Ranking the national anthems at the World Cup


That the World Cup is a battle of the brands is long-accepted wisdom, but did you know it is also a battle of the bands?

Now the first round of matches has finished, we’ve heard all 32 anthems, an expression of national pride which teams attempt to live up to moments later on the field.

The Athletic has gone through each of them to provide our tongue-in-cheek thoughts, from Spanish boybands to Japanese coming-of-age films. Which anthem sounds like a mid-noughties indie classic?

I’ll count you in. On one, two, and three…

Group A

Qatar: Look, I’ll give it this, Qatar’s anthem is a trier. There’s some big brass and an energetic pace to it. But something’s off. Though it took eight watches to work it out, the problem slowly emerged from the sands.

The singing is too fast. Watch poor Bassam al-Rawi try to keep time. It’s like watching Forrest Gump enter a rap battle.

Keeping this up for almost a minute-and-a-half looks exhausting. No wonder Qatar started slowly.

Rating = 4/10

Ecuador: I thought Italy didn’t qualify for this World Cup? The jovial opening bars of Salve, Oh Patria have the bounce of Italy’s Il Canto degli Italiani, and like their Roman counterparts, the Ecuadoreans belt it out.

One quibble. At seemingly arbitrary moments, it suddenly goes extremely quiet, before then resuming with the gusto of peak Pavarotti. Imagine being the one voice to get it wrong in an away end of 30,000 Ecuador fans. The cringe. Palpitations.

Rating = 8/10

Netherlands: So, about the purpose of anthems at sporting events. Is their thunderous percussion a call to battle? Do soaring melodies evoke pride and emotion?

I have no idea what the lullaby-like Dutch anthem is meant to convey, but judging by the glum faces of Louis van Gaal’s squad, it’s not working. Wilhelmus is the oldest anthem in the world, and after over 450 years, maybe it’s time for a change.

Rating = 5/10

Senegal: Want to feel insufficient? Leopold Senghor was a member of the French resistance in World War Two, the first president of Senegal, a leading member of the ‘negritude’ literary movement, and found time to write the incipient nation’s national anthem.

Known informally as “Everyone strum your koras, strike the balafons”, the traditional Senegalese instruments sadly didn’t make it to Qatar. Fairly unmemorable (Senghor was a busy man after all), but at least part of that can be blamed on the arrangement.

Rating = 5/10

Group B

England: Some years ago, in London’s St Pancras International Station, some bright spark decided to put several pianos out on display. The idea was that any talented pianist walking past can pull back the seat, crack their knuckles, and while away the inevitable delay with a beautiful rendition of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 2.

The drawback is that — occasionally — a four-year-old child escapes their parents’ grasp, and pounds repeatedly at the same note on the lower octaves.

That aural experience is sadly repeated whenever God Save The King plays, an anthem so dull that, mercifully, not a soul ever bothers to embark on the second verse. The recent replacement of ‘Queen’ with ‘King’ has somehow made it even stodgier.

Rating = 2/10

Iran: A moment so powerful that Iran’s regime did not let their people watch it.

Against England, all 11 Iranian players refused to sing the words to an anthem not recognised by the majority of the country. Their move demonstrates tacit support for the widespread anti-regime protests after the murder of Mahsa Amini at the hands of Tehran’s morality police.

In recent weeks, played underground and across social media, a new anthem has taken root — a song named Baraye, by musician Shervin Hajipour. Based on a social media meme sweeping Iran, the song received 40 million views in less than 48 hours, until Hajipour was arrested, and the video taken down.

Have a listen — it is a startling evocation of resistance.

Rating = N/A

Wales: Wales, you waited 64 years for another crack at a World Cup, and good lord, that entire period must have been spent at choir practice.

The Welsh word hiraeth, impossible to directly translate into English, connotes a longing for home, a swelling of pride and pathos for something not yet lost, missing on the surface but felt deep inside.

Impossible to directly translate into English, granted, but as for song? That’s a whole different matter.

Rating = 10/10

United States: I don’t think I’ve heard the same U.S. anthem twice.

It seems to be performed in so many styles at each major sporting event — by electric guitar, a country and western rendition, whatever Fergie’s 2018 Super Bowl attempt was — that you find yourself halfway through the anthem by the time you realise you’ve heard it before.

While Spangled is nowhere near a serious enough word for the anthem of one of the world’s great superpowers, this is a good tune. Lyrically ambitious, balancing the tightrope between a baritonal flourish and a chant for the everyman, it was unfortunate to be somewhat overshadowed by Wales’ rendition of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.

I do wish though, that they would hit on a style and stick to it.

