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