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’.
__

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.

Advertisements

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.

__

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.

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.

__

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.

__

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

Alcoholics Guide To The World Cup – Group D

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.

Costa Rica

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.

England

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.

Italy

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?

Uruguay

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).

Alcoholics Guide To The World Cup – Group C

Last time we suggested the thrillingly transgressive idea of denouncing Spain for the sake of it, and that the team of choice for the sophisticate had to be the Netherlands.

But Group C is a far trickier proposition because I say it is.

Colombia

Pele predictably predicted a World Cup trophy for Colombia last time they graced the tournament in 1994. Predictably, Colombia failed to get past the group stage.

Their first setback for this year’s competition came when legendary hairstyle Carlos Valderrama stopped playing for them in 1998.

Their second setback came when scorpion kicking, goalkeeping sweeper René ‘El Loco’ Higuita stopped playing for them some time in 1999. To be fair, entertaining as he was, he was probably a bit of a liability if we’re being brutally honest.

Colombia suffered yet another setback back in January when apex predator Radamel Falcao got a nasty booboo on his knee playing for Ligue 1 club AS Monaco (based in Monaco, which is like France but with less tax).

But Falcao’s a goal hungry man-beast and it’ll take more than a long-term, career-threatening, heavily-hyphenated injury to keep him from the contest, especially now he’s been called up and everything. Nevertheless, such a heavily-hyphenated injury means that he might rule himself out of contention, after all.

Accordingly, manager José Pékerman has called up a further 5 strikers in his provisional squad. The only one I’ve seen playing is Bacca of Sevilla, who was…not great… in the recent Europa League final against Benfica. Or there’s Jackson Martinez, the 2-footed goal thief from FC Porto with 8 goals in 26 appearances for his national side, but I haven’t half-assed my way through any games featuring him or played Pro Evolution Soccer in donkey’s years. That’s some rigorous, scientific analysis right there.

I appreciate that FIFA might be the better game these days, but fiercely irrational tribal loyalties is what football is all about.

Anyway, Falcao’s erstwhile strike partner during qualifying, Guttierez, may have to shoulder the burden of doing goals for the team as a lone wolf striker. He does his professional footballer-ing for River Plate in Argentina, which is nothing like France.

Further back, the likes of Guarin and Rodriguez make for some pretty tasty midfielders (legal disclaimer: Frood does not condone cannibalism, except as a hypothetical topic for discussion). In defence, Zapata looks good enough to have been a squad player back in the days when AC Milan was a half decent side.

We at Frood suggest you knock back a shot of aguardiente. Especially when they play the spoiler horror show that is Greece. For an explanation of aguardiente, see our previous comments on guaro in our write-up of Group D, probably landing next week.

Greece

Here at Frood we don’t play favourites, although clearly you should support the Netherlands; no we aim for a dispassionate, non-judgemental assessment of each participating nation.

Close your eyes and cast your mind back to 2004. Unfancied FC Porto won the Champions League, beating even less fancied AS Monaco in the final. That victory catapulted Porto’s considerably more fanciable manager, José ‘I’m dead special, me’ Mourinho into the international spotlight.

But something much more disturbing than the above was to follow as a charmless team with no ambitions whatsoever beyond its own 18 yard box managed to spoil its way to winning Euro 2004.

I’m talking, of course, about England.

I mean Greece.

Greece qualified for the tournament after taking a long hard look in the mirror – that proper soul searching look you do when you know you need to make some fundamental changes to your life, or at least that thing on your face you (adorably) think of as a ‘beard’ – and deciding that actually some things are more important than the approval of hipster dilettantes who think they know football because they managed to find a vintage Borussia Dortmund strip in a skip in Dalston. Like qualifying for the World Cup, or winning Euro 2004 for that matter.

There’s more than 1 legitimate way to play the game and when you have to rely on strikers of the calibre of Samaras (Celtic) and Mitroglou (Fulham) you’ll probably reach the conclusion that there are worse things than focusing on defensive solidity. Like English holidaymakers in Greece.

