It only happens once every four years and it's bigger than the Olympics - it's the World Cup, the global celebration of the beautiful game, where bloody, brutal civil wars (literally) come to an end behind the glorious game. Except for the United States and a handful of other countries, football (as it's known pretty much everywhere else in the world) is the universal language that connects the wealthy with the destitute, connects people without regard to gender, skin color, or ethnicity - look no further than Die Mannschaft, Germany's national team, which once only permitted players of "true Aryan" ethnicity to wear the colors of Deutschland, but now embraces Germans of all ethnic backgrounds, from Sami Khedira (Arabic-German) to Mesut Ozil (Turkish-German) to Jerome Boateng (Ghanaian-German).
We started yesterday with a look at Groups A-D, which included a team comparable to our very own UCLA Bruins: the Dutch. Today, with the World Cup kicking off this afternoon in Brazil, we take a look at Groups E-H, and give you who each team's college football equivalent is.
Switzerland - The Swiss are a bit of an enigma: they often produce a decent number of solid players who play in top leagues (Stephan Lichtsteiner at Juventus, Philippe Senderos at Aston Villa, Gokhan Inler at Napoli, Xherdan Shaqiri at Bayern Munich, Ricardo Rodriguez at Wolfsburg), and they are often on the periphery of the top-tier of international football, but they never are able to do much of anything in any international tournaments. Making their third consecutive World Cup appearance, they haven't made it past the Round of 16 in any major tournament since 1954. In other words, they're the Oklahoma State of world football - like the Swiss, the Cowboys have had their share of talent - Dez Bryant, Justin Blackmon, and of course, Barry Sanders - but they've never translated that into taking the next step into the top tier. But, with Oklahoma State constantly sniffing around the edge, maybe the Swiss will follow suit and make something of their group, with France the only real heavyweight to contend with.
Ecuador - The Ecuadorians have been around for a long time, but have not been very good for pretty much their entire history, with only one semi-major trophy to their name - the 2007 Pan American Games. This will be their third World Cup out of the prior four tournaments, and La Tri will be looking to get out of a group stage where only France is the clear-cut favorite to advance, leaving on spot open. In this way, they match up well with their soccer counterpart, the Kansas State Wildcats. They're often playing big teams and they sometimes make some noise, but for the most part, they're on the outside looking in when it comes to the elites.
France - One of the world's great footballing nations, Les Bleus come to Brazil hoping to re-ignite their nation's love affair with the national team following an absolutely disastrous 2010 World Cup in South Africa that featured a player revolt and terrible football, with France scoring only a single goal and exiting in the group stage without a single victory. The French have won big tournaments before (the 1998 World Cup, Euro 1984, Euro 2000, and the Confederations Cup in 2001 and 2003) and, with the exception of 2010's pathetic showing, are often a major contender. Like their college football counterparts, the Ohio State Buckeyes, the French are hoping to re-establish themselves at the top of the pyramid following controversy (for France, the 2010 players' revolt in South Africa; for Ohio State, the 2010 scandal that led to the downfall of Jim Tressel). Both have the prior pedigree, both have exciting young players who could make a major impact (for example, the Buckeyes' QB Braxton Miller vs. France's Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann), but both have a long shadow to escape. For both, 2014 offers that opportunity - will they seize it?
Honduras - To be blunt, the Hondurans are not very good. While they are able to scrape together some good wins in a mediocre confederation, their record in major tournaments speaks volumes - in their prior two World Cup appearances (1982, 2010), they have a combined record of 0-3-3, having amassed a grand total of two goals. In other words, Honduras has as many World Cup goals in their entire history as Brazil often scores in a single half in the World Cup. Like their college football counterparts, the Washington State Cougars, they sometimes make some noise in their own region (for the Cougars, this is especially true when the Pac-12 is having down years), but more-often-than-not, they are simply not very good. To make a long story short, Honduras kind of sucks, and so does Washington State.
