World Cup 2014: Comedian Andy Zaltzman presents his neutral's guide to Group B

Not sure who to back at this summer's footballing festivities? Fear not, Britain's best sporting comic has the answer

SPAIN

The reigning champions, Spain, have won their last three major tournaments, and therefore have utterly renounced the hard-earnt 'flamboyant underachievers' tag that made them neutrals' favourites a few years ago. It will be hard to win back. The novelty of their brilliantly effective possession-based football has worn off, for some at least, largely due to opposing teams not so much shutting up shop as dismantling the entire retail sector.

NSR: 32%

NETHERLANDS

The opening match is a rematch of the 2010 final, when the Dutch put on what is regarded by many seasoned experts as perhaps the greatest display of mixed martial arts in World Cup history.

In the vanguard was now-retired midfield hardman, Mark van Bommel, the memory of whom should be enough to turn the neutral decisively against the once-lovable Dutch. They entranced the world in the 1970s, when Johan Cruyff and the Total Footballers conclusively disproved the age-old theory that, "if you dress like a carrot, you play like a carrot". Bergkamp scored one of the greatest World Cup goals in 1998. But any lingering neutral goodwill is destroyed by thinking about the 2010 final, about Nigel de Jong's attempt to give Xabi Alonso unrequested open-heart surgery with his studs, and above all, by Van Bommel. Unconvinced? Read this entry from van Bommel's recently-published diary, about life after retirement:

September 16, 2013

Dear Diary,

This morning, I woke up. As always, I put my football boots on, and stamped on my alarm clock. Then I went to the bathroom, kicked the basin, and raked my studs down the side of the bathtub. I brushed my teeth with my new electronic van Bommeliser 2000x toothbrush, which I have had specially made. It has a little replica football boot on the end, and when you switch it on, the boot repeatedly kicks your teeth and gums until they are clean. It helps me prepare for the day ahead.

As I came down the stairs, I scythed down my two-year-old daughter with an unexpected two-footed lunge, then ran away into the kitchen before the missus could tell me off. I elbowed the coffee machine right on its cappuccino frother, then poured some cornflakes into a bowl. I put the bowl on the floor, then clattered it from behind, studs raised of course, shattering the bowl and sending the cornflakes flying all over the place. 'Yum,' I said to myself. 'The perfect breakfast.'

"Darling," I shouted to my wife, "I'll just take the dog for a walk." "I wouldn't do that," she replied angrily. "He's snapped two Achilles tendons, ruptured his tail, and done his knee ligaments after you walked him yesterday." "Come on," I hit back. "I was going for the ball." Rover hobbled towards me, attempting to wag his tail. "Screw you," I muttered at him, surreptitiously treading with my full weight on his bandaged rear left paw. "I'm Mark van Bommel."

NSR: 9%

Andy Zaltzman’s guide to Group A
Andy Zaltzman’s guide to Group B
Andy Zaltzman’s guide to Group C
Andy Zaltzman’s guide to Group D
Andy Zaltzman’s guide to Group E
Andy Zaltzman’s guide to Group F
Andy Zaltzman’s guide to Group G
Andy Zaltzman’s guide to Group H

CHILE

Chile are likely to be brilliant, flamboyant and thrilling. They are also likely to be knocked out in the group stages. The fact that Marcelo Bielsa's unrestrainedly attacking side have been drawn against the two 2010 finalists, while traditional grind-meisters and titans of footballing tedium Switzerland play in the pallid-looking Group E, is conclusive proof of the non-existence of God.

Or, you could argue, conclusive proof that God hates football (which in itself is possibly linked to the advent of José Mourinho).

Their style of play will inevitably have the sage pundits accusing them of "tactical naivety" whenever they let in a goal, concede a corner, or do not score for more than 10 minutes.

NSR: 91%

AUSTRALIA

May garner some sympathy support. Australia have no chance. In fact, last week, manager Ange Posticoglu announced that the Socceroos are pulling out of the tournament. "We always hear sports people saying: 'If we didn't think we could win it, we wouldn't be here.' Well, we're in a group with the Netherlands, Spain, and Chile. If by some miracle we sneak through that Group Of Death – which, let's face it, is about as likely as Joan of Arc getting through her 'Group Of Death' when she was drawn against Medieval Justice, Fire and Physics in the 1431 European Championships – then we'll probably have to play Brazil. So we do not think we can win it. In fact, I know we can't win it. Cheerio." National legends Madge Bishop and Shane Warne persuaded Posticoglu to retract the withdrawal, but the Aussies are still unlikely to have to cancel their reservations for the first boat home.

NSR: 41%

Sport
sportGareth Bale, Carl Froch and Kelly Gallagher also in the mix for award
News
Japan's Suntory Beverage & Food has bought GlaxoSmithKline's Lucozade and Ribena
news
News
A tongue-eating louse (not the one Mr Poli found)
newsParasitic louse appeared inside unfilleted sea bass
Life and Style
Out and about: for 'Glee' character Bert Hummel, having a gay son was a learning curve
lifeEven 'cool' parents need help parenting gay teens
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Money
Anyone over the age of 40 seeking a loan with a standard term of 25 years will be borrowing beyond a normal retirement age of 65, and is liable to find their options restricted
propertyAnd it's even worse if you're 40
Arts and Entertainment
Perhaps longest awaited is the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road with Brazil’s Walter Salles directing and Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen as the Beat-era outsiders
books
Arts and Entertainment
theatreSinger to join cast of his Broadway show after The Last Ship flounders at the box office
Life and Style
fashion'To start singing with Pharrell is not that bad, no?'
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible