Alcoholics Guide To The World Cup – Group G

That British media, eh? First the FIFA corruption allegations now the concerted attacks on Luis Suarez, fresh from another controversy of his own making. That there does appear to be evidence of corruption and that there are photographs showing what appear to be teeth marks on Chiellini’s shoulder are neither here nor there; we’re just embittered troublemakers. As Uruguay’s manager Oscar Tabarez had it, this is a World Cup. It’s not about morality.

Now we’re not about to make a sanctimonious plea for ethical play (although the British do hate cheating in football except when we’re doing it). After all, as George Orwell put it, football is a game in which everyone gets hurt and every nation has its own style of play which seems unfair to foreigners. But this ain’t exactly the striker’s first Hannibal Lecter impression and he clearly hasn’t responded to past punishments.

So the question on our lips today: should the serial recidivist be banned for crimes against corn flakes? It’s a chewy question, after all this is his 3rd on-pitch biting incident, possibly because of low blood sugar. But probably not. On the other hand the World Cup powers-that-be are notorious for seeming to defer difficult decisions relating to star players (because it needs those star players to be, y’know, playing); to quote A Few Good Men, “the tooth? You can’t handle the tooth”. On balance, Suarez is extremely talented but, euphemistically speaking, seems a touch flawed; kind of like Wagner without the anti-Semitism.

Anyway, food for thought.

As we approach the end of the group stage we enter a time for reflection. Forests become desert, young love withers and fades away, bands split amid ego and recrimination, kings are deposed; empires crumble and fall into the sea.

I’m talking of course about Jeremy Paxman retiring from Newsnight. But also Spain being dumped out of the World Cup last night (when I wrote this bit) after losing to Chile, because that happened too.

Plenty of people are out there cackling with schadenfreude, pretending like they hated Spain before it became popular, rather than simply jumping on the bandwagon (late) sometime after Euro 2012.

Of the remaining favourites, Argentina has an underbelly softer than brie in a microwave and Brazil has struggled considerably more than you probably expected.

And then there’s Germany.

It’s quite hard for me to write about ‘the old enemy’ Germany because the secret truth is that I am head over heels, blind, punchdrunk, singing in the rain, haven’t felt this way since I first saw Salma Hayek in Dusk ‘til Dawn batshit crazy in love with this Germany team.

It did sting when they tore England apart in the second round of World Cup 2010, mind.

Germany

Never saw you looking so lovely as you did tonight, I’ve never seen you shine so brightly as you did tonight… Maybe it’s in the way that Muller looks like a fan in a replica shirt rather than a professional footballer, maybe it’s in the way that Germany 2.0 (2010-) replaced the stolid Teutonic Rammstein of old with something much more hip, willowy and zippy, like an oddly coiffed laser.

Perhaps it’s the cavalier way that the only ‘proper’ striker they brought with them this time around is record equalling goal wizard and all-round Methuselah, Miraslov ‘the closer’ Klose.

Speaking of wizards, do you remember Captain Marvel? Mario Gotze Billy Batson was a typical pants-wetting 8 year old boy until he hung out with an octogenarian who promised to show him a magic trick. This was decades before anyone had noticed that ‘stranger’ and ‘danger’ rhyme, so apparently it was alright to create a comic that appeared to encourage young children to pass their time unsupervised with much older men who weren’t related to them. Also, Mesut Ozil looks a bit like Freddy Freeman.

So it’s clear, some spectacularly stupid, utterly irresponsible and probably unhinged wizard who clearly knew nothing of the egomania and proclivities of the average 8 year old gave the Germany players godlike superpowers when they were wee bairns.

Or alternatively, the country has invested time and money into creating and properly funding a nationwide string of footballing academies employing a large number of highly qualified, enthusiastic young coaches dedicated to churning out tactically aware, technically gifted players and then giving said players opportunities to play in Bundesliga first teams.

And naturalising players before they could turn out for anyone else.

Or maybe they were all synthesised in a laboratory out of a mix of DNA from hair and skin samples of former greats.

Love is blind of course – the team is no less fallible than any other, they’ve not actually won anything yet to justify their lofty status, and Ghana held them to a draw. To quote Jean-Paul Sartre, in a football match, everything is complicated by the presence of the other team.

Still, if they don’t qualify from the group and magic away their second round opponent with contemptuous ease, Joachim Low should probably eat one of his natty jumpers.

Beer. Next.

Ghana

The difference between Disney movies and real life is that real life is only unintentionally cruel.