Incidentally, I say Mitroglou’s a Fulham player, after all, vicious rumours abound that he is one, but to be fair no-one’s seen sight nor sound since he signed for them in January for £10m. And given the weak way they got themselves relegated it’s probably technically libel to refer to someone as a Fulham player. #hashtagBANTZ.

You remember that ‘epic’ lads/girls trip to Corfu you had after your A-Levels and in a misguided spirit (foreshadowing pun) of nostalgia got tanked up on the ouzo. And when you woke up, the World Cup had been over for 6 weeks.

Plus side, you didn’t have to watch any games involving Greece.

Ivory Coast

Sports ‘journalists’ have been banging on about how this really is the last hurrah for the Elephants’ underperforming golden generation (is there any other sort of golden generation that isn’t Spanish?). And it really is this time even if that’s what they said about the last few Africa Cup Of Nations tournaments and indeed the last World Cup, because Drogba is old as shit and so are the other ones whose names they’ll totally remember in a minute when they can get Google to load up. Stupid Android phones.

Some of those players include scampering wing-flake, Gervinho, 26, of Roma and Wilfried Bony (25), who bagged 24-odd league goals for Swansea this season, justifying his £12m transfer fee. ‘Justifying’ being a relative term of course. Also in the old man/last hurrah bracket is Serge Aurier of Toulouse. The 21 year old right back is hopeful of backing at the right of the team ahead of ex-Arsenal galoot Emmanuel Eboué. Eboué doesn’t appear to have made the cut, which makes Aurier’s job that much easier.

Of course there’s always throbbing atavism Yaya Toure, who’s dedicated his career to proving that actually the box-to-box midfielder isn’t an extinct position. He’s only 31 so he has a few more last hurrahs in him. Although possibly not for club Manchester City as he (or his agent at least) has let it be known that he was upset at the lack of respect shown to him by the club’s owners when they didn’t shake his hand on his birthday or give him a Bugatti Veyron. They didn’t give me a Bugatti Veyron for my birthday either, so I understand Toure’s pain.

Or that’s how it’s been reported in forensic detail by the English media at any rate.

If Toure proves too inconsolable to play there’s always Newcastle United’s surprisingly fragile door wedge, Cheick Tioté, who’s a total monster in the tackle unless he makes contact. For the avoidance of doubt that’s an obvious lie. Incidentally, it’s unlikely that Toure won’t play as the internet has decided he’s flashing an ankle at Barcelona even though Barcelona’s transfer ban hasn’t, to date, been lifted.

Anyway, you know what they say about elephants – they struggle to climb out of the Bugatti Veyron’s bucket seats. But they should be easily good enough to get out of the group stages for the first time.

The national drink is a type of wine derived from palm called bangui. Which might be tricky to source depending on where you live. If all else fails, knock back a glass of white wine, go outside and lick a tree.

It’s the thought that counts, as Yaya Toure will attest.

Japan

This season, Manchester United’s performances have been more unsettling than watching a pregnant woman smoke. Despite this, once-regarded playmaker Shinji Kagawa couldn’t get a game, which is cause for concern for his national team manager Alberto Zaccheroni.

Added to the star player’s form worries, Zaccheroni also has to deal with problems elsewhere in the squad. In particular, team captain Makuto Hasebe, a defensive lynchpin for FC Nürnberg, is a doubt to be pinning any lynches having spent much of the Bundesliga season either struggling with injuries or being operated on by doctors. That’s an exaggeration for comic effect in case you were in any doubt.

Japan is the reigning Asian Cup champion and was the first team to qualify for the World Cup, their fifth in a row. They’re usually regarded as one of the finest Asian teams, but sit somewhere around 50 in the FIFA world rankings, which are almost entirely meaningless.

They’re not in a particularly difficult group and should expect to qualify, behind Colombia and the Ivory Coast in second and first place respectively. Accordingly, you’ll happily proclaim them to be your dark horse choice (Belgium’s qualities are too well known to be dark horse contenders) before confirming you were talking out of your mouth when they don’t make it beyond the first round.

