The World Cup truly is a joyous event, but one that only happens once every four years. Because of this lengthy gap in time, it’s understandable most people are just reading up on the field the week of the first match to find out who the favorites are and which players are must-watch TV.
With all that said, I took matters into my own hands to link something most Americans know nothing about to something most Americans know way too much about: NFL football.
Here we’ve examined all 32 World Cup teams in the field and matched them with their potential NFL counterparts. Similarities could include player personalities, roster depth, strategies, coaching staffs, recent history, stereotypes, perception and anything around and in between.
Obviously there won’t be a perfect match for all 32 teams, but if you take this article for what it is, it’s a pretty fun read, and something that could spark some interesting discussion as well.
Without further delay, read up and get familiarized. Brazil’s opening match is just around the corner!
Brazil – Patriots
Croatia – Bucs
Mexico – Falcons
Cameroon – Giants
Spain – Seahawks
Holland – Ravens
Chile – Vikings
Australia – Chargers
Colombia – Packers
Greece – Rams
IVC – Redskins
Japan – Cleveland
Uruguay – Panthers
Costa Rica – Jets
England – Cowboys
Italy – Steelers
Swiss – Bengals
Ecuador – Saints
France – Texans
Honduras – Titans
Argentina – Lions
BiH – Colts
Iran – Dolphins
Nigeria – Cardinals
Germany – Bronocs
Portugal – Eagles
Ghana – Bears
U.S.A. – Chiefs
Belgium – 49ers
Algeria – Raiders
Russia – Bills
S. Korea – Jags
Which group is the “Group of Death” by NFL teams? Comment below.
The Algerians are known for having some of the craziest and most passionate fans in the world. This can also be said about the Oakland Raiders and #RaiderNation. Algeria’s shot at contention is low because of the young talent they’re trying to build, much like the Raiders are now. Both teams are more defensive minded, although it’s not too one-sided. Madjid Bougherra is the defensive leader for Algeria who shows similar leadership traits to Charles Woodson.
Argentina is a fast-paced, offensive-minded team with a lot of talent spread across their squad. The set-up man up front for Argentina is Gonzalo Higuaín who plays a role like Matt Stafford; a player who can set up others or score himself. Lionel Messi is arguably the best player in the world and that comparison is an easy one with Calvin Johnson, which would leave Reggie Bush to fill the Sergio Agüero role.
The defense of Argentina is limited, but not terrible. Detroit finished 17th in the NFL in total defense, so they fit the bill. These teams also share similar head coaching situations as Alejandro Sabella is leading Argentina for the first time in this World Cup just like Jim Caldwell is leading the Lions for the first time in 2014.
Australia and San Diego share a spotty playoff consistency, but have been back in as of late. The Chargers’ playoff appearances went from 1995 to a big gap until 2006 to most recently in 2013; Australia wasn’t in the world cup for 30 years until 2006 only to be back in 2014. Phillip Rivers is Tim Cahill, a clutch scoring midfielder who tends to deliver when his team needs him most. On the back end, the seasoned Eric Weddle is Lucas Neill. Both have been defensive anchors for years.
Both of these teams are young. Belgium is making its first World Cup appearance in 13 years, while San Francisco had a nine-year post-season drought from 2002-2011. The 22-year-old leader of Belgium is striker Eden Hazard; he is Colin Kaepernick — young, but already the vocal and expressive leader of the group. Vincent Kompany is Patrick Willis, the veteran rock on the defensive front with 20-year-old dynamic playmaker Romelu Lukaku as Bruce Ellington. Both squads are bursting with young talent but often rely on one big play to get things done for them on offense. However, their technical execution and fast-paced counter attacks make both rosters tough to beat in any scenario.
Andrew Luck is Edin Dzeko, the key player who is responsible for most of the points scored. Reggie Wayne is used more like veteran key man Zvjezdan Misimovic, who contributes to most of the points as a guy the ball has to come through for success. On the flip side, Robert Mathis’ contribution relates to that of Asmir Begovic, a top defender (goalie) at his position. Both teams also share a common characteristic with inspirational coaches Safet Susic (BiH) and Chuck Pagano (Colts). Susic is a native Bosnian who is a legend from his playing career.
The perception with Brazil is that they’re filled with unstoppable weapons on the offensive end, when in reality they rely too heavily on Neymar Jr. to make plays. This could be a situation much like Tom Brady is facing now. Oscar is Rob Gronkowski, both wear their emotions on their sleeves, but their talent’s much be accounted for. Brazilian keeper Julio Cesar is Darrelle Revis, an older player who shows flashes of better days from the past. Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins make up Dani Alves and Thiago Silva’s skill sets on the back end. Defense has talented players for both rosters, but they’re not as consistent as they should be. Brazil’s manager Luiz Scolari is a no-nonsese coach somewhat like Bill Belichick.
