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

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

ARGENTINA

Pint-sized football wizard Lionel Messi has had a relatively disappointing season for Barcelona, scoring a pitiful 41 goals in 44 games. Given that he had troubled the onion bag 233 times in 218 games over the previous four campaigns, it is easy to see how his dismal sub-goal-per-game efforts this term have been unfavourably compared with Andy Carroll's performances at West Ham, and the career of Francis Jeffers (who is, rumours suggest, soon to be appearing as himself in the forthcoming Hollywood blockbuster Michael Ricketts – Goalslayer, a controversial biopic of the former Bolton Wanderers striker). >

A good World Cup is the one gap on Messi's CV. He was a little-used youngster in 2006, when Argentina lost on penalties in their quarter-final against Germany, thanks in part to one of the great managerial chokes – José Pékerman let his sporadically brilliant team drift towards a shoot-out against Germany, those notoriously faultless 12-yard specialists, having withdrawn Riquelme and Crespo, and having left Messi, Aimar and Saviola warming an increasingly bemused and flair-laden bench.

Messi played well in 2010 without scoring, and was therefore widely considered to have played badly. Such is football. With a favourable draw, an impressive squad supporting him, and without Diego Maradona being behaviourally barmy and tactically unhinged in the dugout, the stage is set for one of the greatest footballers of all time to retake the lead in his personal World Cup goalscoring head-to-head against Brighton's Matthew Upson, which currently stands tantalisingly poised at 1-1.

NSR: 73%

BOSNIA and HERZEGOVINA

A first finals appearance for the latest Balkan nation to grace global football's showpiece. If they, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Slovenia all got together under one regional flag, they could have one hell of a team. Why has no one suggested that before?

Bosnia and Herzegovina scored 30 goals in 10 qualifiers in a low-octane group, with Edin Dzeko and Bundesliga star Vedad Ibisevic to the fore. Bearing in mind that fellow qualifiers Greece hammered in just 12 in the same group, it is clear that (a) Bosnia and Herzegovina could be quite handy, and (b) Greece should have done the decent thing and refused to participate in these finals, for the greater good of the game. See above.

NSR: 64%

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

IRAN

The lowest-ranked of the participating nations in the Press Freedom Index, the Iranian government – seldom the easiest regime to warm to as a neutral – has been preparing for its fourth World Cup by executing anything that moves.

Many eyes will be focused on the alleged 'Iranian Messi', the 19-year-old Sardar Azmoun, who may struggle to live up to such an onerous sobriquet. