Alcoholics Guide To The World Cup – Group D

The other day I’m on a train pondering the feedback I’ve received from my mother about Group C – dull write up of a dull group, must try harder; you don’t want to alienate your fan. And do it fast; strike while the iron’s underwhelmed.

I could be wallowing, sitting in my bedroom in the dark listening to that Ne-Yo song that goes ‘I’m so sick of love songs…’ and wiping away the glistening tears from my cheeks in case mother pops in because I don’t want her to see me crying. And I could be thinking to myself “that is so true, I AM so sick of love songs.”

But instead, like I said, I’m on a train, looking at a guy’s phone over his shoulder because my mother didn’t raise me properly. Besides which he’s on the Tinder app, which I’ve not seen before (being a brittle little narcissist incapable of accepting any form of criticism with good grace, I’m not on it).

He’s got a lip curled into a permanent sneer, thumbing through women like one of the more psychotically efficient Roman emperors. He’s also what you might call a double bagger, in computer club glasses and jeans only a mother would buy. He’s certainly no Andrea Pirlo. But nevertheless his body language screams irritation as he rejects any woman less than a 10 out of 10 as beneath his contempt. 

This is England in the run-up to the World Cup in 2006.

Costa Rica

Tropical Costa Rica constitutionally abolished its standing army in 1949. It is one of the greenest countries in the world, planning to be carbon neutral by 2021, and recently outlawed recreational hunting by popular demand, thus proving it at least occasionally listens to its people. All in all it sounds like a nice place to live.

They’ve qualified for the World Cup on 4 occasions including Brazil 2014, coming 31st out of 32 teams in 2006. You’ll be on the rum, because guaro was too hard to find at the last minute and you’d quite forgotten their involvement.

And that’s a shame because, given the other three teams in the group are all past World Cup winners, the smart money is on Costa Rica as de facto kingmakers depending on who spanks them the hardest. You have a cynical feeling that you can dupe the hard-of-thinking into betting that Costa Rica will finish second behind Uruguay because of the altitude and climate not being ideally suited to England or Italy.

We’re not judging – all these exotic drinks are expensive and besides which you found the cutest little chelsea boots in a Carnaby Street boutique.

Joel Campbell, the Arsenal striker who’s spent the past season on loan at Olympiakos will probably be leading the line, with Fulham outcast/PSV Eindhoven loanee Bryan Ruiz behind him. On another continent watching the games on the TV as he hasn’t recovered sufficiently from an injury to make the squad.

Oh no, Bryan Ruiz will be there, it’s Bryan Oviedo of Everton who won’t.

In other words, I’ve got nothing. Sorry.

England

As I write this it’s the immediate aftermath of the FA Cup final. If you say it wrong it sounds like ‘fuckup’, which a) is funny in a childish way and b) is apposite because Arsenal nearly did. Actually it’s a couple of days later, but anyway the English media has been relatively quiet about the World Cup, maybe even too quiet.   Talismanic potato chip Wayne Rooney got miffed that he was photographed in Portugal.

Other than that it’s not like the run-up to 2006, in which we were definitely going to reach at least the semis because we had THE PASSION, football being little more than a passing fancy in Brazil, Argentina, Italy etc. Hell, John Terry was so passionate and patriotic that even his blood cells came in red and white.

After the Champignons League final next weekend (Madrid derby – I’ll be supporting Boleto del Pino, although Real Madrid won 4-1 when it took place last Saturday), I expect things to kick off: plastic flags, pessimism and overweight men in tiny shorts flashing their sunburnt tits and misspelt tattoos as they drink on the tube at 10am because they got the time difference wrong (goes the other way, chaps; you’ll be all tuckered out by kick-off).

Yes before you know it England will be en route to a mediocre quarter-final second round penalty shootout first round capitulation sound-tracked by the impotent roars of a nation that’s suffered far too many delusions of grandeur over the years.

And speaking of delusions, now that tiki-taka/passing/attractive football’s had its day, England is at the tactical forefront with exciting 15% possession stats.