Eli Manning is Samuel Eto’o; not at the prime of his career anymore, but he can still put on a masterful performance at times. Both teams seem too reliant on their star with not enough proven weapons beyond Victor Cruz (for NYG), who could be Alexandre Song (for Cameroon). Both rosters are somewhat experienced but sometimes too shaky on defense (Giants gave up 24 PPG last season).
A young team that, if overlooked, could pounce on you. Bridgewater is Alexis Sanchez, a technically gifted player who can make a lot happen with the ball in his hands. Adrian Peterson is Vidal, arguably one of the top-five players in the world as an all-purpose midfielder (Peterson an all-purpose running back). Chad Greenway is goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. With the defense a bit uncertain in Minnesota, the Vikings go as Greenway goes, just like Chile and Bravo.
Colombia will hold one of the more dynamic offenses in the World Cup. Aaron Rodgers resembles Radamel Falcao (who is now officially out for the World Cup due to injury — lame), the anchor and top point scorer. Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson duplicate the offensive production of Jackson Matinez and James Rodriguez. The only thing holding Colombia back from making a deep run is the health of their offensive weapons and the stability of their unknown defensive production. Sounds like a Cheesehead formula to me.
Costa Rica and the Jets are relying on a player to lead them who hasn’t proven he can do it so far (Geno Smith and Bryan Ruiz). Costa Rica is a defensive-minded team that often runs out of the 5-4-1 set. The Jets love to win games in the middle (the trenches), and Costa Rica will attempt to do the same. With limited leadership and limited scoring ability, both of these teams are a long shot for early success.
New manager Niko Kovac is just trying to settle the team in and recover from the dictator-like Igor Stimac — sound familiar? Croatia’s top offensive players are in their midfield. The role of Luca Modric will have to be played by Josh McCown, who is trying to repeat his stellar 2013 campaign, and Ivan Rakitic, who represents the steady presence needed from Vincent Jackson. Darijo Srna (Croatia’s keeper and team captain) will be played by Gerald McCoy; he’s their anchor. But, ultimately, it’s Modric’s (McCown’s) job to turn these offensive weapons into points and to guide this team into the next round.
There’s nothing shaky about this Ecuador team’s style of play, and that’s why Sean Payton’s Saints are a good comparison. Ecuador is technically sound in their strategy; they’re a team that likes to control the ball, bring it out wide and find a cross or mismatch goal. Drew Bress is Felipe Cailceo, Ecuador’s leading goal scorer and finisher. Jimmy Graham and company represent Walter Ayovi and Antonio Valencia, Ecuador’s key pieces to success. This team runs a tight ship on both sides of the pitch, just as the Saints do.
The common train of thought with the English national team is that they’re a bunch of overpaid old guys who choke under pressure. The common train of thought with the Dallas Cowboys is that they’re a bunch of overpaid old guys who choke under pressure. Steven Gerrard is the vet who makes the English ship run. His role is obviously played by Tony Romo — both are the set-up pieces to all attacks and are also up there in age. The dynamic scorer Wayne Rooney is parallel with Cowboys’ receiver Dez Bryant in importance and use — both can change the game with one move. The Cowboys tend to rely heavily on their outside corners to have defensive success and England does a bit of the same.
These two have the parallel of underachievers who are trying to get past the shadow of their last time out (Texans’ two-win season last year, France’s first-round World Cup exit in 2010). Both squads are filled with a few great players, but they’re mostly average after that. Franck Ribery (who will now miss the World Cup with a back injury) is Andre Johnson’s spirit animal; for years the two have been the only weapon on offense for what is supposed to be a powerhouse team. That would make striker Karim Benzema Arian Foster. Though age doesn’t compare, the Texans’ reliance on J.J. Watt is similar to that of Patrice Evra. Both teams will look to right the wrongs of their recent past.
The vibe around the German national team is that they are high-powered on offense, methodical in their approach and can score at any time with the chemistry they have together. At the same time, they’re vulnerable on defense; I couldn’t think of a more perfect team to represent the reigning AFC Champions. Manning’s ability to hit players in stride resemble what Mesut Ozil does for Germany. The young attacking trio of Thomas Muller, Mario Gotze and Marco Reus lineup with Demaryius Thomas, Cody Latimer and Julius Thomas quite nicely. Germany’s goal is to attack you into submission; Denver’s is the same.
