With one delightful chip, Moroccan right-back Achraf Hakimi knocked Spain out of the World Cup, but more importantly, united the Arab and African diaspora behind his side, making them both the default home team and the only team left to support.
This team of underdogs have lit up the competition and ignited a region that has suffered through decades of pain and violence. They play now for hope, for pride, and for all migrant communities who left their homes for better lives.
Often the most intoxicatingly enjoyable part of a World Cup is knowing you are witnessing history. After winning their penalty shootout Morocco players bowed in prostration before their ecstatic fans, an instantly iconic World Cup moment, and a picture shared around the planet, in group chats across the world.
Watching them is watching the region finally find something to cheer for. It’s a chance to witness joyous history. How could you say no?
Although I will be supporting the ultimate underdogs, Morocco, there is no doubt that if ever there was a player that deserved to win this trophy it would be Lionel Messi. For many football fans like myself, the Argentina great has been the epitome of football for the entirety of our waking lives. Whether it is putting Jerome Boateng on his backside to send Bayern Munich packing in a Champions League semi-final, or single-handedly dismantling Real Madrid’s entire team, time and time again Messi has sent us into complete ecstasy.
In my mind there is no doubt that he is the greatest to ever play. I have watched his highlight reel at least once a week for the last decade and it still brings me joy and inspiration every time I see his greatness in action.
Now in his last World Cup, there is one chance left for the magic man to finally ascend to his rightful place on the footballing throne.
A win for Argentina is a win for football.
Khaled Al Khawaldeh
It feels deeply unnatural to suggest anyone support the England national team. After all, a key prerequisite for selection in the England team is Englishness, something I am usually opposed to.
But despite that, I am unable to dislike its current crop of players. Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United forward, not only helped to feed millions of hungry children during the pandemic but also shamed a reluctant Tory government into doing the same.
His teammates are similarly likable. Jack Grealish’s goal celebration at the World Cup was a tribute to a young fan with cerebral palsy. He also has incredible calf muscle definition. Harry Kane is a vocal mental health advocate.
This general sense of England being a team of non-dickheads has been widely noted. At times in recent years the squad, and manager Gareth Southgate, have appeared to be the only sane people left in Britain.
But they are also just very fun to watch; from the pure joy of seeing Bukayo Saka dribble at defenders to witnessing 19-year-old Jude Bellingham’s generational talent unfold, and Harry Maguire’s enormous head.
They are also playing France in the quarter-finals, a country whose disappointment and heartache should they lose is something the whole world can surely unite around.
When it comes to backing a World Cup winner, there’s no favourite like the defending champs. Take it from me, someone who has next to zero knowledge about football.
No team has won back-to-back since Brazil in 1958 and 1962, so the improbability of France winning again this year makes them all the more worthy of barracking for.
How do teams like to celebrate after winning the World Cup? With champagne showers. What would that be impossible without? France, obviously.
What else do the French love? Striking, of course. For the uninitiated (me, before some recent Googling), the team refused to train during the 2010 World Cup after Nicolas Anelka was dropped from the squad. Solidarité!
Speaking of strikers, it would be remiss (according to a better informed friend) not to mention the bromance between Olivier Giroud (beautiful man, all-time top scorer for France) and the forward Kylian Mbappé. At 23, Mbappé has scored more World Cup goals than anyone his age or younger ever has! He cites Albert Camus in notes! He’s the frontrunner for the Golden Boot and Golden Ball, whatever they are! Which is all to say: Allez, les bleus!
At recent big tournaments Portugal have often been boring (for neutral fans) or intensely frustrating (if you support them like me). But with exciting youngsters (Rafael Leão, João Felix), established top players (Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes) and, finally, a more attacking style of play, a makeover is under way. Like an indie band that has always shown flashes of brilliance, it feels like Portugal are about to bring out a critically acclaimed third album. It’s best to jump onboard now.
But what about You Know Who? For many, captain and (arguable) “Goat” Cristiano Ronaldo is as good a reason as any not to support Portugal. Fernando Santos’ dramatic decision to bench him in the first knockout game against Switzerland was monumental. More stunning was his replacement, 21-year-old Gonçalo Ramos, who repaid the faith with a stunning hat-trick in his first international start. To casual fans (and the football purists who like to go on about the other guy from Argentina) this Portugal is undoubtedly more likable. Forget everything you once knew, Portugal 2.0 is here. And you have permission to like them.
The first World Cup final I can recall was France 1998. Brazil had already won it four times, were raging favourites – and yet still seemed to have the rest of the world cheering for them. I bristled and wore a beret to school. Since then, I’ve cheered for anyone but Brazil.
Now, after a lifetime of resisting, I’ve finally been seduced by the samba kings. In this era of hyper-professionalism in sport, when football leagues are described as “industries” and styles of play are “brands”, there is something pure about the unbridled joy the Seleção bring to the pitch.
It seems they alone remember that team sport is about having fun with your mates.
And look, they’ve got a bloke who literally tries to dance like a pigeon and still manages to be sexy. As someone who ends up flapping about like a feral bird on the dancefloor despite my best efforts, I can only applaud.
As a sport devotee who has a particular penchant for suffering, I am putting my allegiance behind the Netherlands this World Cup.
Any lover of the underdog should do the same. Why? The Netherlands hold the record for being in the most World Cup finals without ever having taken home the title. In the 10 tournaments they have qualified for, they have reached the quarter-final stage six times, and have never failed to make it to at least the last 16. They have been runners up three times – in 1974 to West Germany, in 1978 to Argentina and most recently to Spain in 2010.
The Dutch have also never lost a World Cup match – without going to extra time – by more than a single goal. It’s heartbreaking, to get so close and yet still be so far. To perform so well, with no reward. It’s exactly why I love football – the pain, the unfairness of it all.
And I lived in Amsterdam for all of a year, so I am basically Dutch.
Ask a football fan (and I did) why you should back Croatia, and they might tell you that they were perhaps the least-fancied among the remaining sides to progress, but nonetheless have a sort of unkillable quality. That they are an assembly of grizzled, hard-working veterans capable of suffocating the life out of the more expansive nations, that they are the football purist’s side.
But for me, geopolitics, national cuisine and random memories are the most important factors to consider when adopting a foreign World Cup team. Brazil get points for Bolsonaro’s defeat but a penalty for a very beefy diet; the Netherlands crusades against international baddies via The Hague but served me some very dodgy cookies once in Amsterdam.
So yes, I’m going for Croatia, mostly based on a lovely holiday in Dubrovnik ages before it turned into King’s Landing and filled up with cruise tourists. There’s a photo of me looking young and tanned and grinning like an idiot as I drink a large beer in an alleyway. I really enjoyed that time I sat on the beach reading the new Harry Potter that just came out. I also once spent a memorable day walking into the country through a minefield with some Syrian refugees.
Go Croatia! (Let’s not mention the xenophobic supporters’ chants.)