Historically, England fans appreciate more …traditional… football – proper defending (“hurting people”), kicking the ball really far, deeply offensive chanting and classic centre forwards (“big bastards”) outmuscling (“hurting”) wussy (“foreign”) defenders.

These days, however, they’re more given to mildly narcissistic angst and ennui, cunningly disguised as self-deprecation, and an air of the fin-de-siècle decline of a crumbling post-imperial nation; the sort of thing of which the English would typically accuse the French.

If you want to ingratiate yourself to an England fan, point to one of the poncier (“technically accomplished”) foreign players and say:

“yeah all very impressive and that, but could he do it on a wet winter night at Stoke?”

The England fan will appreciate the hoary old joke and play along accordingly. Or the England fan will take your comment at face value (“nuance” being a decidedly foreign looking word) and play along accordingly.

Because, frankly, whether Lionel Messi could do it in such circumstances is the only measure of his ability that matters.

Either way you’ll be wanting that drink. Luckily the English are quite accommodating so you can drink anything you want as long as it’s not alcohol-free. Just do so in excessive quantities before starting a fight, having a good cry and passing out.

Beats actually watching England play.

Italy

The Italians are getting their excuses in early this year with rumours that tantrum-prone star striker Mario Balotelli has been racially abused in training by his own fans. And that’s the last Frood has to say about Super Mario because that’s what the rest of the internet is for.

If I could naturalise any player for England it would be Cristiano Ronaldo. But if he was busy getting his eyebrows waxed – the must-have grooming procedure of the season for gigolos on the French Riviera – I’d choose Pirlo.

A couple of years back AC Milan decided they didn’t need the aging playmaker with the Serpico beard, so they took him to the woods and left him there without water or a map, like mother did with me when I was 8. Juventus happened to be there hunting for defecating bears, which is only 1 letter away from beard.

Now, luck is for those who make it (in Juve’s case that meant bribing referees, ultimately leading to the stripping of scudetti and relegation to Serie B following the 2006 calciopoli scandal). And the Old Lady made herself some damn fine luck here, winning their third league title on the bounce this season with Pirlo sitting deep while Vidal and Marchisio ran interference.

Pirlo does much the same for the national team. Since winning the World Cup in 2006, however, the Azzuri’s performances have been as variable as the quality of Italian wine. For every surprisingly good chianti n’ Daniele De Rossi combo there’s a rancid valpolicella plus Antonio Cassano’s food baby. The former is exemplified by the run to the Euro 2012 final, excluding the final itself because Spain, the latter being the entire campaigns of both Euro 2008 and the last World Cup.

Cassano was hoping for a boy.

Best to wash your hands of it all, pour a shot of limoncello from the freezer and hope for a cataclysmic meltdown from Mario Balotelli. Or at least another Panenka chip penalty from Pirlo’s beard.

PS: at some point you may overhear someone using the word catenaccio.   Catenaccio was a highly successful formation cum* style of play employed by Internazionale in the 1960s which is routinely if inaccurately applied to all Italian teams, even the ones that don’t or can’t defend.

If someone else decides to slip in a quick catenaccio and you’re feeling up to it, loftily point out the lack of a libero in the side and that incidentally only the hopelessly bourgeois drink pinot grigio these days. No one really knows what a libero is or what bourgeois actually means so you should be safe enough on both counts.

*Stop sniggering at the back there. Your mother is ashamed of you. You do know that, don’t you?

Uruguay

So Luis Suarez went and got himself injured and might not make the finals. And on a personal note, that’s a shame because I’d already done Uruguay and it was beautiful, or at least finished: Suarez as an object lesson in cognitive dissonance, the importance of avoiding references to the diving, that racism scandal, his goal-keeping exploits in 2010 against Ghana, the occasional biting, because it’s probably best to avoid the 5 hour lecture on cultural relativism and moral cowardice from any passing Liverpool FC fans.

Such is the narrative drive of modern football that if Luis Suarez didn’t exist we’d have to invent him, like we invented Piers Morgan (sorry USA, no we don’t want him back). He is, after all, arguably the greatest cartoon villain football has ever produced. And he’s the star man for reigning Copa America champions Uruguay.

