World Cup winners Brazil in the Knockout Round. In ’02 the US team made it to the Quarterfinals(the equivalent of the Elite 8, and the farthest the US has progressed at the World Cup since 1930) knocking off star-studded Portugal and arch rival Mexico, before falling to Germany 1-0 after a questionable no-call on a handball and a hard fought match.
4 years ago, the US team was in a group with Slovenia, Algeria, and our former-oppressor-turned-best-friend England. After a wild ride through the group stage, the US emerged victorious. We won our group for the first time in history and went into the knockout round as a #1 seed. The good times were fleeting as the US fell at the hands of Ghana for the second World Cup in a row.
This time around, the US is in Group G with Germany(the #2 team in the world and perennial World Cup contenders), Portugal(the #3 team in the world and home team of arguably the world’s best player, Cristiano Ronaldo) and our old nemesis Ghana. It would seem fate is funny that way, and she has US set up for feast or famine. Our group is referred to as the “Group of Death”, but these are precisely the teams head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was hired to face and defeat in the World Cup. US fans aren’t too worried, because we relish the underdog role. Let the rest of the world sell US short. It’s the “Group of Death” for the likes of Ghana, Portugal, and Germany because of US.
If you missed Part One, you can check it out here!