Argentina - The Argentinians are one of international football's elite blue bloods - a nation mad for their national team, La Albiceleste, Argentina is led by one of the, if not the, world's best players in Lionel Messi. But assuming it is Messi plus ten would be a major disservice to a truly elite squad of players from some of the world's top club sides - Sergio Romero (AS Monaco), Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City), Angel di Maria (Real Madrid), Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), and Ezequiel Lavezzi (PSG). In fact, no team comes into this World Cup with a better front line of attackers - not Germany, not Brazil, no one. La Albiceleste are the international game's version of the Texas Longhorns - one of college football's biggest, most elite blue-blooded programs. Both have excelled at the top and have won the biggest prizes on offer, but fans of both sides will feel justified in their belief that, if not for some mediocre coaching that squandered elite talent, there would be more silverware in their respective trophy cases. Plus, like Texas, La Albiceleste hail from a region that treats the game as religion and they take the field in one of the most iconic uniforms in the game - when you think of international football, the sky blue and white stripes of Argentina are icons, just as burnt orange is for college football.
Bosnia and Herzegovina - Relatively new to international football, given their status as a relatively new independent nation (achieving independence in 1995 from the former Yugoslavia), Bosnia is making its first ever appearance in the World Cup, led by Bayer Leverkusen's Emir Sphaic and Manchester City's Edin Dzeko. In many ways they are soccer's version of the Central Florida Knights. Relatively new to Division I-A football (1996), and like Bosnia, they made their first appearance in a big-time game in 2014 (making their first BCS appearance by beating Baylor in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl). Both squads hail from a region (Florida and Europe, respectively) known for being home to much bigger names, but both teams are experiencing a strong run of form recently.
Iran - The "Iranian Lions" come to Brazil as the top ranked team in the Asian Football Confederation, which isn't saying much considering the AFC's only regular World Cup qualifiers are Japan, South Korea, and Australia. Iran will look to get past the group stage for the first time ever, but with Argentina, an up-and-coming Bosnian team, and a tough Nigerian squad, it's as tall order for the Princes of Persia. Like their college football counterparts, the Illinois Fighting Illini, Iran has enjoyed some success in their past within their own region (with Illinois occasionally putting together a conference title winning season), but have yet to do anything of note in the World Cup (akin to the Fighting Illini's 0-2 record in the BCS).
Nigeria - The Nigerian national team has probably the coolest nickname of any squad, with the Super Eagles making their fifth World Cup appearance in the past six tournaments. One of the most dominant African sides in the late 1980s and in the 1990s (finishing at the top of their group in both the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, winning the African Cup of Nations in 1994, and finishing second in the CON in 1988 and 1990), the Nigerians backslid in 2002, finishing at the bottom of their group, and failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. But just like the Auburn Tigers, the Super Eagles are back on the ascendancy, fresh off winning the African Cup of Nations in 2013, led by Chelsea's John Obi Mikel, Liverpool's Victor Moses, and
West Brom's QPR's Cardiff City's Stoke City's Peter Odemwingie. While Auburn struggled for the better part of the decade, with a championship in 2010 and a title game defeat in 2014, Auburn has come back in the national picture in a big way, and Nigeria hopes to use this World Cup to build on their 2013 success and return to the top of the African pyramid. To do so, the Super Eagles will need to turn it around fast, having not won a match since their 1-0 win over Zimbabwe back in January.
Germany - Die Mannschaft come into Brazil as one of the presumptive favorites to win the World Cup, and like their college football counterpart - the Florida State Seminoles - there is currently no team as deep and talented as Die Adler. The Germans have an impressive display of talent in defense, midfield, and in attack and anything short than winning the whole thing will be a massive disappointment back in Deutschland. Like the Seminoles, the Germans have won the big prize three times and have a proud history of dominance, winning three World Cups and three European Championships. While the Germans will be without exciting winger Marco Reus due to injury, they still boast a squad that includes Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, and Mario Gotze, who just might end up taking the crown of the world's best player over the next seven years' time as Messi and Ronaldo begin to fade into the twilight of their careers.