Rating = 7/10

Group C

Argentina: The opening bars are waltz-like, creating a startling juncture with the sight of Lisandro Martinez and Nicolas Otamendi straining to snap your legs in two.

But there’s just something missing. In the middle, a brief a cappella section is reminiscent of a particularly intimidating passage of Flower of Scotland. But in this, it just kills all momentum.

Perhaps this is by design. There’s a limit to the aggression you want from an Argentine defence, after all. I expected more.

Rating = 4/10

Mexico: Composed as part of a competition by the poet Francisco Gonzalez Bocanegra, whose girlfriend lured him into a room filled with pictures of Mexican history and refused to unlock the door until his song passed muster.

If I was dating Francisco, he would still be in there. Epic in scale but unmemorable in melody, like some of Hans Zimmer’s more recent soundtracks, despite reducing the diminutive Ernesto Vega to tears.

Rating = 5/10

Saudi Arabia: It starts with a single beat from what sounds like a massive drum and only lasts 30 seconds. I applaud that simplicity.

It’s a bit shouty for my taste, but everyone else seems to love it. Reminds me of going to a festival and accidentally getting stuck in a Linkin Park mosh pit.

Rating = 7/10

Poland: Slough-born Matty Cash awkwardly sings along, like a teenage boy to a hymn in school assembly.

Poland’s effort attempts to rhyme ‘Polski’ with ‘Dabrowski’ — an 18th-century general who fought alongside Napoleon in a string of largely unsuccessful wars — which is almost as convincing as when Pitbull attempted to rhyme ‘Kodak’ with ‘Kodak’.

Just sounds a little formulaic, like an anthem written by AI.

Rating = 5/10

Group D

France: It’s big, it’s bolshy, it cracks right on with the rhythm before you have a chance to breathe, it’s La Marseillaise. Not since Sweeney Todd hit the West End stage has a song evoking such bloody content been sung so sweetly. It even has a middle eight!

If I have one small quibble, it’s that I don’t quite understand how it could ever be played at sombre occasions. There’s a reason Frank Sinatra is more popular at funerals than MC Hammer. Can’t Touch This is an appropriate comparison for La Marseillaise in more ways than one.

Rating = 9/10

Australia: In 1974, the Australian government made the excellent decision to replace God Save the Queen as the national anthem. A vote held three years alighted on two contenders — Advance Australia Fair and Waltzing Matilda. What could have been.

But Advance Australia Fair has always charmed me, because ladies and gentlemen, I am a slave to melody. It’s nice to have an anthem which isn’t about war, religion, or royalty.

They also changed the lyrics last year to recognise the history of indigenous Australians, describing the country as “one and free” rather than “young and free”. Well done Australia.

Rating = 8/10

Denmark: Denmark has two national anthems, and after the opening bars of ‘Der er et yndigt land’, I thought that would have been more than good enough on its own. The high brass is an embrace in a chord.

Regrettably, it falls apart as it begins to believe its own hype. The lyrics fundamentally don’t fit the music. Why not sack off the double anthem lads, and just play the first 10 seconds of one?

Rating = 4/10

Tunisia: Another which sounds like an army march, though judging by the muddled nature of this rendition, the parade will look pretty ragged.

They really invoke the fire and brimstone, calling for “thunderbolts to rain with fire”. I’d just like a goal from open-play to be honest.

Rating = 4/10

Group E

Spain: With Pedri, Gavi, and Dani Olmo in the starting line-up, it’s difficult not to think you’re watching the latest X-Factor-created boyband, artificially created for clicks and #content, who specialise in grenadier marches played in B flat major. Luis Enrique might even feature them on his Twitch channel.

One of only four national anthems in the world not to officially have lyrics, which does lose it a few marks, but the slowed-down reprise near the end gives it a real gravitas.

Rating = 7/10

Germany: I feel like this is the northern hemisphere equivalent of Advance Australia Fair — a lovely melody, non-aggressive, soaring harmonies.

When written, it was actually intended as a parallel for another anthem — England’s God Save The King. Germany does it so much better. Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Rating = 8/10

Costa Rica: Another jaunty military number (why are all these army songs so happy?). However, the Himno Nacional finds itself stuck in a cycle. The trumpets are loud so the players shout, the trumpet goes louder to make itself heard over the shouting, the players shout louder…

It gives it a bit of a karaoke vibe, but any anthem humiliation would soon be forgotten after the 7-0 loss to Spain kicked off.

Rating = 4/10

Japan: Feels like a film score for a coming-of-age movie. Our young hero shrugs off the disdain of an alcoholic father, escapes the bullies and a dead-end job, and lives out their bohemian dreams in the big city.

