Caps Fans’ Guide to the World Cup

Posted June 11, 2014

John Carlson participates in the 4th Annual Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra Celebrity Soccer Challenge on in 2011. (Photo via the Caps)

You’re a hockey fan.  You like a game that is played on a hard, slippery surface with sticks.  You’re generally a fan of the breakaway goals, the hard hits, the occasional fights.

But, the biggest sporting event in the entire galaxy is about to take place in Brazil, the World Cup.  And we here at Capitals Outsider want to make sure you are prepared for it, because you will be bombarded with soccer for the next few weeks.

As a hockey fan, your knowledge of soccer may only extend to the Capitals juggling a ball to warmup, the fact that Mikhail Grabovski just signed a professional soccer deal in Belarus, and that Spanish commentators yell “Goooooooooaaaaaaaallllll” for a really long time when their team scores.

That’s ok.  We understand.  We are here to help.  You’re about to read an entire post, where we will breakdown each type of fan, and which team/player you should keep your eye on.  Because, you can’t get away with rocking the red for the next few weeks.  You’re going to have to embrace the “beautiful game” for a while.  So, let’s take a look to see what type of hockey fan you are, and who you should be watching.

Let’s say your favorite part of the game is the goals.  You like the Ovechkin’s, the Stamkos’, and the Kessels’.  There are plenty of guys and countries to keep an eye on.

Country to Watch

Argentina – Argentina is going to score a lot of goals all throughout the tournament.  They are the 7th ranked country in the world, and have many offensive weapons.  That’s not the only thing they have going for them.  Argentina is also playing in one of the weaker groups in the World Cup.  Their Group F includes Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nigeria and Iran.  None of those countries are even remotely close in talent to Argentina.  Argentina has one of the best, if not the best, players in the world in Lionel Messi.  The 5’7″ striker is a walking highlight reel.  Also, keep an eye out for Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain.  All are among the top in the world, and all can find the net.  If you want to see goals, follow this team.  Think of them as the Chicago Blackhawks, or the Capitals power play.

Players to Watch

Luis Suarez (Uruguay) – Suarez had a pretty incredible season in the English Premier League for Liverpool, scoring 31 goals in 33 games.  He has an extremely powerful shot, and always seems to stir up a bit of controversy.  He was once suspended for 10 games for biting an opponent.  He’s also been accused of diving frequently.  Think of a guy with the score scoring ability of Steven Stamkos mixed with Alex Burrows and a dash of Brad Marchand, and you have a guy like Suarez.

Miroslav Klose (Germany) – He may not start the games, but Klose is definitely a guy to watch any time he enters the World Cup.  He has 14 World Cup goals in his career, and only needs one more to tie the all time record.  He’s 36 years old, and may not have much left in the tank, but he always finds the net.  He’s gained a ton of respect in the hockey world.  Think of him as a more German version of Martin St. Louis.

Mario Balotelli (Italy) – Are you a fan of electric goal scorers and celebrations?  Then Balotelli is the choice for you.  He is the soccr version of Alexander Ovechkin.  Extravagant goals followed by wild celebrations.  He is incredibly strong and fast, and one of the best penalty shot takers in the world.  Balotelli always finds a way to stand out in international competitions, whether it’s with his goals, his celebrations, or his hairdos.  He’s been involved in several really, really weird/funny off field stuff.  He’s burnt down his own bathrom after shooting fireworks out of his window, explored a women’s prison for no apparent reason, and struggled really, really badly with putting on a practice penny.

But maybe, for some reason, you’re not really a fan that cares about goals, but the moves and the style of play.  The flashy guys.  Your favorite Capital is Nicklas Backstrom, and you also like Patrick Kane and Pavel Datsyuk.  There are plenty of teams and players to watch.

Countries to Watch

Spain – This years World Cup team features many players that were apart of the 2010 championship team.  This team is widely regarded as a dynasty, as Spain has won 3 straight international titles.  They are loaded with superstars offensively, lead by Xavi, David Silva and Andres Iniesta.  They are the top country in the world, and tend to pass around and possess the ball for the vast majority of the game.  If you are a corsi fan, these guys are perfect for you.  But, again, the style of play will surely wow you.  This is the Chicago Blackhawks, the LA Kings and the Boston Bruins all rolled into one.