Even before the World Cup kicked off this seemed to be one of the tighter groups. If not quite a group of death, Ghana and the USA – two tough to beat teams who have improved significantly over recent years – were to face arguably the strongest squad and the best (form) player in the world. And going into the final match, results are finely balanced, with all teams still capable of qualifying.

The self-styled ‘African Brazil’ was one of the surprise packages at the last World Cup, the team winning hearts and minds a-plenty until it ran into sportsmanship’s Luis Suarez in the quarters. One fluffed penalty and inappropriate Suarez celebration later and Ghana were out.

Of course that was 4 years ago; Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight suggested that either you die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

And sure enough the Black Stars have seen their reputation take a hit since their last game, a well-deserved draw against Germany. Their preparations for a showdown against Cristiano Ronaldo were slightly derailed by suspensions for Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng, following allegations of physical violence and verbal naughtiness respectively.

Predictably enough, the background is a slightly tawdry row about money. Following the lead of France in 2010, the players threatened a strike earlier this week. This in turn saw a plane hastily chartered, loaded with cash and flown to Brazil. But the fallout has left Ghana short of 2 of its more experienced midfielders, who might have been expected to make the difference.

One suspects the boys could have done with a hot stone massage, maybe a mani-pedi, something to soothe their aching bosoms; a cocktail at the very least. After all, Ghana has enjoyed a boozy renaissance of late, with traditional liquors being brought into the 1990s – akpeteshie replaces rum for homegrown twists on caiprinhas and mojitos.

You’re not even sure they are a ‘self-styled African Brazil’, but it sounds good. Easy on the mixers in that drink.

With Germany and Team USA in the driving seat for qualification, and Cristiano Ronaldo desperate to make an impact on the World Cup, my prediction is that this is the end of the road for Ghana and its fallen stars.

Portugal

Port + regular size wineglass + Cristiano Ronaldo = classy.

USA

By reputation, the American people have an insatiable appetite for sport, or at least for watching it on the TV while shovelling cheese into their mouths and going on about how exceptional they are at stuff.

You’ll appreciate what I did with that last bit.

Plenty of – actually mildly offensive – reasons are given for this. They basically boil down to:

“there are already too many sports to keep up with, and Americans are easily bored and don’t like rooting for the underdog, especially when that underdog is their own team.”

Team USA has tended to focus on stout defending and sucker-punch counterattacking, offering little in the way of jinking, mazy runs to get furiously excited about or sneaky digs and diving to get excitedly furious about. For the past decade or so their big superstar has been Landon “Not Jason” Donovan, a man who not only redefines beige but who has never once appeared on Neighbours.

And you’d be forgiven for thinking that that sounds about as much fun as a teetotal stag do.

But the chronically underappreciated side have ditched Donovan and turned up sporting a flamboyant little number in red, white and blue. Their opening game ended on a thrilling note, a flurry of very late goals seeing them nail 3 points on the board. The follow-up 2-2 draw against Cristiano Ronaldo saw a dominant US on course for the win until the 94th minute, Tim Howard making possibly the best save of the tournament.

Jurgen ‘I believe it might be a soft j’ Klinsmann deserves a lot of credit for injecting the confidence into the side to play with a little flair – although the team typically expects to do well in the group stages, they’ve occasionally seemed overawed by more lauded nations. And people are starting to take notice ahead of the group’s denouement: Hulk Hogan Hulkomaniac-ing the internet to talk up ‘The men’s USA soccer team’, making mildly homoerotic comments about them ‘pounding’ the Germans.

Meanwhile Will Ferrell confirmed at an appearance in Recife that he will be playing and fully intends to bite any Germany players he comes across.

But too much excitement isn’t good for the nerves, so follow the lead of the American Midwest and sanctimoniously eschew anything alcoholic in favour of a glass of slightly below room temperature water. You save your drinking for when you’re alone.

Clint Dempsey is apparently going to release a rap album.

Ok, maybe just one drink then.

What do you call someone else’s cheese? Nacho cheese.

Better make that a double.

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Next time on Frood: Group H’s Algeria, Belgium, Russia and South Korea fight it out to see who gets to avoid Germany in the next round. And speaking of Uruguay, here’s Albert Camus: All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football. Exactly Tabarez, exactly.

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Alcoholics Guide To The World Cup – Group F

Dear Mother, sorry this is late and that I didn’t finish the group write-ups before the World Cup started. Please don’t kick me out again or throw out any more of my things; I’m still trying to get over the loss of my Thomas the Tank Engine bedspread.