Anyroads, grappamiel is a drink made from alcohol and honey. But you fancy yourself as a DIY buff and have no money, so you mix any old booze you can find with that crystallised honey that’s been in the back of your cupboard for the past five years. You think it might have evolved some form of higher cognitive function, so be careful.

But you weren’t careful, were you, no you weren’t, and while your mind was away on an imagined higher plane you had a perfect insight wrapped in a pithy bow, but then the doctors pumped your stomach and you forgot it.

So, glib is the order of the day. Uruguay has another world class striker in Cavani, Paris St Germain’s back-up booty call to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. PSG’s mum thinks that Cavani is a far more suitable life partner and he’ll make an excellent father someday, but she was young once too and she gets it, just make sure you take precautions, sweetheart.

Forlan’s still an option even in his mid-thirties, albeit he now plays in Japan’s J League and is therefore regarded as little better than semi-professional by snobbish European types.

But to balance the attacking riches, the team’s tactics are built round a defender (Lugano) who’s slower than I am when faced with simple mathematical formulae.

No doubt Suarez will be there, half-fit and foaming at the mouth ready to dive and cheat and be ridiculously, unbelievably brilliant at football. Given their own well-noted proclivities, expect the game against Italy to be particularly irritating if you care about such pretend concepts like sportsmanship.

Except for Pirlo, who’s a scholar and a gentleman. I heart Pirlo.
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Next time: you thought Group C was bad, Group E has Ecuador, Honduras and Switzerland in it (and France).

Alcoholics Guide To The World Cup – Group C

Last time we suggested the thrillingly transgressive idea of denouncing Spain for the sake of it, and that the team of choice for the sophisticate had to be the Netherlands.

But Group C is a far trickier proposition because I say it is.

Colombia

Pele predictably predicted a World Cup trophy for Colombia last time they graced the tournament in 1994. Predictably, Colombia failed to get past the group stage.

Their first setback for this year’s competition came when legendary hairstyle Carlos Valderrama stopped playing for them in 1998.

Their second setback came when scorpion kicking, goalkeeping sweeper René ‘El Loco’ Higuita stopped playing for them some time in 1999. To be fair, entertaining as he was, he was probably a bit of a liability if we’re being brutally honest.

Colombia suffered yet another setback back in January when apex predator Radamel Falcao got a nasty booboo on his knee playing for Ligue 1 club AS Monaco (based in Monaco, which is like France but with less tax).

But Falcao’s a goal hungry man-beast and it’ll take more than a long-term, career-threatening, heavily-hyphenated injury to keep him from the contest, especially now he’s been called up and everything. Nevertheless, such a heavily-hyphenated injury means that he might rule himself out of contention, after all.

Accordingly, manager José Pékerman has called up a further 5 strikers in his provisional squad. The only one I’ve seen playing is Bacca of Sevilla, who was…not great… in the recent Europa League final against Benfica. Or there’s Jackson Martinez, the 2-footed goal thief from FC Porto with 8 goals in 26 appearances for his national side, but I haven’t half-assed my way through any games featuring him or played Pro Evolution Soccer in donkey’s years. That’s some rigorous, scientific analysis right there.

I appreciate that FIFA might be the better game these days, but fiercely irrational tribal loyalties is what football is all about.

Anyway, Falcao’s erstwhile strike partner during qualifying, Guttierez, may have to shoulder the burden of doing goals for the team as a lone wolf striker. He does his professional footballer-ing for River Plate in Argentina, which is nothing like France.

Further back, the likes of Guarin and Rodriguez make for some pretty tasty midfielders (legal disclaimer: Frood does not condone cannibalism, except as a hypothetical topic for discussion). In defence, Zapata looks good enough to have been a squad player back in the days when AC Milan was a half decent side.

We at Frood suggest you knock back a shot of aguardiente. Especially when they play the spoiler horror show that is Greece. For an explanation of aguardiente, see our previous comments on guaro in our write-up of Group D, probably landing next week.