Brazil – Brazilian’s tend to get very, very angry when their team doesn’t get represented by a squad that doesn’t play with a high skill level.  They are the third best team in the world according to the FIFA rankings, and they have a huge home field advantage.  They have Neymar (more on him in a bit), Hulk, Oscar and Fred.  All of these guys only have one name, which may be weird to you considering you’re used to names like Kuznetsov and Burakovsky and other complicated names.  But Brazilians keep it simple, just like their style of play.  You will see between the legs, crossovers, and virtually any move you can imagine.

Players to Watch

Neymar (Brazil) – This guy will be the face of the World Cup.  He’s just 22 years old, but he is already developed into a superstar.  He’s extremely fast and knows the game well.  He will embarrass his opponent in each and every game.

Lionel Messi (Argentina) – He’s Neymar’s teammate for FC Barcelona, and the quick little guy will surely amaze you if you watch him.  If Neymar is fast, Messi is faster.  He won the world player of the year three years in a row.  As mentioned earlier, he’s apart of one of the more lethal offenses in the world, and has a cake walk through the group stages.

Clint Dempsey (USA) –  O.K.  Come on.  You root for America’s Hockey Capital, which happens to be the Capital of the United States of America.  If you didn’t already plan on watching the United States, you should.  And when you do, watch Dempsey.  He’s easily the United States’ best player, and he is more than capable of some pretty sweet moves.  He’s the captain of the Yankees, and even though the United States is in the infamous “Group of Death,” he will surely lead the US to victory….right?

Paul Pogba (France) – You will surely impress all of your friends if you start talking about this guy.  He is not yet known around the world, but he is expected to make quite a splash during his first World Cup.  He’s 21 years old, and is expected to take over France with the injury to Franck Ribery.  He is a big dude (a big dude for a soccer player) at 6’2″, and extremely powerful.  He will constantly take dangerous runs with the ball, and few will be able to stop him.  If you really, really want to look like you know what you are talking about, tell all your hockey buddies that you think Pogba will become a star during this World Cup.

What if you’re a fan of the smart players?  The guys who understand the game very, very well and really stand out?  Guys like Anze Kopitar, Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews?  Who should you be watching then?

Country to Watch

Germany – These guys play soccer in a very militant form.  The Germans don’t try to be too flashy, they just go out and get the job done.  They don’t have anybody who is a world class star…well, they do.  But, they don’t have anybody that always shines in the spotlight.  Mesuit Ozil, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Muller will surely be the leaders that will take command of the game with class.  The Germans will simply just try to outsmart their opponents, and it will probably work.

Players to Watch

Andrea Pirlo (Italy) – Pirlo is one of those guys where it seems like he has been playing forever.  He was apart of Italy’s last World Cup championship team in 2006, and while he is getting a little bit older, there are few in the world who know how to play the game better than Pirlo.  He has mastered the free kick, and will be silently dangerous all over the pitch.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) – Ronaldo was just voted the best soccer player in the world in 2013.  He may not be 100 percent, as he has a knee injury, which may or may not have been caused by a Ghanian witch doctor.  Ronaldo is easily the best athlete in the tournament.  He is super fast, and can jump really, really high.  If you want to truly watch the best player in the world, tune into every Portugal game, because Ronaldo is very special to watch.  If Neymar isn’t the face of the World Cup, it very well could be Ronaldo.  This guy is so awesome, he even has his own museum dedicated to himself.

Yaya Toure (Cote d’Ivoire) – His team may not make it past the group staging, but Toure is fun to watch.  He commands respect on the field, and much like Pirlo, is becoming deadly with his free kick.  He’s coming off a career season with Manchester City, where he scored 20 goals in 35 games.  Cote d’Ivoire will look to Toure for leadership, and he will surely provide it.  He just may not have enough to best the other countries in his group, Japan, Greece and Columbia. But you’re not an offensive guy.

You look at the Capitals and say, man, I really wish they were better defensively.  You think defense wins championships and that it should be the primary focus of Barry Trotz. You believe that hockey teams need strong goaltenders in order to succeed.  Have no fear, there are plenty of players and countries who have the same viewpoint.

Countries to Watch

Italy – Italy has one of the more experienced goalies in the league in Gianluigi Buffon.  Buffon, like Pirlo, was also apart of the 2006 World Cup team that one it all in Germany.  If Italy has any hope of advancing far into the World Cup, it will fall on Buffon’s hands.  In front of him, he will have virtually an entire team that is more defensive minded team.  They are notorious for playing a defensive game, pouncing on other teams’ mistakes.

Russia – Unlike most Russian hockey players, Russian soccer players lack that offensive flair in their game.  They won’t score many goals, but their key to winning will be to stop the other team from doing so.  Russia is in a group with Belgium, Algeria and Korea Republic.  If they focus and play their game, they can make it out of their group.  But it all starts with Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and defenseman Sergei Ignashevich.  Can we send them over Dmitry Orlov to add to that defensive core, and maybe some offensive flair in Ovechkin?

Players to Watch

Manuel Neuer (Germany) – Neuer is arguably the best goaltender in the world right now.  His second world ranked Germans have full trust in him.  He does a great job at communicating with his team and making sure everyone knows what’s going on.

Sergio Ramos (Spain) – Ramos is the Erik Karlsson of soccer defense.  To close out his regular season, Ramos recorded six goals in seven games, which is pretty remarkable for a defender.  Oh, and he’s also pretty good at defense, he’s not just offensive minded.  He may not need to focus entirely on offense, as he’s a he’s just one of many, many weapons Spain has, but don’t be shocked if you see something similar to a Mike Green goal streak in Ramos.

Vincent Kompany (Belgium) – Vincent Kompany is a very intelligent central defender with a  lot of size.  He’s 6’5″.  That’s taller than Tom Wilson, who is gigantic.  That means Kompany will be called on to win virtually every header that comes his way for Belgium.  Kompany is clearly the best defender on his team, and in order for his country to be successful, he has to make sure that he’s at the top of his game.

Now, let’s look at some teams.  You root for the underdog, like this years New York Rangers.  You root for the dark horse, like this years Montreal Canadians.  And, for some bizarre reason, you root for the team that always falls short, the paper tiger.  Or, the Penguins.  Which teams would you see then?

Underdog – USA

Yes.  The United States is most certainly the underdog.  It will take a great effort for them to come out of the group stage alive.  They square off against the second best country in the world in Germany, the fourth best country in the world in Portgual, and Ghana, who have knocked out the United States twice in the past two World Cups.  Yikes.  But, everyone always loves a great underdog story, whether it’s the 2011-2012 LA Kings or the 1980 USA Hockey team.  And it just might be the United States Soccer team’s turn to play the successful underdog role.

Dark Horse – Belgium

This squad is loaded with untapped talent.  Virtually every player on the team is adequately good at what they do.  Nobody is going to say they will win it all, but if there is any dark horse in the tournament, it is Belgium.  Led offensively by Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, they will cause some noise in this years World Cup.  If you are a smart, betting man, pick Belgium.  They just might surprise you.

Paper Tiger – England

England always comes up short.  They rant and rave about how they are the center of the soccer universe, yet they can’t field a serious contending team.  With a grouping of Uruguay, Italy and Costa Rica, they may not even make it out of the group stage.  There only chance is if they get outstanding play from their forwards, primarily from Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge.  But this team has high expectations that simply don’t match up with their talent level.

So, you may not be a soccer expert, but you can at least keep up the conversation with your friends and coworkers during the next few weeks.  You might as well watch the tournament.  After all, it’s surely to be more exciting than this Stanley Cup series.  And Caps games aren’t for another four months.  Then you can get back to being the hockey expert.