The ultimate MLB fan guide to the FIFA World Cup contenders

Pinch hitting with the FIFA World Cup take you didn’t know you needed, check out the ultimate MLB fan guide to the next six weeks courtesy of Padraig Whelan

As Major League Baseball prepares for some glorious weeks of summer baseball, the footballing world is readying itself for the FIFA World Cup.

Whilst fans of the great American past-time take in the action from venues ranging from Texas to Toronto, football fans will be glued to the action in Russia.

But for those who want to take in both sporting spectacles over the month ahead, we endeavour to help make things a little easier for those who want to know what to expect from the main contenders for the Jules Rimet Trophy.

We take the top nine teams competing for success in Russia and match them up as best we can to their MLB counterparts.

But what about the rest? Are Denmark the Cincinnati Reds of European continental football given their over-reliance on one man?

Do the beautiful kits of Nigeria and the Oakland Athletics mean they are a fair comparison? Is the future bright for both Serbia and the Atlanta Braves given their youthful stars?

Chime in and let us know!

Brazil – New York Yankees

Those famous pinstripes and that sunshine yellow jersey, two of the most recognisable in sport. You either love these teams or you hate them but you always have a begrudging respect for their glorious history.

Each is expected to challenge for major honours this year and each possesses attacking talents that make them a big threat to do just that.

In the same way that opposing pitchers may quake with a little fear when they look at a batting line-up that reels off Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius, defenders likely get that same feeling when they see a Brazilian attack take to the field which includes Neymar, Philip Coutinho, Diego Costa, Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino.

Start spreadin’ the news to the beat of the samba drum… because if men like Neymar and Judge hit form, both these powerhouses could add to their trophy haul this year, with both already top of the pile in that regard.

Germany – Houston Astros

The defending champions. The team to beat. Both Die Mannschaft and the ‘Stros have came into 2018 with a target on their backs.

Both teams have what it takes to go all the way again and their strength in depth is staggering. When one can have Kevin Trapp as a third choice goalkeeper or Charlie Morton as a fifth man in the rotation, the rest should be worried.

Their exciting young talents such as Timo Werner, Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka on the football side and Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman at Minute Maid Park should keep both competitive for quite some time.

Justin Verlander and Mario Gomez have also became somewhat famous away from the field and the diamond too, for their marriages to models.

Spain – Chicago Cubs

For the longest time, both these sides were the lovable losers, to an extent, of their respective sports and although they entertained, never seriously maintained consistent challenges for honours.

La Roja were long touted for success but never quite delivered on it, until recently when they finally ended their wait for a World Cup win in 2010 (along with European Championship victories which bookended it).

Despite their recent victory, they appear to have been overlooked somewhat, similarly to Joe Maddon‘s Northsiders who ended their long wait for a win two years ago when the World Series was finally brought back to Wrigleyville after a 108-year wait.

Like Spain, they appear to be ranked just outside the top three contenders but there is no question they have the talent to go all the way again and the experience of being there and doing it before.

The antics of players like Sergio Ramos and Javier Baez may rub people the wrong way at times but would you really not want either of them in your side?

France – Washington Nationals

Both teams unquestionably have the ability to beat anyone in the planet on their day but both also have the same ability to implode at the most inopportune time.

For Les Bleus, they have often shot themselves in the foot by blowing up behind the scenes (see 2002 and 2010), while the Nationals also seem to suffer similar collapses under the playoff lights of October.

Samuel Umtiti and Max Scherzer are daunting prospects though for any attackers or hitters, while Antoine Griezmann and Bryce Harper can win games on their own so nobody thinks they aren’t capable.

But can they hold their nerve with the eyes of the world watching?

Given the franchise’s history and ties to the city of Montreal too, with their proud French roots, it is a comparison which fits nicely.

Argentina – Los Angeles Dodgers

Is the fact that both wear a beautiful blue and white combination enough here? No, okay. Let’s see…

Both were finalists last time out in the World Cup and World Series respectively but ultimately came up short and there is always an expectation on both to deliver, regardless of the circumstance.

