Every four years, the world assembles. Absolutely nothing captivates the sporting world like the drama of the World Cup.
Each country comes to the World Cup followed by a reputation it will fight to either belie or uphold. It's not unlike college football. There's a perception of the way they act, perform, win or lose.
In the ACC, reputations reign supreme. As the conference landscape shifts and change, teams come in perceived in one way by themselves, perceived in another by each other. For those ACC football fans as yet unfamiliar with this year's World Cup field, you can use this as a rooting guide if your country or nationality isn't in it. For those familiar with the tournament, feel free to discuss your thoughts and why.
The world's greatest tournament starts today, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride!
Florida State as Brazil
Consistently one of the elite - and plenty of people love and hate them for that very reason. They feature one of the world's most electric and explosive 20-something athletes. Whenever they lose, it's a catastrophe. The Seleção are once against listed as the favorite to come away with another world championship.
Miami as Argentina
If Florida State is playing the role of Brazil, it naturally follows that Miami is their South American/Floridian counterpart, Argentina. In terms of winning reputation, they're sort of overrated based on the heroics of their drug addled stars of the 80s. At every turn you'll run into an Argentinean superstar playing on one of the world's great clubs - or a Miami NFL Draft pick lighting it up in the pros. Both sets of fans continue to feel like they're among the elite based on those championships they won back in the 80s.
Clemson as the Netherlands
Much like their ACC football counterparts, the Dutch Eleven have a propensity for approaching the summit before watching their dreams crumble in spectacular fashion. Three times a finalist -- 1974, 1978, 2010 -- the Netherlands have a knack for Clemson-ing. This year's Dutch side is in a bit of a transition, with many players having fewer than 15 caps for the national team. The few remaining stars are aging. While their teams are stocked with talent, they are somewhat overrated and overhyped thanks to their insane fan base. Everyone kind of likes them because, well, their fans know how to throw a party.
Virginia Tech as Mexico
Mexico has an unjustified inflated self-importance about their role in world soccer. El Tri is historically a very good team, but not even close to great. They've never won a World Cup - yet they think of themselves as being the Holy Land of the game. The program has lost a bit of its luster in recent years, having to back-door its way into qualifying for the World Cup at all this year. After finishing fourth in the CONCACAF Hexagonal, Mexico needed to defeat New Zealand in the playoff after receiving a major assist from their frenemies to the north. Mexico has plenty of CONCACAF Gold Cups to its name, but has never won the big one. Doesn't even have leather-soccer-ball championships, either.
Boston College as the United States
Yeah, I know, of course we compared our own team to the USA. But think about the parallels. Boston College has a long, long history of playing football with a modest level of success, but has never approached true elite status. Diehard fans of US soccer know that the team had major accomplishments in the 1930 and 1950 World Cups, remembered fondly like the 1940 Eagles squad by fans of the team, but largely forgotten by history. US teams have been historically defined by their grit and intensity, but have been mocked by fans of bigger teams as lacking in skill. For fans in the US and fans of BC, the scalp of a major program in a big spot becomes a moment to cherish for decades. Both teams have fanbases that are smaller than the bigger powers, but make up for their smaller size in psychosis and unrealistic expectation. Neither never really gets the respect they deserve for being consistently competitive and churning out solid professionals. We're derided by others as not fitting in culturally ... we "just don't get it." Our neighbors down south think we suck, but we have beaten them more times than they'd be willing to admit. And good luck getting out of the Group of Death / ACC Atlantic Division.
Syracuse as Australia
They kind of suck at this sport, and they like another sport a lot better. Still, they maintain a respectable enough football program to qualify for the World Cup / get saved from toiling in American Athletic Conference obscurity. Relatively geographically isolated relative vis a vis peer countries. Interestingly, the United States (BC) and Australia (SU) are often compared in a lot of international soccer circles. Both started professional leagues at the same time. Both are relative newcomers on the world stage. Both are in countries where other forms of football are more popular.
North Carolina as Russia
Russia will be making its third World Cup appearance this summer (1994, 2002, 2014), and will auto-qualify in 2018 when the country serves as host. Much like North Carolina, you can't help but wonder why these guys aren't better. Like, how is Russia just OK at soccer? Shouldn't they be really good, especially given the country's vast resources? The country is good at plenty of other sports -- hockey, skiing, boxing and stuff -- why not soccer?
Duke as South Korea
Are they going to win the World Cup? No. But their students are #1 internationally in math and reading, so joke's on the rest of us.
Louisville as Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina will be making its first World Cup appearance as an independent nation in 2014. They didn't exist not that long ago, and just sort of showed up and are good. Like, very good. Went 8-1-1 in the qualifying stage, advancing past Greece on goal differential. Scored 30 goals -- ahead of all European nations save for England, Germany and the Netherlands. Have been quietly building a very solid program over the last few years, losing to Portugal in the 2010 World Cup qualifying and 2012 Euro playoffs. Still, nobody really knows quite what to make of the Golden Lilies as they make their World Cup debut.
Pittsburgh as Croatia
Pittsburgh has a much more glorious history from a bygone than you'd might think. From 1927-1955 Pitt appeared in 4 Rose Bowls and a Sugar Bowl. Yugoslavia was a power in a bygone era, but the former Yugoslav republics have reinvented themselves and are hoping to build successful histories of their own.
Virginia as Japan
This was a tough one to find a comparison for. But Japan is a very wealthy, history-rich nation that has never won a World Cup and probably won't this year.
N.C. State as Cameroon
Cameroon enters the World Cup with hype and with well-known stars, seen by some as a sleeping giant. However, they've ultimately never really made it deep in the World Cup, and it's fair to wonder whether their nation's finances and their quality of coaching will ever allow them to be one of the elite.
Georgia Tech as Chile
I'll be honest, I sort of think of Georgia Tech as having a mediocre history in my head. But if you look it up, they've got a pretty solid history and a lot of bowl game appearances. Looking back through their history, Chile has been consistently in the picture, if not necessarily spectacular. They've got a proud history, but they're still looking for a major breakthrough.
Wake Forest as Greece
Remember that time Greece won a European championship? No? Yeah, they did, that one time. Really? Yes. They did. But historically they are one of the weaker European sides ... as far as Euro sides that have made the World Cup / play in a BCS conference go, anyway.
Notre Dame as England
This comparison is too easy. There's obviously the pompous, inflated sense of self-importance based on championships won in the leather-soccer-ball/leather-helmet era. There's the fact that England refused to participate in the World Cup for decades because they thought doing such a thing was beneath them. There's the fact that anyone remotely good on either gets ridiculously overhyped by the media, who consistently drool over 'return to glory' narratives. England has won jack squat since 1966, like Notre Dame's 1988. And I'll be shocked if either reaches the pinnacle again any time soon.
Maryland as East Germany
They don't exist anymore, and they weren't that good anyway.
UConn as Canada
Not invited, not included, because they're not good enough. Sorry, guys. No, just because you won the hockey gold medal doesn't mean you get to play. Yes, I know you won the women's hockey gold medal, too.