Greece

Here at Frood we don’t play favourites, although clearly you should support the Netherlands; no we aim for a dispassionate, non-judgemental assessment of each participating nation.

Close your eyes and cast your mind back to 2004. Unfancied FC Porto won the Champions League, beating even less fancied AS Monaco in the final. That victory catapulted Porto’s considerably more fanciable manager, José ‘I’m dead special, me’ Mourinho into the international spotlight.

But something much more disturbing than the above was to follow as a charmless team with no ambitions whatsoever beyond its own 18 yard box managed to spoil its way to winning Euro 2004.

I’m talking, of course, about England.

I mean Greece.

Greece qualified for the tournament after taking a long hard look in the mirror – that proper soul searching look you do when you know you need to make some fundamental changes to your life, or at least that thing on your face you (adorably) think of as a ‘beard’ – and deciding that actually some things are more important than the approval of hipster dilettantes who think they know football because they managed to find a vintage Borussia Dortmund strip in a skip in Dalston. Like qualifying for the World Cup, or winning Euro 2004 for that matter.

There’s more than 1 legitimate way to play the game and when you have to rely on strikers of the calibre of Samaras (Celtic) and Mitroglou (Fulham) you’ll probably reach the conclusion that there are worse things than focusing on defensive solidity. Like English holidaymakers in Greece.

Incidentally, I say Mitroglou’s a Fulham player, after all, vicious rumours abound that he is one, but to be fair no-one’s seen sight nor sound since he signed for them in January for £10m. And given the weak way they got themselves relegated it’s probably technically libel to refer to someone as a Fulham player. #hashtagBANTZ.

You remember that ‘epic’ lads/girls trip to Corfu you had after your A-Levels and in a misguided spirit (foreshadowing pun) of nostalgia got tanked up on the ouzo. And when you woke up, the World Cup had been over for 6 weeks.

Plus side, you didn’t have to watch any games involving Greece.

Ivory Coast

Sports ‘journalists’ have been banging on about how this really is the last hurrah for the Elephants’ underperforming golden generation (is there any other sort of golden generation that isn’t Spanish?). And it really is this time even if that’s what they said about the last few Africa Cup Of Nations tournaments and indeed the last World Cup, because Drogba is old as shit and so are the other ones whose names they’ll totally remember in a minute when they can get Google to load up. Stupid Android phones.

Some of those players include scampering wing-flake, Gervinho, 26, of Roma and Wilfried Bony (25), who bagged 24-odd league goals for Swansea this season, justifying his £12m transfer fee. ‘Justifying’ being a relative term of course. Also in the old man/last hurrah bracket is Serge Aurier of Toulouse. The 21 year old right back is hopeful of backing at the right of the team ahead of ex-Arsenal galoot Emmanuel Eboué. Eboué doesn’t appear to have made the cut, which makes Aurier’s job that much easier.

Of course there’s always throbbing atavism Yaya Toure, who’s dedicated his career to proving that actually the box-to-box midfielder isn’t an extinct position. He’s only 31 so he has a few more last hurrahs in him. Although possibly not for club Manchester City as he (or his agent at least) has let it be known that he was upset at the lack of respect shown to him by the club’s owners when they didn’t shake his hand on his birthday or give him a Bugatti Veyron. They didn’t give me a Bugatti Veyron for my birthday either, so I understand Toure’s pain.

Or that’s how it’s been reported in forensic detail by the English media at any rate.

If Toure proves too inconsolable to play there’s always Newcastle United’s surprisingly fragile door wedge, Cheick Tioté, who’s a total monster in the tackle unless he makes contact. For the avoidance of doubt that’s an obvious lie. Incidentally, it’s unlikely that Toure won’t play as the internet has decided he’s flashing an ankle at Barcelona even though Barcelona’s transfer ban hasn’t, to date, been lifted.

Anyway, you know what they say about elephants – they struggle to climb out of the Bugatti Veyron’s bucket seats. But they should be easily good enough to get out of the group stages for the first time.

