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.
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.
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.
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.
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…