Incidentally, you may recall our write-up of Group B suggested that you support the Netherlands and denounce Spain. Your new football friends were doubtless impressed at your counterintuitive (and therefore deep) knowledge of the game of foot.

You’re welcome.

Argentina

All nations at the World Cup have their Platonic ideal of a footballer; a mythological being who embodies the nation’s prejudices, fears, personality, needs and desires.

Despite being Argentina’s captain, star player and a bona fide candidate for greatest player of all time, Lionel Messi is not that player.

For Argentina, the ideal is a goblin-faced, mullet-haired, sleazy street urchin of superlative skill and tremendous appetites. A ballerina-cum-bar-room-brawler who’s kicked, bitten and fought to the top. Someone who will dazzle their way through the opposition like they’re so many groupies one minute and punch a ball into the goal the next. Then celebrate by snorting cocaine off your mother’s navel and doing the bad thing with your girlfriend.

Metaphorically speaking.

Madonna in 1986 was the blueprint, dragging a frankly desultory team to the trophy with performances of Like A Virgin and Hand Of God. My girlfriend reckons she’s never had better, which really helps my self-esteem.

So as we were saying, Messi does not embody Argentina like, say, Garrincha embodied Brazil, or like Carlos Tevez embodies Argentina (except for the coke/mum thing). The Barcelona darling has never quite translated his club level dominance to the national team.

Notwithstanding that he never refused to warm up for Argentina because he didn’t think he should have been a substitute in the first place, Tevez has almost invariably performed equally well for club and country. This alone must make his exclusion from the squad all the more heart-warming for fans of professionalism.

But none of the above really matters, because it just means that Argentina have to make do with a player in Messi who’s more or less the best in the world as opposed to a player who might be the best of all time (or at least make the top 3).

Also, Argentina has a strike-force more stocked than a hypochondriac’s medicine cabinet, with players of the calibre of Lavezzi and Palacio’s rat-tail relegated to the bench. Messi, Aguero, Higuain, with Di Maria and Gago in midfield, hope to paper over the defensive cracks (Romero in goal, Demichelis on the pitch generally).

To be fair, defensive weakness appears to be a feature of pretty much all of the teams at the tournament this year, perhaps why it’s proving to be a vintage competition.

Argentina numbers among the favourites for a reason and you don’t want to waste your hangover on plonk. Crack out a bottle of malbec for the consistency of quality, rich tannins and way it complements a plate of meat with chimichurri on the side.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia’s team is a charmingly disheveled, tactically naïve side that tends to bomb around the place like a cheerfully demented cocker spaniel. When they get really excited, which is every time the doorbell rings, they tend to lose bladder control all over the floor you just mopped. One for the neutrals, then.

The Dragons’ relatively undisciplined, attacking focus is something of a necessity given that centre backs Spahic and Bicakcic lack anything resembling pace and the squad has no natural defensive midfielder, meaning that they will have to rely on scoring more goals than the opposition. Even a genuine top level goalkeeper like Stoke’s Asmir Begovic can’t be expected to keep a clean floor sheet by himself.

Fortunately, in general terms the winner of a game of football is the one that registers more goal scores.

Unfortunately their opening game is (was…) against Argentina, and all due respect to the most dragon-y of the Dragons (Manchester City’s Edin Dzeko), it’s a mug’s game trying to go toe to toe with Argentina for racking up the goal scores.

You had a crack at making some home-made plum brandy, hence why you’re on the Turkish coffee, unsurprisingly rather popular in Bosnia. You’re hoping that the ćevapi will also help.

At least the brandy didn’t make you blind.

Iran

One night back in the ’60s the band Cream was on stage improvising some self-indulgent meandering madness when some unknown, random American dude with a killer ‘fro asked to sit in. He plugged a guitar into a bass amp and fretwanked the living daylights out of an old blues number called Killing Floor. His name was Jimi Hendrix.

The moral of the story is just because no one knows you doesn’t mean you’re no good. And please, no double negatives. Obscure Loaded Weapon 1 reference for you there.

That being said, Monday’s dour 0-0 draw against an unambitious Nigeria suggests that Jimi Hendrix might not be the best of comparisons to make.

Even after watching the game, I know absolutely nothing about Iran save that manager Carlos Quieroz seems to have come to the World Cup dressed up as a 1970s sex symbol. Which must be unsettling for the squad.