Is it maybe a little bit racist to suggest sake? Like Mickey Rooney’s character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s racist? Maybe not quite that bad, but culturally insensitive at least, like Lost in Translation? You’re not sure, so you just make it Suntory time like Bill Murray recommended in Lost in Translation. And that way people can be impressed by your quiet good taste in movies when you tell them at length how good it is. By ‘quiet’ and ‘good’ we mean ‘completely obvious’.

And yes Honda (AC Milan) is a player, but he’s also a car. Well done, your parents must be very proud of you.

__

Next time: some clever pun about Suarez as Frood bites a chunk out of Group D.

Alcoholics Guide To The World Cup – Group B

Last time we wrote about Group A, this time we’re writing about Group B, next time it’ll be Group C. Get used to that ‘say what you see’ approach – that’s all you’ll be getting from the pundits next month.

Australia

You get all excited when the World Cup comes around, even though there hasn’t been a particularly good or memorable one since they expanded the format to 32 teams. And then you remember that you’re supposed to write about Australia.

To be fair, it’s not a common problem. But then neither is casting Maria in The Sound of Music or whatever it was, and the BBC made a TV show about that. Using my licence fee money.

Such talk of things from years ago that remain sources of irritation to, well, me, leads us back to the subject at hand. In 2006, Australia looked to be gearing up for some dark horse action until they ran into Italy in the round of 16. Or, more precisely, until Italy’s Fabio Grosso ran into Lucas Neill and fell over, earning one of the softer penalties you’ll ever see on Youtube if you type ‘Fabio Grosso gets penalty against Australia in Germany 2006 World Cup’ into the search function.

And that was that for Guus Hiddink’s boys; in 2010 Australia qualified for the third time in their history, going out meekly in the group stages.

Much like the USA, Australia doesn’t appear to give much of a damn for the considerable charms of football (the sporting world’s Scarlett O’Hara, clearly). But that’s slowly changing.

Australia took a leaf from the USA playbook of how to make people like soccer and enticed their own superstar European, albeit while MLS got David Beckham and his amazing ability to be photographed in his underpants, the A-League got Alessandro Del Piero and his amazing ability to be good at football despite being 87. Ish.

Both boosted the media profile of the sport in their respective nations to the extent that the national managers don’t automatically look to Europe for the same players who underperformed in the last tournament.

In fact, Australia manager Ange Postecoglou got the job on the understanding that he’d regenerate the team and focus on youth, so you can probably ignore all the above. Sorry for wasting your time.

Fact remains that the largely inexperienced squad is light on quality and particularly weak at the back; injuries mean that Preston North End’s Bailey Wright has been called up. PNE play in England’s third division, and Wright was 1 of 6 PNE players arrested for alleged match-fixing earlier this year. Wright denies all wrong-doing and we must stress no one’s proved anything to the contrary, but it’s a controversial choice that one suspects would’ve been avoided if Australia had a few more options.

Anyway, you’re stuck on the idea that Australia’s national team consists of those guys you vaguely remember from about 7 years ago – Kewell, Neill, Bresciano, Viduka – and accordingly you’re drinking one of those ‘Aussie’ lagers that’s brewed in the UK. They’re pretty vile, but to be fair so is Australia’s kit.

Chile

Juventus steamroller Arturo Vidal faces a race to be fit in time, Gary Medel just got relegated with Cardiff and there’s no place for David Pizzaro, only recently coaxed back in after years of international exile.

But spicy Chile can cause an upset to delicate (continental) European stomachs (Australia ain’t getting out of the group).

Alexis Sanchez in particular will go right through you given half a chance. And while you’re locked in the bathroom wondering where all the toilet paper’s got to, Jorge Sampaoli’s chaps have qualified at your expense.

Or that’s what they’ll be hoping, cruel providence having seen fit to land Chile in a group against the two teams who contested the final of the 2010 World Cup one of which is arguably the finest national team in the history of the game (fuck you Spain).