The national drink is a type of wine derived from palm called bangui. Which might be tricky to source depending on where you live. If all else fails, knock back a glass of white wine, go outside and lick a tree.

It’s the thought that counts, as Yaya Toure will attest.

Japan

This season, Manchester United’s performances have been more unsettling than watching a pregnant woman smoke. Despite this, once-regarded playmaker Shinji Kagawa couldn’t get a game, which is cause for concern for his national team manager Alberto Zaccheroni.

Added to the star player’s form worries, Zaccheroni also has to deal with problems elsewhere in the squad. In particular, team captain Makuto Hasebe, a defensive lynchpin for FC Nürnberg, is a doubt to be pinning any lynches having spent much of the Bundesliga season either struggling with injuries or being operated on by doctors. That’s an exaggeration for comic effect in case you were in any doubt.

Japan is the reigning Asian Cup champion and was the first team to qualify for the World Cup, their fifth in a row. They’re usually regarded as one of the finest Asian teams, but sit somewhere around 50 in the FIFA world rankings, which are almost entirely meaningless.

They’re not in a particularly difficult group and should expect to qualify, behind Colombia and the Ivory Coast in second and first place respectively. Accordingly, you’ll happily proclaim them to be your dark horse choice (Belgium’s qualities are too well known to be dark horse contenders) before confirming you were talking out of your mouth when they don’t make it beyond the first round.

Is it maybe a little bit racist to suggest sake? Like Mickey Rooney’s character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s racist? Maybe not quite that bad, but culturally insensitive at least, like Lost in Translation? You’re not sure, so you just make it Suntory time like Bill Murray recommended in Lost in Translation. And that way people can be impressed by your quiet good taste in movies when you tell them at length how good it is. By ‘quiet’ and ‘good’ we mean ‘completely obvious’.

And yes Honda (AC Milan) is a player, but he’s also a car. Well done, your parents must be very proud of you.

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Next time: some clever pun about Suarez as Frood bites a chunk out of Group D.

Alcoholics Guide To The World Cup – Group B

Last time we wrote about Group A, this time we’re writing about Group B, next time it’ll be Group C. Get used to that ‘say what you see’ approach – that’s all you’ll be getting from the pundits next month.

Australia

You get all excited when the World Cup comes around, even though there hasn’t been a particularly good or memorable one since they expanded the format to 32 teams. And then you remember that you’re supposed to write about Australia.

To be fair, it’s not a common problem. But then neither is casting Maria in The Sound of Music or whatever it was, and the BBC made a TV show about that. Using my licence fee money.

Such talk of things from years ago that remain sources of irritation to, well, me, leads us back to the subject at hand. In 2006, Australia looked to be gearing up for some dark horse action until they ran into Italy in the round of 16. Or, more precisely, until Italy’s Fabio Grosso ran into Lucas Neill and fell over, earning one of the softer penalties you’ll ever see on Youtube if you type ‘Fabio Grosso gets penalty against Australia in Germany 2006 World Cup’ into the search function.

And that was that for Guus Hiddink’s boys; in 2010 Australia qualified for the third time in their history, going out meekly in the group stages.

Much like the USA, Australia doesn’t appear to give much of a damn for the considerable charms of football (the sporting world’s Scarlett O’Hara, clearly). But that’s slowly changing.

Australia took a leaf from the USA playbook of how to make people like soccer and enticed their own superstar European, albeit while MLS got David Beckham and his amazing ability to be photographed in his underpants, the A-League got Alessandro Del Piero and his amazing ability to be good at football despite being 87. Ish.

Both boosted the media profile of the sport in their respective nations to the extent that the national managers don’t automatically look to Europe for the same players who underperformed in the last tournament.

In fact, Australia manager Ange Postecoglou got the job on the understanding that he’d regenerate the team and focus on youth, so you can probably ignore all the above. Sorry for wasting your time.

Fact remains that the largely inexperienced squad is light on quality and particularly weak at the back; injuries mean that Preston North End’s Bailey Wright has been called up. PNE play in England’s third division, and Wright was 1 of 6 PNE players arrested for alleged match-fixing earlier this year. Wright denies all wrong-doing and we must stress no one’s proved anything to the contrary, but it’s a controversial choice that one suspects would’ve been avoided if Australia had a few more options.

Anyway, you’re stuck on the idea that Australia’s national team consists of those guys you vaguely remember from about 7 years ago – Kewell, Neill, Bresciano, Viduka – and accordingly you’re drinking one of those ‘Aussie’ lagers that’s brewed in the UK. They’re pretty vile, but to be fair so is Australia’s kit.

Chile

Juventus steamroller Arturo Vidal faces a race to be fit in time, Gary Medel just got relegated with Cardiff and there’s no place for David Pizzaro, only recently coaxed back in after years of international exile.

But spicy Chile can cause an upset to delicate (continental) European stomachs (Australia ain’t getting out of the group).

Alexis Sanchez in particular will go right through you given half a chance. And while you’re locked in the bathroom wondering where all the toilet paper’s got to, Jorge Sampaoli’s chaps have qualified at your expense.

Or that’s what they’ll be hoping, cruel providence having seen fit to land Chile in a group against the two teams who contested the final of the 2010 World Cup one of which is arguably the finest national team in the history of the game (fuck you Spain).

But then again the Andeans have been in superb form. Since becoming manager a couple of years back, Sampaoli’s team have only lost 3 times (against Peru, Germany and Brazil) in about 15 games, winning most of them. And with their pace and attacking style, Chile is likely to be popular with the neutrals.

Also popular with the neutrals are Chilean red wines (mainly cabernet sauvignon) – consistently good if not top of the table (fitting considering Chile has never won an international tournament but usually gives a good account of itself).

Which is a result for you because it was that or pisco, which probably tastes like it sounds.

The Netherlands

The Oranje are the team of choice for the connoisseur, as they have been since Cruyff invented being good at football back in the 1970s.

But don’t let that fool you; the Netherlands is like a small, unruly, but quite charming pet ocelot. She can be skittish but is perfectly friendly if you don’t make any sudden moves or loud noises. I can’t leave her alone you see; poor dear has a habit of pooing in my plimsolls.

I believe it’s some sort of passive-aggressive grief response.

At the last World Cup the Oranje made the final, where they abandoned playing football in favour of kicking Spaniards. They followed that up with a Euro 2012 campaign dogged by rumours that all of the players hated each other even more than is usual for a Dutch team. They fell out, first with each other and then the competition, in the first round, securing a grand total of nul points for their (lack of) efforts.

And they’re not just mentally fragile, with this generation’s more notable players (Sneijder, Van Persie, Robben, Van Der Vaart – accused by former Dutch players of not being good enough to play the Dutch 4-3-3 at Germany in 2006) spending almost as much time on the treatment table as earning their quite astonishing salaries.

As per usual, the Netherlands qualified for this tournament with ease, RSVP-ing the hosts in the resoundingly affirmative.

So there’s the risk of them defecating in one’s brogues and the ever-present suggestion that it’s all just about to collapse like an underbaked soufflé, but like an Alfa Romeo just before its engine falls out they’re a genuine wonder to behold. I’d apologise for mixing so many metaphors (?) but like the average Dutch player I refuse to compromise my beliefs to accommodate other people.

Fans of Nathan Barley might wish to opt for a nice glass of Dutch wine, but for anyone too cool to admit to recognising topical references from the middle of the last decade there are a variety of easily obtainable Dutch lagers. You’ll be wanting something frothy but lightweight and prone to sudden sulky outbursts, possibly involving accusations of racism at Euro 96.

Chocolate aficionados might wish to consider a Cadbury’s flake, even though that’s not Dutch.

Spain

Tournament favourites Spain Barcelona Spain have one weakness other than having no convincing strikers (apart from possibly the recently naturalised Diego Costa), a goalkeeper/captain (Casillas) who has barely featured for his club in 2014 and a centre back in Sergio Ramos who apparently holds the distinction of having received more red cards by the age of 24 than any other player in the history of Real Madrid.

