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.

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 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.
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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 A

Football. The beautiful game. Not Australian rules or American, just ‘football’, king of sports (ie pompous, self-reverential, possibly in-bred – that’s enough of that, Frood).

As well as being an exploitative corporate cashfest in which the pathetically grateful host nation is bled dry by a monstrously vampiric cadre of parasites in exchange for frustratingly nebulous promises of uncharted economic prosperity (and the opportunity for some spectacular naysaying whataboutery from the more miserable journalists), the World Cup is the biggest and best sporting tournament in the world.

No Olympics, no, you’re just not.

And it’s an iron-clad excuse for a liver apocalypse of a party (drink responsibly kids). So is Tuesday afternoon for that matter, because you have a problem.

But if you’re going to infiltrate the masses of people who genuinely enjoy the sport, you need to be capable of mustering some sort of opinion on every team, even the ones you couldn’t care less about. Because that’s the law.

It’s not necessary to understand the rules of the game – follow this guide and your knowledge will simply be assumed.

In light of the above, for the next period of time we here at Frood will be releasing a series of précises…préciae…summaries for each group.

There is one golden rule: it’s not soccer. Even if you’re American.

Group A

Brazil

The hosts.

At the very least it’s important that you recognise that fact.

The one they’re all talking about is perennial frontrunner for the worst haircut in football award, Neymar. Apparently Pele reckons he’s better than Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi even though he patently isn’t.

Don’t ask me to explain who Pele is.

Brazil have won more World Cups than anyone, they have the record goal scorer in the competition (“Not-Cristiano” Ronaldo), they have legends like Pele, Socrates and Garrincha who are more legendary than the legends of any other nation barring possibly Maradona.

They’ve added to their home advantage and fearsome reputation by bringing back ‘Big’ Phil Scolari, the last manager to win them the World Cup back in 2002 (Pele predicted that Brazil wouldn’t get past the first round). They’re favourites to win it along with Spain who they beat to death in the Confederations Cup last summer, prompting doubtless premature eulogies to the passing of tiki taka. Pun intended.

In revenge, Spain have naturalised the only top level Brazilian striker in service, Diego Costa. They don’t really use strikers, so he’ll probably sit on the bench while Cesc Fabregas plays a false 9, which is like a regular 9, only artificial.

But it’s not all roses. Public anger last summer at allegations of corrupt practices and generally excessive spending on stadia has been supplemented by FIFA concerns that some of said stadia haven’t actually been finished.

There’s also the minor fact that while ‘professional footballers’ numbers among Brazil’s more lucrative exports, the quality has dipped somewhat over the past decade, like that white wine you used to like so much in the 90s.

They’re undeniably weak at the back, with no settled goalkeeper (Julio Cesar has only recently returned to playing, albeit for MLS punching bag Toronto) and relying on the comedy stylings of David Luiz in defence. For a defender, Luiz is really good at attacking.

Add in a world at large that will view anything less than Brazil reaching the final as abject failure and you’ve got to conclude that where they end up is anyone’s guess, really, anyway, it’s your round and I’m on the caiprinhas.

It’s no less camp than Neymar, after all.

Cameroon

The indomitable lions have proved pretty, uh, domitable in past World Cups, only once making it past the group stages, in 1990, when they reached the quarter-finals.

Pele prediction: a team from Africa will win the World Cup before the year 2000.

Even you have heard of record goal-scorer, captain Samuel Eto’o, but behind him there’s not a huge amount of quality. Alex Song might be there, I suppose. Barcelona bought him on a whim from Arsenal a couple years back, decided he didn’t quite fit but they didn’t have the receipt and the 28 days had passed anyway so he’s been in a cupboard gathering dust with the spangly harem pants they’ve never had the confidence to wear in public even though they have the perfect little shoes to go with them.

The hard-headed pragmatist in you thinks it pretty unlikely that 2 of Mexico, Croatia and Brazil will choke. But you’re a soppy romantic with a gambler’s eye for a quick loss.

We’ve already made our one allotted palm wine joke in relation to the Ivory Coast, which you won’t see on Frood for a while yet, so instead of that you fancied some afofo firewater (distilled from palm sap according to the internet), but by the time you found a bottle Cameroon had long since been eliminated. In the first round.

And with hindsight you’d have preferred a lager anyway.

Croatia

June 12. Sao Paulo. Brazil opens against Croatia in a game that has all the makings of being a football match.

Croatia came over all On The Waterfront and sacked manager Igor Stimac towards the back end of last year, replacing him with retired midfield enforcer and former captain fantastic, Niko Kovac. They had the class (Modric, Mandzukic…) and they coulda’ been somebody but at that point they were just bums.

Given his reputation as a rare-ish brute among the artsy flowers Croatian football has tended to produce, you’d expect that Kovac likes his teams to be physical. Not frottage physical, or Olivia Newton-John physical but euphemism physical.

“No ref, fair tackle… Neymar’s faking it, typical South American diving and feigning injury – that’s not a snapped tibia poking out of his leg, it’s a special effect he keeps in his sock.”

Accordingly, you’re on the rakija (an umbrella term for local spirits: basically brandy).