Arak: it’s an aniseed flavoured alcoholic drink traditionally mixed with water and ice, which gives it a milky white colour (because the anethole in aniseed is not soluble in water). If anyone asks, you’re drinking milk instead of alcohol in a misplaced stab at cultural sensitivity.

You think it might be a bit off (hence the fermented flavour) but you’re really thirsty.

If you drink enough, you might even start to think unthinkable thoughts about whether Carlos removes that gold chain during… y’know… eeeeww.

Nigeria

Some years ago Manchester United signed an exciting, highly promising young talent who subsequently decided that blue suited his complexion better than red and joined Chelsea instead, because contract law doesn’t apply to football.

Fast forward to today and all involved are still trying to nail down exactly who it was that started the malicious rumours about John Obi Mikel’s alleged exciting-ness and talent in the first place.

For Nigeria, Mikel provides a solid but sluggish presence in midfield, neither particularly adventurous nor much of a destroyer, with the turning circle of your average oil tanker.

On paper, this group was always likely to be a straight race for second place between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Nigeria.

In reality, it turns out that paper wasn’t worth…the. paper. it was… written on.

I was in trouble about 3 words into that sentence. Obscure Arrested Development reference for you there.

In reality, Mikel’s pretty indicative of the team as a whole, which didn’t attack Iran with conviction and which seems unlikely to defend heroically against Bosnia and Herzegovina in its next match or Argentina in the final one. Some teams (like Croatia against Brazil) don’t seem to know they’re beaten until the final whistle. We say this more in sadness than in anger, but Nigeria seems to have beaten itself before the first match. Hence why they were so lethargic during the game, badum tish. I promise that wasn’t originally intended as a masturbation joke.

Nothing’s been decided in the group of course, and it may be that a lacklustre display against a team cast as whipping boys is just the kick up the arse Nigeria needs to find some ambition.

Best just to crack open a lager, preferably Star (Nigeria’s first domestically brewed lager), ignore the TV and take a brain trip back to the days when Jay-Jay Okocha was still playing and the Super Eagles were still soaring.

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Next time on Frood: Ghana, Cristiano Ronaldo and the USA have a battle royale to see who will finish second behind Germany in Group G.

Alcoholics Guide To The World Cup – Group E

The winner of Group E plays the runner up of Group F, which means that finishing runner up in Group E is likely to be a death sentence. The winner of Group F is almost certainly going to be Argentina.

There’s a question often asked of international football – do you rely on skill or athleticism, artistry or pragmatism? The beautiful ones, like Brazil in ’82, break our hearts when it inevitably doesn’t work out; leaving us emotionally shattered, nodding our heads not quite in time to Prince’s the Beautiful Ones from his fantastic Purple Rain album.

They do get you every time.

On the other hand, the ones you settle down with successfully – the loving, faithful, emotionally stable, if-we’re-being-strictly-honest-are-a-little-bit-unexciting ones aren’t the subject of any songs by Prince. Like Brazil in ’94.

And Prince wrote a soundtrack for Batman, so that’s a pretty damning oversight. Batman: officially better than Brazil’s 1994 team.

Fortunately, none of the teams in Group E offer much of either skill or athleticism, except for Ecuador who offer quite a lot of athleticism come to think of it. And France have quite a lot of skill, albeit much of it is concentrated in players who manager Didier Deschamps rightly decided he didn’t need, like Hatem Ben Arfa and Samir Nasri.

Ecuador

Basic human decency suggests we shouldn’t write about the tragic death of Christian Benitez last year of cardiac arrest. But no account of Ecuador, however facile, could simply ignore his absence. Chucho was only 27 years old when he died. By all accounts he was adored by fans and team-mates alike. He will be missed at the tournament.

Most obvious joke we’ll ever make about Ecuador in 5…4…3…2…1…Hey, do you remember that Sash! song from the 90s? That was brilliant wasn’t it? You know what else is brilliant? Shouting Ecuador!!!!!!!!!!!! Ad infinitum.

Comedy gold.

Right kids, I need to get this fiesta – not the car, I drive a VW – started, pass the espiritu del Ecuador. It’s fruity and golden according to the marketing and personally I love me a bit of fruity, golden marketing. Hey, do you remember that Sash! song from the…

You don’t? Oh…

Right. As you were, then.

