Alcoholics Guide To The World Cup – Group H

Tim from Advertising: Pele, we’ve got a great opportunity for you – erectile dysfunction.
Pele: I actually prefer to be known as Edson, which is my name. I was named after Thomas Edison.
TFA: The guy who invented Twitter? No that can’t be right, but the name rings a bell…
Pele: An Alexander Graham Bell?
TFA: Didn’t he used to play for Manchester United*?
Pele: Thomas Edison?
TFA: No, Bell – struggling to place Edison.
Pele (sighing): Look, it doesn’t matter, just call me Pele.
TFA: Great! Listen, Pelz, like I said, we want to make you the face of erectile dysfunction.
Pele: But that makes no sense, if anything I need anti-viagra. Did you know that I scored over a thousand career goals and for every single one I sported at least a semi? When I scored the opener in the 1970 final I had a rager that actually ripped straight through my underpants.
TFA: I have no response to that. But we’ll pay you a shit ton of cash, and I tell you what, we can shoehorn in an awkward bit at the start along the lines of “I don’t have willy problems of my own, but lots of you fat knackers who watch telly do.”
Pele: A shit ton of cash you say? I think I can see the logic in this campaign.
TFA: Thanks Pele, you’re great. And can I say I’m a huge fan, huge fan – watching old footage of you winning the World Cup for Norwich really gets me going. Or it would if I didn’t suffer from erectile dysfunction, which is ironic because I’m a total dick! Ha, hashtag SelfBantz.
Pele: I’m pretty sure that’s not what irony means. But yes, I hope you die soon.

*Actually true, just not the same Alex Bell.

Algeria

The plan was to wait until the second round and then write off the chances of the two teams who qualified as no-hopers. To be fair, most of my stabs at humour are even less sharp than that.

And then I contracted some sort of flesh-eating zombie virus so even that abortive idea was…aborted.

Also, going into the World Cup, Group H looked to be a sclerotic clone of Group G with three teams realistically likely to scrap for scraps after the big dog (Belgium and Germany respectively) had its fill.

So…

On a personal note, what I’ve learned over the past week is that one brain is too many and two brains are not enough.

Uuuuuummmm…

If you’d put a gun to my head I’d have said “please remove that gun from my head” – they love that one down the old people’s home – and then written off Algeria without a thought. To be fair to me, Algeria’s biggest impact at the World Cup came before I was even a drunken mistake by my parents, in 1982 when West Germany and Austria conspired to game the system in their final, dammit…, game, unashamedly playing for a result that saw them both qualify at Algeria’s expense.

But let’s look deeper at 1982. It was Algeria’s (be gentle it’s my) first time at the World Cup and they caused a shock upset, beating West Germany 2-1 in their first match. They were inexperienced but exciting and the world fell in love with them for a time, for their dynamism and style and the sense that real life is often far more absurd than fiction, which has to follow rules.

Absurdity of real life aside, 32 years later Algeria have again played with panache and élan and all those nobby words beloved of opera aficionados. This time they reached the second round where they were given an opportunity for revenge against Germany, with predictable results.

No drink – antibiotics. Also, it makes you crave brains.

Belgium

The vagaries of fashion are well-known – today’s sharply dressed man about town is tomorrow’s embarrassing photograph. Currently, Belgians are the must have accessory for clubs who seek the chic.

Consequently, the Belgian Waffles came into the tournament being talked up as a potential dark horse, despite the fact that a dark horse, by definition, is a team whose qualities only become apparent when they turn up out of nowhere and go far further in the competition than anyone considered remotely likely. Costa Rica, for example.

After spitting out that bitchy wad of phlegm, which you blame on the ludicrously strong beer brewed by Belgian monks that can only be sold by the half-pint that you’ve been drinking like the kool aid at that strange cult you joined in a misguided effort to make new friends, here’s your position:

Trashy B-movie action heroes Eden Hazard and Axel Witsel will star in Escape From Group H. Captain “Two’s” Kompany and goalkeeper Cortois are world class, and galloping foetus Januzaj has all the potential in the world.

But beyond that Belgium has a surfeit of ‘names’: players you’ve heard of who look excellent for less-than-top-level clubs or who play relatively minor roles at clubs you’ve heard of. Striker Benteke (Aston Villa) didn’t make it in the end, leaving the team reliant on season-long-loan’s Romelu Lukaku AKA the polyester Drogba. See also: Mirallas, Dembele, Vermaelen.

Kevin “Teenage Prince Harry” De Bruyne left a minor squad role at Chelsea to star reluctantly in next season’s Europa League fixtures with VFL Wolfsburg; Marouane “Disco Lurch” Fellaini looked even more out of his depth at Manchester United than we all assumed he would be.

But they’ve been handed a pampers group and a likely second round game against the American Pancakes*. Also, what Belgium has that almost no one else does is a range of far better than average players in most positions, with a few extraordinary ones. And Disco Lurch.

In other words, a squad with depth and balance that is capable of defending as well as attacking. The golden generation might even take bronze.