Fool that you are – Kovac was never just a thug as a player – he was more an inspiring metronome with leadership skills. And his preferred strategy as manager involves expansive, reasonably attractive football. And the Balkan region as a whole produces some pretty decent wines, you philistine.

Question now is whether they’re contenders. You’ll say they have a legitimate expectation of second place in the group because Mexico. And Cameroon.

Mexico

Olympic gold winners in 2012 (beating Brazil in the final), Mexico went through 4 coaches and 44-odd players over the course of a qualifying campaign that was nothing if not hilarious. So there’s really no point in learning anything about them just yet.

That being said they may provide you with an all too rare opportunity to spy the small and cute Lesser Spotted Chicarito. The LSC is a shy and retiring goal poacher of the region very occasionally glimpsed around Manchester United where he’s consistently proved to be absolutely lethal in the box and useless out of it. Unfortunately this means that he is out of sync with the rest of the team who have spent the past season being utterly useless everywhere on and off the pitch, much to the amusement of everyone in the UK outside of United’s catchment area in Surrey.

‘Chicarito’ is the nickname of Javier Hernández Balcázar. It means ‘little pea’. When you see him you’ll have to suppress the urge to say ‘aaaaaaaaaahhh’, because football doesn’t allow emotions outside of a narrow range of tears, angst, recrimination and violence.

If they can get their shit together Mexico are always capable of doing well, but they won’t so they won’t. You sip a tequila (because you’re a cliché) gently exhaling the phrase comme ci comme ca, forgetting momentarily that French is not the official language of Mexico.

Possible candidate for dark horse of the competition, you’ll say mischievously.

Next time: we assess Group B: Australia, Chile, The Netherlands, Spain…

ITV Football: The New Boy’s First Day

Roy Keane fixed the new boy with a laser glare, freezing the terrified lamb to the spot.  “I don’t like smartarses, you hear? You’re not a smartarse, are ye?”

“Nnn..nnno, no.    Sir”

The boy trembled, fear leaking from every pore and every orifice, filling the cramped pundits box with a sour, unpleasant odour.

“Yer not shitting yerself are ye?”

The boy jerked his head from side to side, pupils dilated and buttocks clenched.  A bead of sweat trickled languorously down the small of his back to tickle the valley between his cheeks like an office manager on an intern.

“Good.”

Seemingly satisfied, Keane turned to leave.  The boy failed to prevent himself from heaving a sigh of relief.  Keane spun violently on his heel, a thought announcing itself on his face like a storm front.

“What do you think of that Martin Keown?”

A test, clearly.  But the boy didn’t know the rules or even the price of failure.  He stammered lamely, forcing the words out.

“Uum, he was a great player? He’s quite insightful on” but Keane interrupted the boy with a ferocity that, perhaps, surprised even himself;

“I SHIT ‘IM!!!  He’s got a face like one of those Easter Island statues.  I hate Easter Island.  He’s a stinking, simian, Easter Island wetbag; even Vinnie Jones could take him.  Prawn sandwich-munching, gimpy twat; I’ve taken DUMPS with more personality.”

He spat on the floor, as if to expel an evil taste, “I despise that goggle-eyed, vein-necked mongrel.”

With that he stalked off to find the makeup artist assigned to soften his own granite-hewn features in a vain attempt to prevent small children from having nightmares. 

He was intercepted by a cloud of pinkish mediocrity. “Hello Roy!” bounced the jovial jowls of Adrian Chiles. Keane said nothing but glowered into Chiles’ eyes, inches from his face.  They held one another’s gaze with all the tenderness of the Marquis De Sade faced with an underage servant girl.  Chiles broke eye contact first, re-affirming Keane’s dominance. 

Sated, Keane nodded brusquely in the direction of the new boy and his swampy armpits.  “Southgate’s replacement.”  Keane raised his voice “IF THIS ONE AVOIDS TALKING ALTOGETHER MAYBE I WON’T BITE HIS FACE OFF.”

Chiles approached the new boy, who by now was weeping viscous tears from his genitals, a mix of excitement and despair. “He’s just joshing, don’t let him intimidate you.  A lovely guy, really.”

But Chiles’ eyes betrayed the numb terror of a hunted animal.  He weighed up the new boy in his mind. He has a certain forcefulness about his manner of dress and choice of barnet, or lack thereof, he thought, maybe he won’t end up like Lee. 

Chiles shuddered as his mind filled with too many unwanted memories, unspeakable horrors that woke him up in the early hours, night after night:  Keane standing over the broken, crying form of Lee Dixon hitting him again and again with a foam hand he’d taken from a lovestruck young couple in the stadium, the constant humiliations, spittle collecting in the corners of Keane’s mouth as he smashed a chair over Gareth Southgate’s head and used the pieces to threaten Jamie Carragher during the Euros, Keane laughing in the face of a toddler as he stole her tube of Smarties.

Keane shouting, Keane stamping, Keane’s demeaning little slaps to the face, the pointing, the crazed eyes of a zealot, burning through your skin…

Yes, Chiles thought, poor kid doesn’t know what he’s letting himself in for.

Especially with that tie: Keane hates lime green.