Their fans demand success and there is always pressure on players for these teams to deliver the goods.

Argentina limped through qualifying, similarly to how Dave Roberts‘ men meandered through April and May but appear to be picking it up now in time for the summer.

In addition, Lionel Messi and Clayton Kershaw are among the best that each set of fans have ever seen and even most neutrals surely wouldn’t begrudge either man a title with the team they love and who expect so much from both.

England – Cleveland Indians

1966. 1948. Both sides have waited a long time to end their respective championship droughts and have flirted with doing so in the years since, only to come up heartbreakingly short.

There is expectation on them, particularly given the division/group they find themselves in, but could this time be different from their previous close calls in the 1990s?

Perhaps. Both have a fresh, hungry young core group and men like Dele Alli or Francisco Lindor could carry their hopes for years to come.

Yet they each seem to have a penchant for a particular kind of self-inflicted pain, as evidenced by the Three Lions’ consistent penalty shootout failures and Cleveland’s inability to hold onto a lead, throwing away two-game advantages in the 2016 World Series and 2017 ALDS.

It is just a shame that Sir Alex Ferguson isn’t the England manager – perhaps the only man in football who could rival Tito Francona when it comes to chewing gum in the dugout.

Portugal – Los Angeles Angels

Both these teams look at the world title in 2018 as something which would be unlikely if not entirely beyond the realms of possibility, particularly after Portugal shocked the continent two years ago.

Their line-ups aren’t exactly littered throughout with star-studded talent (although there are some exceptional players) but the big thing that both have going for them is that each has arguably the best player in the world in their side.

And any team which possesses a Cristiano Ronaldo or a Mike Trout, despite the rest of their shortcomings, will always have a chance.

Portugal may not have a two-way star in the mould of Shohei Ohtani (Eds note: the Angels may not either now…) but those with longer memories may recall the Euro 2004 tournament that they hosted.

During their quarter-final with England, goalkeeper Ricardo tried his luck in attack when, after saving penalties in the inevitable shootout, he scored the winner with a surprisingly well-taken effort.

Plus, both play in sunny western climates and wear popular red jerseys, although that could be stretching things somewhat.

Belgium – Philadelphia Phillies

Admittedly, pound for pound, the Phillies may not have the talent within their ranks that Belgium do but there are still some reasonable expectations on these teams.

If not this year then next, it will be time for Philadelphia to start flexing their muscle in what is a difficult division at present.

That has been the mantra for the Red Devils for quite some time too and they are now at the point where they have to start delivering on their promise, after flattering to deceive in 2014 and 2016.

However, for fans of both these teams, any expectations that they may have must be tempered by some big concerns over their managers.

Roberto Martinez isn’t exactly flavour of the month in Belgium (particularly after excluding Radja Nainggolan from his squad) and his defensive set-up is a concern, whilst Gabe Kapler has already found out the hard way that his experimental style may not sit well at Citizens Bank Park.

Both these teams have a crop of standout players but can the men in charge get the best out of them?

With Marouane Fellaini, Dedryck Boyata, Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco, there is also some fantastic haircut game among these squads.

Uruguay – Milwaukee Brewers

Neither of these teams perhaps get the credit that they deserve and to a large extent, both appear to go under the radar.

However, you underestimate them at your peril. Each possess superstar talents in Diego Godin, Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez for the South Americans and Lorenzo Cain, Travis Shaw and Christian Yelich in Milwaukee.

Each have quietly gone about their business but have now become a real thorn in the side to the more ‘established’ powers of the NL Central and South American qualifying circuit.

Both are likely to come up just a little short this year but it is certainly going to be a fun ride and for different reasons, no team will have it easy against them.

Thankfully though, to the best of our knowledge, no Brewers player has yet been so frustrated with an opposing player that he has taken to biting him!

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