They’re boring.

Yes, yes, best in the world, possibly the best national team in the world ever, triangles, living proof that you can actually field a team that consists entirely of creative attacking midfielders, possession stats, aesthete’s footie; tika-bloody-taka.

You’re morally obligated to like Spain, which is why you’ll say you don’t to encourage a conversation about the relative merits of high (a thousand passes the last of which is into a now empty goal) and low (Cristiano Ronaldo) culture.

During which time you can neck as much rioja as you like. Or if you’re more of a beer person, Estrella, on the basis that it’s Catalan and therefore reflective of the team’s major personnel and tactics.

To be fair, when provoked they have a tendency to prove they’re not boring by decimating Italy in the Euro 2012 final. Also, there’s nothing to dislike about Iniesta.

This one will go the distance, so maybe try some tapas to soak up some of the booze. And try not to get irritated when they get all sanctimonious about virtue and how they play the game the way it’s meant to be played even if half the team isn’t above diving and feigning injury after mythical tackles somewhere in the vicinity of the stadium.

There’s a good soldier.

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Next time, as promised, we look at Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan.

Alcoholics Guide To The World Cup – Group A

Football. The beautiful game. Not Australian rules or American, just ‘football’, king of sports (ie pompous, self-reverential, possibly in-bred – that’s enough of that, Frood).

As well as being an exploitative corporate cashfest in which the pathetically grateful host nation is bled dry by a monstrously vampiric cadre of parasites in exchange for frustratingly nebulous promises of uncharted economic prosperity (and the opportunity for some spectacular naysaying whataboutery from the more miserable journalists), the World Cup is the biggest and best sporting tournament in the world.

No Olympics, no, you’re just not.

And it’s an iron-clad excuse for a liver apocalypse of a party (drink responsibly kids). So is Tuesday afternoon for that matter, because you have a problem.

But if you’re going to infiltrate the masses of people who genuinely enjoy the sport, you need to be capable of mustering some sort of opinion on every team, even the ones you couldn’t care less about. Because that’s the law.

It’s not necessary to understand the rules of the game – follow this guide and your knowledge will simply be assumed.

In light of the above, for the next period of time we here at Frood will be releasing a series of précises…préciae…summaries for each group.

There is one golden rule: it’s not soccer. Even if you’re American.

Group A

Brazil

The hosts.

At the very least it’s important that you recognise that fact.

The one they’re all talking about is perennial frontrunner for the worst haircut in football award, Neymar. Apparently Pele reckons he’s better than Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi even though he patently isn’t.

Don’t ask me to explain who Pele is.

Brazil have won more World Cups than anyone, they have the record goal scorer in the competition (“Not-Cristiano” Ronaldo), they have legends like Pele, Socrates and Garrincha who are more legendary than the legends of any other nation barring possibly Maradona.

They’ve added to their home advantage and fearsome reputation by bringing back ‘Big’ Phil Scolari, the last manager to win them the World Cup back in 2002 (Pele predicted that Brazil wouldn’t get past the first round). They’re favourites to win it along with Spain who they beat to death in the Confederations Cup last summer, prompting doubtless premature eulogies to the passing of tiki taka. Pun intended.

In revenge, Spain have naturalised the only top level Brazilian striker in service, Diego Costa. They don’t really use strikers, so he’ll probably sit on the bench while Cesc Fabregas plays a false 9, which is like a regular 9, only artificial.

But it’s not all roses. Public anger last summer at allegations of corrupt practices and generally excessive spending on stadia has been supplemented by FIFA concerns that some of said stadia haven’t actually been finished.

There’s also the minor fact that while ‘professional footballers’ numbers among Brazil’s more lucrative exports, the quality has dipped somewhat over the past decade, like that white wine you used to like so much in the 90s.

They’re undeniably weak at the back, with no settled goalkeeper (Julio Cesar has only recently returned to playing, albeit for MLS punching bag Toronto) and relying on the comedy stylings of David Luiz in defence. For a defender, Luiz is really good at attacking.