Ghana - The Black Stars are America's greatest arch-nemesis of late, knocking the Yanks out of the World Cup in 2010 (2-1 in the Round of 16) and 2006 (2-1 in the group stage). Once the most dominant team in Africa (winning the African Cup of Nations in 1963, 1965, then again in 1978 and 1982), Ghana comes into Brazil on the back of a fourth place finish in the 2013 ACON (falling to finalist Burkina Faso on penalty kicks) and a quarterfinal exit in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Like the South Carolina Gamecocks, Ghana is hoping to use recent success to springboard themselves to the upper echelon; like the Gamecocks, who play in the tough SEC, Ghana will find that difficult to do, being drawn in the "Group of Death" against Germany, Portugal, and the United States (who are out for revenge following 2010's result).
Portugal - A proud footballing nation, Portugal's national side has been blessed with some of the greatest players to ever lace up their boots - Eusebio, Luis Figo, and Cristiano Ronaldo. Yet, despite the wealth of talent the Portuguese have lined-up, a major trophy continues to elude them, having failed to win a World Cup or a European Championship (the most crushing of which was the Euro 2004 final loss to upstarts Greece on home soil). Like the Texas A&M Aggies, Portugal has a wealth of football tradition to be proud of, but like the Aggies, the biggest prizes have eluded them (with Texas A&M's last claimed national title occurring in 1939 and last conference title in 1998), but both teams have suited up the most exiting, electrifying - and sometimes controversial - player in the game of late: the Aggies' Johnny Manziel and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo.
United States - Our very own boys in red, white, and blue are in the infamously titled "Group of Death" with the Americans widely expected to make an early exit. Soccer is finally beginning to catch on in the United States and the Yanks are beginning to flex their muscles on the international stage (yet, ironically, are one of the most dominant sides in women's world football, winning two World Cups, four Olympic gold medals, six Gold Cups, and nine Algarve Cups). Like the Stanford Cardinal, the United States dominates in pretty much every sport it takes seriously (for example, compare the United States' 2,681 total Olympic medals to the next closet competitor - the Soviet Union/Russia with 1,725 total medals; as well as the United States' 1,072 total gold medals to the second-place Soviet Union/Russia's 655). Yet despite that history of dominance (Stanford's 105 NCAA titles are second only to our own Bruins' 111), Stanford has historically been terrible at football, just as the Yanks have been pretty pitiful in soccer. But now it seems that both Stanford and the United States are willing to spend and play like the big boys, and both are starting to see results, both on the gridiron (two Pac-12 titles, four BCS game appearances, one Rose Bowl win, one Orange Bowl win) and the pitch (four CONCACAF Gold Cup titles and a narrow 3-2 loss in the 2009 Confederations Cup final to Brazil). Yet, you get the sense that for both the Stanford Cardinal and the USMNT, those gains could easily fall apart with both teams sliding back into mediocrity.
Belgium - The Red Devils are one of the most exciting young teams to come into Brazil and have been tabbed by so many pundits as the "dark horse" team that they're not really dark horses anymore. The Belgians are making their first trip to the World Cup since 2002, with the failures to qualify in 2006 and 2010 breaking a six World Cup appearance streak that stretched back to 1982. The Belgians are out to prove they are back as one of Europe's top sides, just like how the Michigan Wolverines are out to prove they are back as one of college football's top teams. With both programs having experienced a recent slump of results, both are riding the talents of electrifying game-breaking offensive talents (former QB Denard Robinson, current QB Devin Gardner for Michigan; Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, and Adnan Januzaj for Belgium) to return them to prominence. Both are on the outside-looking-in in 2014, but both teams could sneak in and pull a few surprises before the more dominant big boys put them down.