Hoping to spoil the party for France will be, well, Nasri’s girlfriend on Twitter. But also the hardy mountainfolk of Ecuador, whose pacey, intense style was embodied by mobile brick shithouse Antonio Valencia until Manchester United gave him the number 7 jersey a couple of years ago.  The effect was similar to the now-infamous story of Biblical Samson getting his first Gillette Mach 3 Turbo.

You don’t need more than 3 blades on your razor, kids, don’t believe the advertisers.

Ecuador tend to be fantastic at home, where they were unbeaten during qualifying and in fact only drew 1 game. Unfortunately, they didn’t win any games on the road, which is potentially a cause for concern given that the World Cup isn’t being hosted in Ecuador.

France

So one day you wake up, feeling an unfillable void within yourself that you nevertheless seek to fill with red wine, red meat, pastries and cigarettes. And sex, which you don’t really have (although you think about it a lot). You click your tongue against the roof of your mouth, waiting impatiently for Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea to pass. You shrug and light a Gauloises: of course you feel thus, it ever was thus, for man is alone in a godless universe devoid of purpose or meaning.

But then you turn on the TV and smile. Fact is you’re not French at all, you just like the outfits. And you’ve just found out that the national team has overcome Ukraine in the play-offs overturning a 2 goal deficit en route.

That’s great because in that case it means you don’t have to limit yourself to French writers. And you just thought of a killer way of turning Thomas Hobbes’ nasty, brutish and short quote into a knob gag.

Back to the football and you find you’re really as excited as you’re capable of being about this France team – Thuram, Desailly, Henry, Pires, Viera, Trezegeut and of course Zidane. They might even win it.

Time for some champagne.

Ah but you’re out of champagne, there’s no more of the Bordeaux and the cognac always sends you to a dark place. Time to hit the supermarket.

But what to wear? You settle on a nice Breton striped top – introduced for the French navy in 1858, turned into fashion by Coco Chanel, inestimably French design classic. You sigh to yourself in amazement that the Breton stripe didn’t really hit the global market until it was worn by Picasso. Truly, GW Bush was right: the trouble with the French is they have no word for entrepreneur.

Honduras

The Central Americans were automatic qualifiers despite lacking creativity, attacking threat or defensive solidity. In fact they’re less consistent than… Oh I give up.

Start again.

Honduras. Their best player is a left back, Emilio Izaguirre, who plays for Celtic.

Honduras. Wilson Palacios, Martin Figueroa. Those names probably don’t mean anything to you. But such is the point of this Guide. They used to play for Wigan Athletic, then a couple of other teams you also haven’t heard of.

You know who doesn’t play for Honduras? Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Because he plays for Sweden.

Fun fact, if you add up all of his transfer fees over the course of his career, Zlatan cost more than Belgium. He also does martial arts just in case it turns out he lives in the Matrix. He is covered in tattoos, one of which is rumoured to be a map of the location of Atlantis. Zlatan is kind to animals.  He speaks 17 languages, most of which he also invented. Once, he found the Ark of the Covenant, but hid it again so as not to spoil it for the rest of us. Zlatan was famously offered the role of the white swan in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake ballet, but turned it down because Zlatan doesn’t do auditions. There was a problem with the interpreter. He once lived for 7 months as a kangaroo, growing a marsupial pouch simply because he was told it couldn’t be done.

Zlatan has been known to insist you drink giffity, a fiery liquor, because it has a fun name and they sell it in Honduras.

But Zlatan laughs and admits he was joking, just have a beer to take the edge off; later you and he are going to hunt a human being – the world’s most dangerous quarry.

Switzerland

Somehow contriving to be even less enjoyable than that restaurant your vegan friend raves about, Switzerland made history at the World Cup in 2006, becoming the first team to be knocked out without conceding a goal and failing to score a single goal in a penalty shootout against Ukraine.

With the likes of Inler and Behrami (both Napoli) in midfield and Bayern Munich’s Shaqiri as their main attacking outlet, Switzerland is nothing if not a makeweight in waiting.

To be fair Inler’s supposed to be at the good end of mediocre.

What’s not good is what you’ll be drinking: Kirsch. So let’s hope they don’t make it beyond the group stages, because it’s hideous and no one deserves that.

Incidentally, absinthe is said to have originated in Switzerland. So let’s really, really hope they don’t make it beyond the group stages, because no emergency rooms deserve that.

Luckily instead of defenders they have Senderos and Djourou, currently of Valencia and Hamburg (loan) respectively.

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Next time: we peruse the contents of Group F’s handbag.