An older nucleus for Ghana makes them comparable to the upcoming 2014 Chicago Bears team — the Bears have done some work to give themselves some youth, but the two can still compare. Ghana’s leading goal scorer Asamoah Gyan is the Jay Cutler of this comparison as both dictate offensive success. Midfielders Sulley Munatri and Michael Essien would be what Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall represent as the main components to points scored — without them, Gyan is left high and dry. The production on Chicago’s defense has been above expectations for their age and Ghana will hope to see Lance Briggs/Charles Tillman-like performances from Harrison Afful and the rest of the back line.
The Greeks are a team that can credit their defensive pressure and top defensive playmakers for their spot in the 2014 World Cup. Much like Greece, the Rams’ defensive front seven is one of the more fierce units in football and is much of the reason for their success. The offense on both squads leave much to be desired, but just like the young, coveted striker Kostas Mitroglou, Zac Stacy has become a young, coveted running back for the Rams. Though Rams’ quarterback Sam Bradford doesn’t compare in age to Greece’s Georgios Karagounis, the overall production goes through both players. Defense is the key comparison here.
Honduras’ chances in 2014 come at a long shot and the same can be said for the Titans. Tennessee boasts a strong defense at times, but working as a unit is what holds them back; they have talented players, but not great chemistry. Justin Hunter and Kendall Wright are the closest playmakers to Roger Espinoza and Carlo Costly, but make no mistake, this isn’t a methodical offense — there’s a good amount of luck involved for both teams to score consistently. Michael Griffin would take on Emilio Izaguirre’s role (Honduras’ keeper), but, like I said, it’s a makeshift defense.
The Dolphins averaged 19 points scored and 20 points given up during the 2013 season. Those narrow give-and-take games are similar to the Iranian national team as well. This isn’t a team that is lacking in putting the ball in the net once or twice, but they’re also not stout at defending the rhythm of other teams either. Reza Ghoochannejhad (yes, that’s his name) is the young and promising player much like Ryan Tannehill is for ‘Phins fans. For both squads, how far their success runs will depend on those two players’ production.
Italy is a team that plays defense first, but as of late their offense has had to save them. In recent years, you could say the same about the Steelers. Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has game-saving skills that have stood the test of time. His comparison is obviously Troy Polamalu. Andrea Pirlo is the veteran center piece to Italy in the midfield much like Ben Roethlisberger is to the Steelers, and though Antonio Brown isn’t clinically insane like Mario Balotelli, their similar production has a link — both are dynamic offensive players who command full attention with the ball in their possession.
At their peak, IVC attacks at a rapid pace using speed and quick shots from all angles; this can correlate to Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins. The ‘Skins spread you out with option play but ultimately come back to their center pieces to finish things off. RG3 resembles that of Didier Drogba, the home run hitter. When Washington is on, they’re tough to outscore with weapons like Alfred Morris, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. But just like Ivory Coast, if they’re not the first to strike or at least capitalize in the early parts of the game, both teams can struggle to hold their opponents to reasonable points.
The Browns and the Japanese have similar traits in that they’re younger, energetic and could effort their way into a few wins — when it comes down to facing the powerhouse opponents, don’t expect much (at least this year). The Japanese are a technical team but mostly in their control of the ball. They won’t score more than two goals per game in this World Cup and will probably have trouble scoring more than once against better national teams. Cleveland is on the rise, but I expect them to play a pace-controlled style of offense this season with Josh Gordon in question.
The Mexican national team is one of the worst in the entire pool at capitalizing off turnovers, as are the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL. The Falcons were just 26th in the NFL with 61 takeaway points in 2013. Javier Hernandez, Giovani dos Santos and Oribe Peralta lead a strong trio of attackers for Mexico who take the form of Julio Jones, Matt Ryan and Roddy White in Atlanta. As Mexico will rely heavily at times on Hernandez to make something out of nothing, Julio Jones may be forced to take more than he can handle for the Falcons.
The Netherlands, like the Ravens, are coming off of a championship tournament where they reached the final game. The Dutch present one of the strongest goal-scoring squads, but not may of those goals come from within short distances — they have the second highest proportion of goals from outside the box.
The Ravens can sympathize with Holland, averaging only 80 rushing yards per contest in the short game, with most of their offense coming from the big arm of Joe Flacco. Baltimore’s quarterback is the centerpiece much like Robin van Persie is for the Dutch, and the receiving tandem of Torrey Smith and Steve Smith represent the cerebral Arjen Robben and youthful Jordy Clasie who make this team a boom or bust offensive threat.