Algeria - The Fennec Foxes are the North African version of Honduras - like the Hondurans, they are just not very good; even in a group without any major football powers, Algeria is widely expected to finish at the bottom of the group. Like the Oregon State Beavers, they have made some noise in their own confederation on occasion (winning the 1990 Africa CON, which they hosted), but have been abysmal in World Cup competition (failing to score a single goal in the 2010 World Cup, with their last qualification coming in 1986), much like Oregon State's rather poor record in the BCS (making just one BCS bowl appearance ever). Like the Beavers, Algeria suffers from just a lack of natural advantages - a poor footballing tradition, a small population, a lack of a good domestic league or development system - just as Oregon State suffers from poor location, a lack of a good football tradition, and being fifth or sixth fiddle in the Pac-12 when it comes to recruiting. Like Oregon State, Algeria will show up, put in a good effort, but will be decidedly mediocre.
Russia - Whether they've played as Russia or the Soviet Union, the Russians have a solid record in major international tournaments, regularly qualifying for the World Cup and putting in respectable results in the European Championships (winning in 1960, finishing second in 1964, 1972, and 1988, and finishing third in 2008). While Russia has taken a step back since their Soviet days (certainly having players from Ukraine, another very solid European footballing nation) helped pre-1992, but the Russians are having a good run of results of late under former England national team manager Fabio Capello. Much like their college football counterparts, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Russia is widely seen as a good team, a tough opponent, but not one of Europe's upper-echelon squads. They've both had some historical success and both are trying to re-build their programs, both using coaches with unconventional methods (Paul Johnson's triple-option offense for GT and Fabio Capello's selection of players all based in the nation's own domestic league, the only World Cup team to do so).
South Korea - The Taegeuk Warriors open the World Cup in Brazil in a bad run of form, having come off a final warm-up friendly against Ghana by being spanked 4-0. Never mind that they've only won won of their past five matches (losing to Mexico 4-0, the United States 2-0, Tunisia 1-0, and only beating Greece 2-0 back in March). Despite the bad form, the South Koreans are one of the better teams out of the AFC and like their American college football counterparts, the West Virginia Mountaineers, the South Koreans have had a history of success in their confederation, having won the Asian Cup twice (1956, 1960), finishing second three times (1972, 1980, and 1988), and finishing in third three times (2000, 2007, 2011). Making their eighth consecutive World Cup appearance have been consistently solid over time, but not spectacular (and never winning the biggest prize), much like their West Virginian counterparts. Like South Korea, West Virginia has struggled of late, and both teams find themselves in transition, with the Taegeuk Warriors relying on a younger generation of players, with former captain Park Ji-Sung (88 caps) now retired, plus a huge loss in experience from the 2010 World Cup squad, with reliable goalkeeper Lee Woon-Jae (130 caps), left-back Lee Young-Pyo (112 caps), and striker Lee Dong-Gook (83 caps) all retired or out of the national team set-up.
Finally, just to wrap things up, some folks are probably wondering where the Southern Cal Trojans would fit into the international football picture. But since the Trojans are the embodiment of all that is wrong with collegiate athletics, are a group of dirty, cheating, free houses and Range Rover giving scumbags, it just wouldn't be right to besmirch any national soccer team by associating the hated Trojans with them. Oh, and for Berkeley, well, they're the perfect match to the Canadian soccer team - they never qualify for the World Cup (like the Bears will never play in the Rose Bowl Game) and they have a weird hate-envy thing for their southern brethren. Oh, and to go all the way to the bottom - New Mexico State, one of the worst football programs in Division I-A, is basically the San Marino national football team - the guys who got crushed in World Cup qualifying, losing all 10 games in their qualifying group, being outscored 54 goals to 1 (but hey, they got one!)
Alright folks, those are the last four groups of this year's World Cup in Brazil. If you missed our first part walk-through of Groups A-D, you can find it here. Fire away in the thread with your World Cup thoughts, who you think fits their purported college counterpart in Groups A-D (save the rest for tomorrow!), and/or generally talk smack about football teams you don't like. GO BRUINS GO U-S-A!