World Cup 2014: Comedian Andy Zaltzman presents his neutral's guide to Group E
Not sure who to back at this summer's footballing festivities? Fear not, Britain's best sporting comic has the answer
Saturday 24 May 2014
There are plenty of reasons why not to support Switzerland, not least their soul-sappingly miserable anti-football in 2010, when they fluked a joyless victory over Spain, and then proceeded to fail to score in their remaining two games and be justifiably, mercifully eliminated. Won 1, drew 1, lost 1, scored 1, conceded 1, entertained 0. They played as if trying to extinguish the concept of hope.
The Swiss are to thrilling, edge-of-the-seat football what Freddy Krueger is to ballet. Moreover, with the highest GDP per capita of any of the 32 qualifying nations, plus a total of 23 grand-slam singles titles in the past 17 years, there is absolutely no need for Switzerland to enjoy even the semblance of a World Cup run to distract them from other hobbies, such as questionable banking practices, looking at mountains, and speaking an unnecessary number of languages.
Disappointingly, the often discordant French footballing orchestra is no longer conducted by madcap manager Raymond Domenech, a footballing surrealist who specialised in turning a squad of silk purses into a giant animatronic Frankenstein's sow's ear.
Laurent Blanc's team was on the verge of being knocked out by Ukraine in the play-offs last November, but recovered from a two-goal first-leg deficit, and have been unharshly rewarded with a place in the Group Of Life. Nevertheless, if there is one major team that could make a Horlicks of an apparently simple qualification, it is France, whose group stage flops in 2002 and 2010 were among the most inept campaigns by any organisation in any sphere of activity, sporting or otherwise.
It is also strange to think that, if that play-off game had gone differently, Vladimir Putin would have annexed Corsica instead of Crimea, and would now be claiming that the people of St Tropez had always "felt Russian". At 22-1, France represent a high-value each-way bet, but, as post-war France boss Charlie de Gaulle said: "Can you manage a football team whose nation has 246 varieties of cheese?".
NSR: 24% (100% against Switzerland)
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
Who or what is Carlo Costly? Is it (a) Roman Abramovich's nickname for Fernando Torres; (b) Oliver Cromwell's nickname for Charles I; (c) a cartoon character developed by George Osborne to educate children about the financial impracticality of the benefits system in an age of austerity and corporate tax-aversion; (d) a proven international striker with a strike rate for Honduras of almost a goal every other game; or (e) a much-travelled club journeyman who has played out a barely-noticed career in eight countries, the highlight of which was netting twice on his debut for Guizhou Zhicheng in the second tier of the Chinese league?
Answer: all of the above.
Especially (d) and (e). If you, as a neutral, cannot bring yourself to support a team containing a player called Carlo Costly, a one-man satirisation of the financial excesses of modern football, you are watching the wrong tournament.
NSR: 94% (100% against Switzerland)
Ecuador has a squad packed with players who have excelled at a very high level. Literally. They squeaked through to the finals in fourth place in the South American qualifying, with seven wins in 16 games. All of those seven victories (plus one of their four draws) came in home matches, played 2,800 metres above sea level in Quito. It is often said that a supportive home crowd is like a 12th man for the team. Quito's altitude is like a 12th man who doubles up as a psychotic double-agent physio, nobbling the opposition with a home-made lung-squasher.
Ecuador's opening two matches are in relatively low-lying Brasília (1,200 metres, against Switzerland, a team which, you would assume, is not afraid of the odd mountain), and Curitiba, which tips the altimeter at a disappointing 900 metres. Their potentially crucial final game, against France, takes place in Rio de Janeiro, which is, notoriously, by the seaside. If Ecuador need a victory, and Fifa deny them permission either to crank the Maracanã up on a 2,800-metre-high hydraulic platform, or to relocate the match away from Brazil to a specially constructed temporary stadium on the upper slopes of K2, they may struggle.
Not the most obvious recipient of neutral support, unless you have a deep respect for any country that names itself after exactly where it is on the globe, as equator-hugging Ecuador has been honest enough to do.
NSR: 20% (100% against Switzerland)
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