NEW YORK – Argentina, the United States and Iran appear to be the most disliked World Cup teams. Brazilian fans enter the World Cup as the most confident, though Argentines and Spaniards aren’t far behind in their home-country optimism. And fans across many countries agree that the Brazilians play the most attractive form of soccer.
These are among the results from a study of people in 19 countries conducted by YouGov, the online survey firm, in collaboration with The Upshot. The study offers insight into the psyche of fans around the world as they prepare for the most watched tournament in sports.
Politics, geography and good old schadenfreude seem to play a strong role in rooting. A plurality of Mexican respondents named the United States as their least-favorite team. Brazilians chose Argentines, and vice versa. Greeks named their bankers: both Germany and the United States. Elsewhere in Europe, the wounds of an old war seem long forgotten; few fans named Germany as their most disliked team. In Asia, by contrast, Japan and South Korea do not like each other. The United States, Argentina and Iran each have more than their share of haters around the world.
A strong plurality of fans in only three countries — Argentina, Brazil and Spain – predict their own country to win the tournament. (A plurality in the United States also picked the home team to win, against all odds, but that plurality consisted of only 14 percent of Americans; the rest picked another team or said they didn’t know who would win.) Everywhere else, the most common prediction was Brazil. In many countries, the home team was the second- or third-most commonly predicted winner. One notable exception: England. The English just don’t believe in their team anymore.
There is little debate about who plays the beautiful game, or “joga bonito,” as it’s known in Portuguese: Brazil does. A plurality of fans in the countries we studied, when asked who plays the most appealing brand of soccer, named Brazil. We didn’t allow people to name their country on this question; Brazilians picked Spain, the defending champion.
Colombians are among the world’s biggest soccer fans. Only 6 percent of Colombian respondents said they were “not interested” in the sport, the lowest level among our 19 countries. More broadly, the highest levels of interest are in Latin America.
The least interested country, not surprisingly, is the United States: 60 percent of Americans reported being uninterested. The fact that about half of people in England and France say they have little care for the game may surprise outsiders, even if it is unlikely to surprise people living in those countries.
Just as striking, given the passions that surround the sport, was how many people — about a third in many soccer-loving countries — said they did not have a least-favorite team.
A small but noticeable minority of people are ready for the World Cup to end before it has begun. Asked to name their least-favorite team, a plurality of Brazilian respondents (34 percent) named Argentina. But second on the list? Brazil itself. Almost 7 percent of respondents in Brazil will be rooting hard against the home team. That unusual level of home-team dissatisfaction may relate to the recent political turmoil in Brazil. Similarly, 7 percent of French and 5 percent of Americans report rooting against the home team.
Brazil is the only country where a full majority of respondents (64 percent) were confident enough to predict their country as the winner. Next most confident: Spain (where 48 percent of respondents predicted a Spanish victory), Argentina (47 percent), Colombia (25 percent), Portugal (23 percent), Russia (21 percent), Italy (21 percent), Chile (17 percent), Germany (16 percent). By comparison, oddsmakers list Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Spain — in descending order — as the favorites. In the United States, 14 percent of respondents predicted an American victory — an optimism evidently not shared by Jurgen Klinsmann, the coach of the United States team.