Nigeria has the weapons to keep up with most squads, they just have to execute consistently. The talented outside wing man for the Nigerians is Victor Moses, and Larry Fitzgerald can fit that same kind of role on the outside for the Cardinals. Though Emmanuel Emenike is a young striker for the Super Eagles, his comparison to me keeps coming up as Patrick Peterson because of how they both change the game with their energy and big play potential. As stated before, Nigeria has certain pieces to make some noise — as do the Cardinals — but execution for these two clubs will tell their tale.
Few teams in the world have the fire power to keep up with Portugal, and the same can be said for the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles, as one of the NFL’s top players, LeSean McCoy has take-over ability like Cristiano Ronaldo. The Eagles were one of the best at finishing in the Red Zone last season and coming into this World Cup. Few teams are better at finishing inside the box than Portugal. Nani, a Portugal wildcard striker, is relied upon like Jeremy Maclin. Consistency is a question mark, but when on the field, both players have world-class speed and explosive play-making abilities.
It all starts on the defensive front for Russia, one of the stronger defensive teams in the World Cup. The Russians tend to bully their opponents around, wearing down opposing attackers from the center of the field. Igor Denisov is the anchor of the midfield, much like Kiko Alonso is for Buffalo at such a young age.
What Russia likes to do is win the ball and keep it grounded. The Bills were the second-best team in the NFL at rushing the football in 2013, so that similarity remains true here. It’s a hard-nosed, ground-and-pound style of play for both the Russians and the Bills. Though I don’t expect either team to contend much into the later rounds, controlling the ball could keep any match in their favor.
I hate to make this comparison because the Jags are on the up, but 2013’s stats make this comparison too easy and too accurate to pass up. South Korea is the second-lowest ranked team coming in to the World Cup at No. 55, and the Jags finished last season second-to-worst in the NFL. With the Jags recording just seven rushing touchdowns all season, they can relate to South Korea, which often begs on lucky plays of long distances to bail them out (in last year’s case, Justin Blackmon for JAX). Jacksonville was 7th in the NFL in most passing yards given up and the South Koreans share that same problem with most of their goals against coming from outside runs. It’s not a perfect comparison looking forward because the Jags are so different for 2014, but South Korean fan favorite Park Chu-Young could resemble Blake Bortles if Bortles makes the start early.
The defending champs in this case are, well, the defending champs. No other team in the NFL could hold their opponents to near shut out statistics while also producing great amounts of offense like Seattle did last season — they’re the only team that measures up to Spain. Xavi is the brains that make the Spaniards go; he is Russell Wilson. Fernando Torres and David Villa are what Marshawn Lynch and Percy Harvin are to an explosive offensive game plan. On the back end, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas go together like Casillas and Sergio Ramos (the last line of defense and the shut down defender). There are plenty of other names to go around, but just know Spain is the favorite and so are the Seahawks.
The Swiss can attribute their high world ranking and top-tier World Cup status to their stellar defense. They kept a clean sheet in 70 percent of their qualifying matches. Their key defender, Xherden Shaqiri, is an dependable defensive mid much like Vontaze Burfict has become for the Bengals. The thick of the midfield can resemble what the interior battles of a football play can be like, and for that, Switzerland midfielders Gokhan Inler and Granit Xhaka play statement rolls like Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap do in the trenches.
The United States has had their most successful campaign in the country’s history moving up from rank No. 27 to now No. 14 in just 12 months. The Americans thrive off of scoring from close range with the ball on the ground and that’s a preference of Kansas City as well with Charles and company carrying the ball — though Charles managed to score quite a bit from long distances by himself last season.
The US has a knack for pulling out low scoring games, but that can be viewed as a blessing and a curse as they have trouble putting away lesser opponents. The Chiefs gave up 19 points per game last season while scoring 26 each time out. Although that’s not too close of a margin to perfectly compare, these two can still relate here with how KC runs their offense. Eric Berry plays the role of Tim Howard and Jozy Altidore would be the closest comparison to Jamaal Charles, which would make Clint Dempsey *gulp* Alex Smith.
It’s tough to take on the teeth of Uruguay’s defense and come away with a victory, and the same can be said about Carolina’s front seven. Luke Kuechley runs the Panthers’ defensive front by example as Diego Lugano runs Uruguay’s defensive unit. The Cam Newton comparison has to go to one of the most talented scorers in the world in Luis Suarez, but Uruguay is at their best when controlling the ball in set pieces and playing at their own pace. This is also the case with Carolina’s running attack. If you let them play their game, they can really hurt you.