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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Next time: you thought Group C was bad, Group E has Ecuador, Honduras and Switzerland in it (and France).