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FIFA Announces Final Draw For 2018 World Cup

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The final draw for the World Cup was announced today. The 32 teams in the tournament now know who they will be playing next summer in Russia. And of course that does not include the U.S. team which was eliminated back in October. Hardcore U.S. fans might not be ready to root for another country, but if you are up for it, there are still plenty of upstarts and feel-good teams to root for. Here to help us figure that out and talk about all other things World Cup is Roger Bennett of the "Men In Blazers" podcast and show on NBC Sports. Welcome back to the show.

ROGER BENNETT: Oh, Kelly, it's a joy to be here even with bittersweet emotion after that World Cup draw without the United States in it.

MCEVERS: Are you sure you're that upset about the U.S.?

BENNETT: I could not be more distraught. I adore the United States more than Kid Rock loves the United States. So I am absolutely bereft despite my accent.

MCEVERS: For those of us who would have liked to root for the U.S. and are looking for somebody else to root for, who would you advise?

BENNETT: If you're big-hearted, you could go for the home team - little Russia, the host nation. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, Kelly, but they ended up in the easiest group while Vladimir Putin looked on from the stage. They're essentially in the Cleveland Browns of groups for Putin's team. And there will no doubt be viewing parties across the United States of America for the opening game on June 14 when Russia plays Saudi Arabia. That's the big one.

MCEVERS: Aside from Russia, are there any other good underdogs to root for?

BENNETT: My advice to all of your listeners is do not choose the England team, whatever you do.

MCEVERS: (Laughter) OK.

BENNETT: I'm speaking with scars all over my body, emotional traumas that this team have given me in major tournaments past. They will raise your hopes and then find cruel, sadistic, unusual ways to self-sabotage. The jewel of the tournament, Kelly, if you're looking for an underdog, a heart-warming story - look no further than Iceland, the smallest nation of all time to compete in the World Cup, just 325,000 Icelanders in that population, around the same size as Corpus Christi, Texas.

I met them. They have a charming coach who until recently was a part-time dentist on an island that has more puffins than it did people. But these players - they have a collective (unintelligible). Their talent - very little of it is world-class. Collectively, when they take the field, they believe Viking blood runs through their veins. And watching them in major tournaments defy the odds over and over again, it's a delirious sight to see. They take on Argentina in that opening game, and I fancy their odds.

MCEVERS: OK, so - but what if you actually hate underdogs - just, like, not your thing. You were the one person who is actually sad that the Death Star blew up at the end of Star Wars, or you were, like, somebody who, you know - I don't know - roots for the New England Patriots. Like, who, besides the big ones - like, who are the ones you'd really bet on?

BENNETT: There's a saying in world football that football is a simple game where 22 men chase a football and at the final whistle, Germany always wins.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

BENNETT: They are the reigning world champions.

MCEVERS: Yeah.

BENNETT: They have the - just a youth development system that pumps out a trout farm of young talent. And if you want to back the favorites, Germany is the team for you.

MCEVERS: Roger Bennett of the "Men In Blazers" podcast and TV show on NBC Sports, thank you so much.

BENNETT: Kelly, thanks for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.