Sunset falls as the chords of Kimigayo begin to play. The plaintive singing reminds them of why they left their past behind. It ends with the beat of a solitary drum. Blackout.

Rating = 7/10

Group F

Belgium: Not many players sang along, and I don’t know if I’d have bothered either.

Overlong and overblown, like any non-single from a Guns N’ Roses album. Based on a drinking song, I really thought the 10 per cent beer would have led to something a little better.

Made a little more palatable by the camera almost entirely missing Eden Hazard’s head after panning across from 6ft 6ins Thibaut Courtois.

Rating = 3/10

Canada: Impossible to sing O Canada without feeling like you’re at a frat party. Fair play.

On Wednesday night, I did enjoy half of an east London pub suddenly revealing themselves as Canadian during the anthem, flashmob-style.

I didn’t enjoy the spittle-infused air for the next few minutes as O Canada was sung from the tips of the tonsils; but hey, that’s the price you pay for crowd participation.

Rating = 8/10

Morocco: When Morocco qualified for their first World Cup in 1970, they realised they’d forgotten something. Bags? Packed. Insurance? Underwritten. Anthem? Ah. They didn’t have one.

A competition was hastily organised, and the result is the Cherifian Anthem, a piece of music seemingly designed to allow fans to shout it as loud as possible, while losing none of the song’s intended melody.

The shout-singing style gives it a real noughties indie vibe, like a lost track off a Jamie T album.

Rating = 7/10

Croatia: Imagine playing every national anthem in the world at the same time. Listening to Croatia’s Lijepa nasa domovino is roughly how I’d expect that to sound. The only thing keeping rhythm is a giant drum, but it’s about as much relief as the throb of a headache.

To be fair, it was being heavily booed by the Morocco support, which didn’t help the aural experience.

Rating = 4/10

Group G

Brazil: Possibly the only national anthem which makes you want to have a boogie. Whether that’s appropriate is not up to me to decide.

It does lead to an entertaining image when a player is overcome by the emotion, a single tear running down their cheek, as certain Brazilian players have been known to do. It’s quite difficult to look hard when you’re weeping to a showtune.

Rating = 8/10

Serbia: Very intense. Granted, the camera is two inches away from Aleksandr Mitrovic’s nose but this really is an anthem for planting your flag in the centre-circle.

Think I’d rather face New Zealand’s haka.

Rating = 7/10

Switzerland: The start sounds weirdly like “Happy Birthday” and that distracted me for the rest of it, quite frankly.

Settles down into a quite a nice tune after that, the sort of ballad which would finish eighth at Eurovision.

Rating = 5/10

Cameroon: Oh this is cheeky, but I don’t mind it at all. Cameroon nick the first few bars of French anthem La Marseillaise almost note for note, before the entire team attack their lyrical entrance with gusto and synchronicity. These are men who practiced.

Everyone’s got a friend who can nail the rapping section in ‘Wannabe’ by the Spice Girls. Bet the entire Cameroon squad could do it too.

Rating = 8/10

Group H

Portugal: Throughout most of this arrangement, there was a trumpet which seemed to bear no relation to the rest of the anthem, creating a chaotic energy. Who let the bugler burgle the blue icing?

The trumpet felt almost as incongruous as Ronaldo’s presence in an otherwise high-pressing, high-energy national team.

Somehow, it comes together in a soaring chorus, forming structure from chaos, exaltation from anarchy. How Fernando Santos wishes he could do the same.

Rating = 8/10

Ghana: I imagine the domestic life of Ghanaian composer Philip Gbeho unfolding something like this.

“Philip, did you buy milk on your way back from band practice?” Cymbal crash.

“Philip?” Cymbal crash, cymbal crash.

“Philip, can you engage with me rather than banging your cymbals?” Cymbal crash, cymbal crash, cymbal crash.

If there were lyrics, I couldn’t hear them.

Rating = 6/10

Uruguay: A military march meets the William Tell Overture. A long and energetic instrumental, then, just as you think there are no lyrics at all — bam, there’s Diego Godin coming in with some Bob Dylan-esque gravel.

Fun fact — this is the longest national anthem in the world at 105 bars. If Luis Suarez was to sing the whole version (international tournaments usually see it abridged), he would vow to die 27 times. Maybe that’s why Godin’s vocals are so gravelly.

Some great call and response antics at the end sends this to the upper tiers.

Rating = 8/10

South Korea: South Korea, get to the point. Listening to podcasts at double-speed is useful, listening to national anthems at half-speed is not.

Some harmonies are lovely, but they proceed with the speed of tectonic plates. Singing this requires quite the pair of lungs. I think Mariah Carey could do an excellent cover.

Rating = 5/10

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