Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Ultimate 2018 World Cup Preview

Welcome to the greatest World Cup preview you will read long as you're not looking for a breakdown of each individual team. Or any other analysis. Instead, this post contains random information about players and teams. For example, do you want to know what team has the most players with tattoos? I mean, I don't have the answer, but I'd like to know. Watch the 2018 World Cup over the next month, and together, we'll find out. In the meantime, enjoy all the random information you didn't know you wanted to know.

With the United States failing to qualify for the World Cup, many Americans are looking for teams to support. The answer is probably Iceland because they are the smallest country to ever reach the World Cup with a population of about 335,000 (or slightly more than Corpus Christi, Texas and Lexington, Kentucky) and are coached by a dentist. I highly recommend reading this Sports Illustrated article about Iceland and their coach/practicing dentist Heimir Hallgrímsson.

There are other options too. Costa Rica features Rodney Wallace, who grew up in Rockville, Maryland, attended the University of Maryland, and plays for New York FC. Costa Rica and Panama both have 6 players on their rosters that play in the MLS. Then there's Gotoku Sakai who was born in the tiny Japanese village of (double-checks Wikipedia) New York City, so if you want a team with an American-born player, Japan is your pick.

Maybe you want to root for the biggest stars of the sport. Well, this World Cup certainly has star power. Lionel Messi for Argentina, Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal, and Bono for Morocco. You thought Bono was touring with The Edge and company didn't you? Bono can do it all!

Let's take a closer look at some individual players.

- The oldest player in this year's World Cup is Egyptian goalie, Essam El Hadary born on ‎January‎ ‎15‎, ‎1973.

- The youngest player is Australian forward Daniel Arzani born on January 4, 1999. France's Mbappe born on December 20, 1998 and Moroccan defender Achraf Hakimi born on November 4, 1998 are close behind.

- The tallest player is 6' 7" Lovre Kalinic of Croatia. Little known fact: Lovre changed his first name from Louvre so that he wouldn't be confused with the world's largest art museum in Paris.

- The shortest player is 5' 5" Yahia Al Shehri of Saudi Arabia.

- Unofficially, the lightest players are Fabian Delph of England and the aforementioned Yahia Al Shehri at 132 pounds.

- Unofficially, the heaviest player is Harry Maguire, Delph's English teammate, at 220 pounds.

- While Saudi Arabia features 9 players from Al-Hilal FC and 7 players from Al-Ahli Saudi FC, Germany has 7 players from Bayern Munich, and Spain's roster includes 6 players from Real Madrid, there is only one country with its entire roster playing in its domestic league: England.

- Speaking of England, I enjoyed mixing the worlds of sports and music together thanks to the marriage of David Beckham and Victoria Beckham of the Spice Girls. It's too bad none of the current players are married to or dating members of Little Mix or One Direction or something.

- Fortunately, Spain is here to fill the void with Gerard Pique and his partner Shakira. Unfortunately, their house got robbed recently.

- The winner for the club team with the most World Cup players in Manchester City with 16. Real Madrid is next with 15. Here are the other top teams:

Man City - 16
Real Madrid - 15
Barcelona - 14
Paris Saint-Germain - 12
Chelsea - 12
Tottenham -12
Manchester United - 11
Juventus - 11
Bayern Munich - 11
Minnesota United - 1 (Francisco Calvo of Costa Rica)

- I added Minnesota United here since the team only started playing in 2017. When I interviewed CEO Chris Wright last summer, he was still President of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Lynx.

- Morocco has a very interesting team composition. The 23-man roster includes a total of only 6 players born in Morocco along with 8 in France, 5 born in the Netherlands, 2 in Spain, 1 in Belgium, and 1 from the soccer hotbed of, um, Montreal, Canada. And that Canadian is Bono. Again, Bono is everywhere!

- Peru is a country of 31.7 million people. Lima, the country's capital and largest city, has about 9 million people. However, of the 23 players on the Peru roster, an amazing 18 were born in Lima. That seems quite disproportionate. Meanwhile, it appears that the city with the second most World Cup players born there is Reykjavík, Iceland with 13.

- Speaking (well writing) about Iceland, everyone on its World Cup roster has a last name ending in N...except for Frederik Schram. How did that guy make the team?

- Everyone on Serbia has a last name ending in "ic" except Aleksandar Kolarov and Antonio Rukavina. New Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jon Bostic fits in perfectly here.

- We interrupt this fascinating look at the World Cup rosters with the all food team.

* Nacho Monreal of Spain
* Ruben Dias of Portugal
* Kahraba (possibly inspired by Carrabba's Italina Grill) of Egypt
* Aziz Bouhaddouz of Morocco. You're probably wondering why I'm including Bouhaddouz. This last name isn't that close to baklava or baba ganoush. Bouhaddouz is here since he plays for the Hamburg, Germany team FC St. Pauli. Hey, you need something to drink down your nachos, Reuben, and Italian food!

Back to your regularly scheduled blog post already in progress.

- Saudi Arabia has three midfielders with the last name Hawsawi: Motaz, Osama, and Omari. That won't be confusing.

- Portugal has three players with the last name of Silva: Andre, Bernardo, and Adrien.

- South Korea has five players named Kim and three named Lee.

- If your name is Jonathan Matías Urretaviscaya da Luz, you have to have a nickname. Good move by this Uruguay player to go by Urreta.

- Urreta's teammate Gastón Silva had a prominent role in Beauty & the Beast.

- The nickname of Denmark's Mathias Jørgensen is Zanka. Apparently, Zanka's nickname is from the movie Cool Runnings, where one of the main characters is named Sanka. You didn't expect a reference to Cool Runnings here, did you?

- Croatia has 5 players born in Yugoslavia. That just looks odd to read since Yugoslavia broke up in the early 90s.

- Belgium features brothers Thorgan & Eden Hazard. Since Belgium has a monarchy, it's possible that if Belgium wins the World Cup, they could become the Dukes of Hazard.

- When not writing the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, the apparently resurrected Sebastian Larsson is on the Swedish national team.

- Willian plays for Brazil while also being part of The Black Eyed Peas and appearing as a hologram during the 2008 CNN election coverage.

- Panama gets the prize for the most multi-sport athletes. Eric Davis is a defender for Panama and was all All-Star outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds. Jose Calderon is fresh off his NBA Finals loss with the Cleveland Cavaliers and future Hall-of-Famer Alex Rodriguez is taking a break from his work as a baseball analyst to play in Russia.

- Tunisia's Saber Khalifa may or may not be related famous Pittsburghers: rapper Wiz Khalifa and Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Sammy Khalifa.

- Despite being in a fairly weak group, the host Russian team isn't expected to go very far in the tournament. Therefore, don't be surprised to Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin as two late additions to the roster since they've both won Stanley Cups in the last three years. Success breeds success or winning begets winning, right?

Enjoy the games!

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Photos by Getty Images, The Paris Pass, Shakira's Twitter account, and RussianMachineNeverBreaks

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