PS: Divock Origi has been a real pleasure and that rarest of things for the online generation – a relatively unknown player exploding onto the international stage.

*In the spirit of full disclosure, I genuinely did predict they’d face the USA, but only so I could consider the merits of Belgian waffles vs American pancakes. Waffles won but only because I prefer thinner crepe-style pancakes, which is technically match-fixing so I’ve shopped myself to FIFA.

Russia

The plan was to wait until the second round and then write off the chances of the two teams who qualified as no-hopers. To be fair, most of my attempts at humour are even less attempt-ey than that.

Russia’s star man(ager) is/was/remains martinet marionette Fabio Capello, whose CV is so glittering footballers wives fight magpies for the privilege of touching it. Don Fabio chucked the likes of Arshavin and Pavluychenko on the basis that whatever talents they might possess, consistency and work ethic didn’t number among them.

Russia qualified for the tournament for the first time in twelve years with a team that was functional if not all that exciting. Kind of like the vodka you’re pretending to enjoy while surreptitiously looking around for a mixer.

Having qualified and facing a pretty doable group, Capello took a blunderbuss to a butterfly with the English mentality at the last World Cup and proceeded to do the same with his Russian charges this time round. Einstein famously said that the definition of insanity was being insane, but also that locking away professional sportspeople in an isolated, high pressure environment for extended periods of time and expecting them to perform at their best is pretty nuts too, especially when it didn’t work last time.

Hands up: I expected them to qualify (just about) for the second round before being humiliated by Germany. Because of what Einstein said. He had a bet on it.

Maybe not such a genius, after all.

South Korea

The plan was to wait until the second round and then write off the chances of the two teams who qualified as no-hopers. To be fair most of my how many surrealists does it take to change a lightbulb? Fish.

The alternative would’ve been to do some research. I’ve not kept up with South Korea since Park Ji Sung retired from international football, but every time I tried to crank up the internet I found myself on Youtube watching K-Pop videos.

K-Pop, as you might imagine, is Korean pop music. A couple of years ago it briefly threatened to be the next big thing, especially for parents who wanted their kids to have something to listen to that didn’t involve ‘hos, rim jobs or generally worrying attitudes to women. I highly recommend giving it a whirl: it’s basically a mash-up of the West’s entire pop canon injected with neon and high fructose corn syrup. That’s not a criticism – most musical forms start life as a twist on something familiar.

If I were a parent (and world leaders continue to thank me for not breeding) I’d definitely encourage my kids to listen to K-Pop if only because they won’t understand the lyrics. Hell all of Girls Generation’s songs could be a series of meditations on the joys of doing porn to get back at daddy and my kids and I would be none the wiser.

South Korea’s teams tend to play with a lot of energy, efficiency and enthusiasm. If that all sounds like a euphemism it’s because they’ve played in the last eight World Cups but only made it beyond the group stages twice. In 2006 or 2010 they didn’t even threaten to trouble the latter stages of the competition.

In the run-up the squad was generally described as in transition, which is usually itself a euphemism meaning “about as likely to have a lasting impact as Eat, Love, Pray”, but in this case was more likely the bookies admitting they hadn’t really got a clue about the group apart from Belgium. In fact, Group H offered a pretty good opportunity for South Korea to improve on their record (no one really saw Algeria coming), but it wasn’t to be.

Not to worry, pour yourself a measure of soju – like vodka, but sweeter and weaker so your doctor is legally obliged to approve – big up the volume on Gangnam Style and re-watch the highlights of their run to the 2002 World Cup semi-finals.

Or give Wimbledon a go; they let you drink Pimms at Wimbledon and you don’t even have to feel ashamed of yourself or nuffin’.
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So there you have it, the Alcoholics Guide to the World Cup. You’re welcome, internet. And if we sober up in time there may well be supplementary Guides to the semi-finals, play-off and final.

But if not, time for some final thoughts: sorry Spain, those pink and blue Puma boots are a travesty, I heart the Netherlands, Pirlo retires from retiring, Germany have actually been a bit pants, what’s with all the hairstyles, Zico’s lot would’ve pulverised Neymar and co, did all the decent central defenders go out together in a blaze of glory suicide pact but forget to tell Kompany, so glad the England band weren’t at any of their games, Arjen Robben, what side of whose bed did Honduras crawl out of, Team USA vs Belgium was my pick for game of the second round, who switched Angel Di Maria with an evil twin with no hand-eye coordination, Arjen Robben, did anyone else notice that Spain wore different kits for each of their three matches, I still love you Cristiano Ronaldo, shame Chile had to go out so soon, so glad there are no vuvuzelas, Costa Rica!!!, Neuer’s a better sweeper-keeper than Higuita ever was, Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller, Alexis Sanchez, Divock Origi, Arjen Robben, James Rodriguez, BEST TOURNAMENT IN YEARS (so far).

Thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams about the tournament so far: feel free to share; in the words of Dr Frasier Crane, I’m listening.

Arjen Robben.