Add in a world at large that will view anything less than Brazil reaching the final as abject failure and you’ve got to conclude that where they end up is anyone’s guess, really, anyway, it’s your round and I’m on the caiprinhas.

It’s no less camp than Neymar, after all.

Cameroon

The indomitable lions have proved pretty, uh, domitable in past World Cups, only once making it past the group stages, in 1990, when they reached the quarter-finals.

Pele prediction: a team from Africa will win the World Cup before the year 2000.

Even you have heard of record goal-scorer, captain Samuel Eto’o, but behind him there’s not a huge amount of quality. Alex Song might be there, I suppose. Barcelona bought him on a whim from Arsenal a couple years back, decided he didn’t quite fit but they didn’t have the receipt and the 28 days had passed anyway so he’s been in a cupboard gathering dust with the spangly harem pants they’ve never had the confidence to wear in public even though they have the perfect little shoes to go with them.

The hard-headed pragmatist in you thinks it pretty unlikely that 2 of Mexico, Croatia and Brazil will choke. But you’re a soppy romantic with a gambler’s eye for a quick loss.

We’ve already made our one allotted palm wine joke in relation to the Ivory Coast, which you won’t see on Frood for a while yet, so instead of that you fancied some afofo firewater (distilled from palm sap according to the internet), but by the time you found a bottle Cameroon had long since been eliminated. In the first round.

And with hindsight you’d have preferred a lager anyway.

Croatia

June 12. Sao Paulo. Brazil opens against Croatia in a game that has all the makings of being a football match.

Croatia came over all On The Waterfront and sacked manager Igor Stimac towards the back end of last year, replacing him with retired midfield enforcer and former captain fantastic, Niko Kovac. They had the class (Modric, Mandzukic…) and they coulda’ been somebody but at that point they were just bums.

Given his reputation as a rare-ish brute among the artsy flowers Croatian football has tended to produce, you’d expect that Kovac likes his teams to be physical. Not frottage physical, or Olivia Newton-John physical but euphemism physical.

“No ref, fair tackle… Neymar’s faking it, typical South American diving and feigning injury – that’s not a snapped tibia poking out of his leg, it’s a special effect he keeps in his sock.”

Accordingly, you’re on the rakija (an umbrella term for local spirits: basically brandy).

Fool that you are – Kovac was never just a thug as a player – he was more an inspiring metronome with leadership skills. And his preferred strategy as manager involves expansive, reasonably attractive football. And the Balkan region as a whole produces some pretty decent wines, you philistine.

Question now is whether they’re contenders. You’ll say they have a legitimate expectation of second place in the group because Mexico. And Cameroon.

Mexico

Olympic gold winners in 2012 (beating Brazil in the final), Mexico went through 4 coaches and 44-odd players over the course of a qualifying campaign that was nothing if not hilarious. So there’s really no point in learning anything about them just yet.

That being said they may provide you with an all too rare opportunity to spy the small and cute Lesser Spotted Chicarito. The LSC is a shy and retiring goal poacher of the region very occasionally glimpsed around Manchester United where he’s consistently proved to be absolutely lethal in the box and useless out of it. Unfortunately this means that he is out of sync with the rest of the team who have spent the past season being utterly useless everywhere on and off the pitch, much to the amusement of everyone in the UK outside of United’s catchment area in Surrey.

‘Chicarito’ is the nickname of Javier Hernández Balcázar. It means ‘little pea’. When you see him you’ll have to suppress the urge to say ‘aaaaaaaaaahhh’, because football doesn’t allow emotions outside of a narrow range of tears, angst, recrimination and violence.

If they can get their shit together Mexico are always capable of doing well, but they won’t so they won’t. You sip a tequila (because you’re a cliché) gently exhaling the phrase comme ci comme ca, forgetting momentarily that French is not the official language of Mexico.

Possible candidate for dark horse of the competition, you’ll say mischievously.

Next time: we assess Group B: Australia, Chile, The Netherlands, Spain…