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Football Fantasy! International edition: How to cheer for the Seahawks during the FIFA World Cup

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Nigeria fields the right mix of talent, “nobody-believes-in-us” factor, and a certain shade of green

Are you ready for some world football?

After six straight championship tournament appearances since the United States hosted the most prestigious international competition on Earth in 1994, the Americans failed to qualify for World Cup 2018 in Russia. Does it matter? Not really. There is plenty of good soccer still to watch.

But how should Seattle Seahawks fans align themselves during this alternate universe 32-team battle royal?

One way to do it, if you also go for the Sounders, is to adopt their players involved in the World Cup: Defender Román Torres plays for Panama and midfielder Gustav Svensson for Sweden. However, while the Swedes are plucky and Panama are handsome, neither of these teams are particularly Seahawky. Beside, neither squad is likely to make its way out of the group stage, and you want your proxy Seattle to at least advance to the elimination rounds, right?

It’s no fun to pick a dominant contender with a clear path, like Germany, Brazil or France, either. Those are the Patriots and Steelers of this particular league. Although the Seahawks have lately been one of the top sides in American football, the defining characteristic of the of the club over the years has been its dark horse status, its yearning for respect, its tendency to remain on the verge of breaking through without typically claiming the throne—and its “South Alaska” remoteness from traditional football consciousness.

No, we’re here for the African delegation.

No African squad has ever made it beyond the quarterfinal stage of the World Cup. The closest was Ghana in 2010, when a header putback by Asamoah Gyan, on target for the goal and yards wide of Uruguay’s keeper, got intercepted illegally by La Celeste’s cannibal striker Luis Suarez in the 121st minute (essentially the last second of overtime), preserving a 1-1 tie and stealing promotion from the Black Stars after Gyan missed the game-winning penalty and Uruguay prevailed in a shootout.

In other words, it was the Super Bowl XL of soccer matches.

Ghana isn’t available to support this time around, but there’s an even closer option I’m going to tell you about: Nigeria.

Nigeria in 2018 will sport electric green kits, a lot like Seattle’s Action Green gear (or the Sounders’ uniforms for that matter). There are other green teams, for sure: Saudi Arabia, sometimes Mexico, Australia sort of. Senegal. And plenty of blue. But none of them feature a pattern of repeating chevrons a lot like the cover of Eileen Myles’s Inferno—or the Seahawks’ Northwest Coast native-inspired “feather” motif sublimated on their helmets, in the jersey numbers, and stacked on the pant legs. CBS’s Igor Mello ranked Nigeria’s Nike outfits the best jerseys in Russia, and it’s not too late to cop your own.

One thing that distinguished Seattle even though it missed the playoffs in 2017 was that it soundly defeated the Super Bowl winner Philadelphia Eagles. You might even call the Seahawks, named for another species of ferocious bird, the Super Eagles. Well, what a remarkable coincidence: That’s the Nigerian football team’s official nickname.

The Super Eagles, also like Seattle, have a knack for converting a unique unruly chemistry into results on the pitch. “Their disorganization has the effect of disorganizing you as a rival,” said Argentina’s Javier Mascherano. Eventual tournament finalists, the Albiceleste edged Nigeria in the group stage in 2014, 3-2, will face a rematch with the Super Eagles on June 26. “That’s when teams like ours suffer the most—in disorder,” Mascherano added.

“[Nigeria] think they will win the World Cup, but they’re too hot-blooded for that,” added former Ghana coach Otto Pfister.

They may not win the whole thing or even reach the final, but Nigeria does have a history of success in international fields. They won the Olympics in 1996, beating defending World Cup champs Brazil and also Argentina in the later stages, heralding at the time what was acclaimed as a dawn of African football. In a group otherwise seeded with Iceland and kicking off Saturday at noon against Croatia, the Super Eagles have a solid chance to move with their nemesis the Albiceleste into the round of 16 and possibly even break the continental slump as the first African team to make the final four.

At least one expert has their back: