⚽️ How to Run a Proper FIFA World Cup Pool
Eight months after the Night of Three Horrors, American soccer fans are still coming to grips with the U.S. Men’s National Team’s absence from the World Cup. If you’re reading this, you probably know how it happened, and another recap of that ghastly October night will feel like cayenne pepper in an open wound, so please skip ahead to the next paragraph. For you newbies, the USMNT lost 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago (with T&T’s first “score” coming on an own goal), Mexico blew a lead and lost to Honduras, and Panama beat Costa Rica with the help of a goal that never actually crossed the goal line. Three games, three upsets — a perfect storm of American comeuppance.
The biggest sporting event on the planet is about to take place without us, and it hurts to have no skin in the game. (First track on the official 2018 USMNT mixtape: “Lose This Skin” by the Clash.)
Thank heavens for gambling. There’s no better way to grow new skin than to put some money down on teams that you normally wouldn’t support. Hell, I’ve even found myself cheering for the Minnesota Vikings a couple of times after betting on them, and as a fan of the Green Bay Packers, I loathe the Vikings. The tonic for American soccer fans is to bet on the World Cup. But conventional sportsbook wagering isn’t particularly sociable. The better way is to get friends and family involved by starting a pool.
The trick to a good pool is simplicity. It has to be easy for everyone to track. Here’s a recipe for a fun, simple World Cup pool:
This requires 4, 8 or 16 participants (and I suppose it could work with just 2). Once you’ve set the pool field, randomize the order for a traditional fantasy-style snake draft and choose your sides. You can get people together for a live draft, you can use an email chain for an online “slow draft,” or you can have people submit rankings of all 32 teams, then award them their highest-ranked remaining team when their pick is up.
That’s it. Nice and easy. Highest score at the end of the tournament wins.
So, for example, let’s say Spain defeats Portugal 2-1 in their opening game. The Spain owner gets 5 points: 3 for the win and 2 for the goals. The Portugal owner gets 1 point for the lone goal. But let’s say Spain and Portugal put the Iberian Peninsula to sleep with a 0-0 draw. The Spain and Portugal owners would get 2 points each: 1 point apiece for the draw, 1 point apiece for the shutout (or the “clean sheet,” for you purists).
(A quick scoring clarification: In the knockout stage, if a game is 0-0 at the end of regulation and goes to penalty kicks, the game is considered a shutout for both sides, and no points are awarded for shootout goals. The side that wins gets 4 points — 3 for the win, 1 for the shutout — and the side that loses gets 1 point for the shutout.)
Obviously, the more games your teams play, the more opportunities you have to accumulate points, so look at the groups carefully before drafting. It’s also smart to look at potential matchups in the first round of the knockout stage. Running up against Germany in the first round of the knockout stage can be hazardous to your pool health.
I ran a pool like this for each of the last two World Cups. It would probably work best with 8 players, but we did it with 16. Some might contend that in a 16-person pool, you would need to draw an early first-round pick and draft a heavyweight in order to win. Maybe, maybe not. In 2010, the pool winner picked No. 2 and took tournament winner Spain. But in 2014, our pool winner picked No. 10 and won with a Netherlands/USA combination. Yes, it helps to have a team capable of making a deep run, but people with late first-round picks have a better chance of getting both teams into the knockout stage. It’s just a matter of finding Cinderella.
My favorite thing about this type of a pool? Nationalism.
We Americans have seen some ugly forms of nationalism in the last few years. Nationalism can be much more enjoyable when it doesn’t involve your own country. We just conducted our draft for this year’s World Cup pool. I picked 11th and landed Croatia and Egypt. I intend to live the next few weeks as an honorary Croatian-Egyptian and immerse myself in those cultures. Today I’ll be hunting for a checkerboard-patterned handkerchief to wave around after Croatian goals. (And I’ve just learned that the Croatian city of Dubrovnik doubles as Kings Landing on “Game of Thrones,” which is cool as hell.)
A World Cup without America? Meh. Whatever. We’ll live. Just get your gamble on, sit back and enjoy.
When you finish your World Cup pool, be sure to fill out a World Cup bracket from our friends at FOX.