But then again the Andeans have been in superb form. Since becoming manager a couple of years back, Sampaoli’s team have only lost 3 times (against Peru, Germany and Brazil) in about 15 games, winning most of them. And with their pace and attacking style, Chile is likely to be popular with the neutrals.

Also popular with the neutrals are Chilean red wines (mainly cabernet sauvignon) – consistently good if not top of the table (fitting considering Chile has never won an international tournament but usually gives a good account of itself).

Which is a result for you because it was that or pisco, which probably tastes like it sounds.

The Netherlands

The Oranje are the team of choice for the connoisseur, as they have been since Cruyff invented being good at football back in the 1970s.

But don’t let that fool you; the Netherlands is like a small, unruly, but quite charming pet ocelot. She can be skittish but is perfectly friendly if you don’t make any sudden moves or loud noises. I can’t leave her alone you see; poor dear has a habit of pooing in my plimsolls.

I believe it’s some sort of passive-aggressive grief response.

At the last World Cup the Oranje made the final, where they abandoned playing football in favour of kicking Spaniards. They followed that up with a Euro 2012 campaign dogged by rumours that all of the players hated each other even more than is usual for a Dutch team. They fell out, first with each other and then the competition, in the first round, securing a grand total of nul points for their (lack of) efforts.

And they’re not just mentally fragile, with this generation’s more notable players (Sneijder, Van Persie, Robben, Van Der Vaart – accused by former Dutch players of not being good enough to play the Dutch 4-3-3 at Germany in 2006) spending almost as much time on the treatment table as earning their quite astonishing salaries.

As per usual, the Netherlands qualified for this tournament with ease, RSVP-ing the hosts in the resoundingly affirmative.

So there’s the risk of them defecating in one’s brogues and the ever-present suggestion that it’s all just about to collapse like an underbaked soufflé, but like an Alfa Romeo just before its engine falls out they’re a genuine wonder to behold. I’d apologise for mixing so many metaphors (?) but like the average Dutch player I refuse to compromise my beliefs to accommodate other people.

Fans of Nathan Barley might wish to opt for a nice glass of Dutch wine, but for anyone too cool to admit to recognising topical references from the middle of the last decade there are a variety of easily obtainable Dutch lagers. You’ll be wanting something frothy but lightweight and prone to sudden sulky outbursts, possibly involving accusations of racism at Euro 96.

Chocolate aficionados might wish to consider a Cadbury’s flake, even though that’s not Dutch.

Spain

Tournament favourites Spain Barcelona Spain have one weakness other than having no convincing strikers (apart from possibly the recently naturalised Diego Costa), a goalkeeper/captain (Casillas) who has barely featured for his club in 2014 and a centre back in Sergio Ramos who apparently holds the distinction of having received more red cards by the age of 24 than any other player in the history of Real Madrid.

They’re boring.

Yes, yes, best in the world, possibly the best national team in the world ever, triangles, living proof that you can actually field a team that consists entirely of creative attacking midfielders, possession stats, aesthete’s footie; tika-bloody-taka.

You’re morally obligated to like Spain, which is why you’ll say you don’t to encourage a conversation about the relative merits of high (a thousand passes the last of which is into a now empty goal) and low (Cristiano Ronaldo) culture.

During which time you can neck as much rioja as you like. Or if you’re more of a beer person, Estrella, on the basis that it’s Catalan and therefore reflective of the team’s major personnel and tactics.

To be fair, when provoked they have a tendency to prove they’re not boring by decimating Italy in the Euro 2012 final. Also, there’s nothing to dislike about Iniesta.

This one will go the distance, so maybe try some tapas to soak up some of the booze. And try not to get irritated when they get all sanctimonious about virtue and how they play the game the way it’s meant to be played even if half the team isn’t above diving and feigning injury after mythical tackles somewhere in the vicinity of the stadium.

There’s a good soldier.

___

Next time, as promised, we look at Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan.