There are eight teams left in the World Cup. This shouldn’t be news, unless you haven’t been paying attention, in which case WAKE UP, THERE’S A WORLD CUP ON, AND IT’S GOOD.
Here is the order we would like them to win the tournament. These rankings are subjective, which means two things. One, they cannot be wrong. Two, they are obviously wrong.
8. The Netherlands
They knocked out Japan. They must never be forgiven.
Tricky one, this. There is much to like about this USA team, from Megan Rapinoe’s righteousness to Crystal Dunn’s brilliance, and on through Jill Ellis’s sterling work in the field of making everybody feel better about themselves. But then, they’re the favorites. And one should never support the favorites, unless by happenstance you already do. In which case, enjoy, I guess.
Imagine supporting an Actually Good team. Just not the point at all.
Unusually enough for England, the problem here isn’t the team itself — basically sound, quite fun, please turn up soon Fran Kirby — but concerns over what England might do with a victory if one came to pass. British civic life is so unpredictable right now that throwing a World Cup victory in there could be the straw that breaks the nation’s back. Would you want to wake up to “Phil Neville, Prime Minister”?
Like, ugh, just concede a goal already. Rude, that’s what it is. Downright rude.
Kind of a dull team, Caroline Graham Hansen aside, and that’s before we even factor in the Hegerberg Unpleasantness bubbling away in the background. However, they have the best kit left in the tournament. Whichever genius had the idea of crossing “90s word processor fade” with “chunky cross stitch, like on ski jumpers,” we hope you’re feeling pleased with yourself.
A test: pick any random clutch of countries, including Sweden. Then pick any subjective test you like — Flag Color Cohesion, perhaps, or Wildlife Lethality — and rank them.
Look at third place. It’s Sweden! Now, pick some more countries and change your test. Maybe go for Distance From Where I Am Sitting Right Now this time, or Places I Would Most Like To Eat A Slightly Overripe Banana. Which nation is in third, again? Oh hey, it’s Sweden. Isn’t the universe strange?
The counterpart to the rule that one must never support the favorites is that one should always, where possible, support the hosts. World Cups are international events but they are also local ones, despite FIFA’s best efforts to enforce top-down aesthetic uniformity. And as with popular revolutions, the more people you have in the streets giving a toss, the better the party.
Ah, Italy. One of the universal truths of international football is that if a team is going to come out of left field, that story will be 11% cooler if they are Italy. Perhaps it’s the blue.
In any case, Italy’s story isn’t just engaging on its own terms, it’s also a good advert for the basic principle: throw a bit of money at women’s football and it’ll get a bit better. The next step is to ensure that this principle is applied around the world, not just in Europe, but it’s deeply pleasing to see the proof of concept doing so well. In that blue.
Obviously, the dream-wreckers of the Netherlands are going to knock them out on Saturday. Obviously.