Fans seeking to fill the void brought about by the U.S. men's national team's qualifying collapse have identified a handful of prime options to get their World Cup fix.
At 12 percent each, Brazil, Germany and Mexico emerged as the top choices among soccer fans in the United States looking for a team to cheer on, according to a recent poll conducted by SurveyMonkey in partnership with ESPN. Traditional powers England and Argentina are also in the mix of fan favorites for the tournament that kicks off Thursday.
Best of luck if you've decided to throw your support to the group of 2 percenters (we see you, Iceland and Nigeria). If you're still on the fence regarding the most popular choices, we present you with arguments we hope can sway you toward the candidate that best suits your pompoms (or spoons).
We've also included a handy Anxiety Rating on a scale of 1 to 5 -- 1 meaning you're a bandwagon-jumper who doesn't like to suffer and 5 meaning you have no fingernails and like your sports stress levels through the roof.
Favorite of: 12 percent
The case for: If you like winners, then Brazil, the curators of o jogo bonito, is your team -- the South American powerhouse is king of the world, with five titles and 70 total tournament victories. Its odds to come away the champion in Russia are again among the more favorable. After a rocky start to qualifying, Brazil righted the ship and became the first team after the host nation to earn an invite by sailing through the South American qualifiers. Neymar is recovering from a foot injury that kept him off the field for three months, but under manager Tite, the Brazilians have incorporated a style that isn't as dependent on the star forward.
The case against: Brazil is decidedly not a team for casual fans who root for the underdog. Even with a more balanced side this time around, the memory of a 7-1 semifinal loss to Germany in 2014 without Neymar is still fresh, so his health will be key. A recent ankle injury to Manchester United midfielder Fred does not help matters for a nation that despite its rich soccer history hasn't hoisted the trophy in 16 years.
Anxiety Rating: 2
Favorite of: 12 percent
The case for: If you like team effort, or sums that are greater than their parts, then Die Mannschaft is for you. Germany will once again head to a World Cup without a clear superstar in its ranks. Do you prefer the Moneyball approach? The Germans have one of the most advanced data systems around and are always looking to improve. Have we mentioned that they're the defending champion, a run that included a 7-1 thrashing of World Cup host country Brazil in the 2014 semifinal? Germany isn't too far behind Brazil, with four championships and 66 total tournament victories.
The case against: Efficiency, predictability and the lack of star power can make for a boring follow, and Germany's Group F sets it up for another cakewalk to the semis. Even so, history is not on its side: No team has successfully defended a World Cup crown since Brazil did so in 1962, and you can bet the Germans will get the very best from their opponents -- especially from European rivals on a mission. Captain and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was out for eight months with injury, and his fitness will be of concern.
Anxiety Rating: 1
Favorite of: 12 percent
The case for: It all seems to be coming together for the United States' next-door neighbor, which cruised through the final round of qualifying and has had an impressive record under manager Juan Carlos Osorio. A renewed sense of kinship means international dates feel more like road trips between "bros" rather than a burden. Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa had a breakout World Cup in Brazil and is coming off a league championship season in Belgium. And with younger players such as Hirving Lozano rising in Europe, it's only a matter of time before individual experiences in the world's most competitive soccer translate into national-team success -- and ultimately North America's first World Cup title.
The case against: El Tri is not for the superstitious, with the curse of el quinto partido still very much a thing. Mexico has been unable to reach that elusive fifth game since topping Bulgaria in the quarterfinal round of a World Cup it hosted 32 years ago. At least fans are forever bracing for a round of 16 letdown (#NoEraPenal); what's difficult to predict is how Osorio's maddening lineup tactics will affect chemistry. The stings of blowout losses to Chile and Germany under Osorio haven't subsided. As if the inconsistency weren't enough, key injuries and focus issues on the eve of the World Cup have cost players valuable practice time. No other country has played as many World Cup matches (53) without winning at least one trophy.
Anxiety Rating: 4.5
Favorite of: 8 percent
The case for: Fans of England in the SurveyMonkey poll were the most likely to mention the USMNT's absence from Russia as their reason for backing the 1966 champion. Even somewhat tenuous personal connections were enough to sway poll participants, and England certainly has its share of them in the States -- language, heritage and an affinity for royal weddings certainly among them. On the pitch, the Three Lions have updated with younger, more athletic parts and can more than hold their own. Striker Harry Kane is as much of a scoring threat as anyone in Russia. A quarterfinal appearance -- potentially against European rival Germany -- could push England to bigger things.
The case against: If this were baseball, England would be the Chicago Cubs before 2016 -- perennial losers -- but maybe not as lovable. Its dire history of shootout collapses won't endear it to fans who appreciate performances in the clutch. While the current version is young and promising, considerable flaws keep it from being a polished product. Then there's a question of identity, one that as of now is defined by mental barriers that show up at the most inopportune times.
Anxiety Rating: 5
Favorite of: 6 percent
The case for: In a World Cup driven more by personalities than participants among U.S. followers, there is no bigger individual force than Lionel Messi. About the only accomplishment missing for the superstar ranked as the favorite player in the SurveyMonkey poll is World Cup glory, and Argentina lost in an extra-time final to Germany the last time around. A scenario in which Argentina conquers the tournament might just cement Messi's status as the GOAT. Plus, there is something about La Albiceleste's readily identifiable sky-blue kit that stokes the passion of its already fervent fan base. Argentina is a five-time World Cup finalist and two-time champion, having most recently lifted the trophy in 1986 thanks to a little divine intervention.
The case against: Quickly ... name any other player on the team. Not to diminish the contributions of Sergio Aguero or Gonzalo Higuain, but any brief "retirement" from international play on their part won't provoke a national crisis like Messi's did. We've just recently seen an example of one person's attempt to bear the burden alone, and it wasn't pretty. Argentina's struggles in qualifying don't mean the intense pressure Messi & Co. face to bring home the trophy has subsided. Given the considerable number of Ronaldo, Neymar and Chicharito jerseys that will be sported during the next month, a fair chunk of U.S. fans have probably already decided against Messi and the most reprimanded country in the tournament's history (120 cards).
Anxiety Rating: 3
Methodology: This SurveyMonkey online poll was conducted May 30-June 1 among a national sample of 3,752 adults, of whom 1,375 respondents are World Cup followers who either plan to follow the 2018 competition or have watched in previous years. Respondents for this survey were selected from the nearly 3 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. The modeled error estimate is plus or minus 2.0 percentage points for the full survey of adults and plus or minus 3.0 percentage points for the sample of World Cup followers. Data have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau's American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States age 18 and over.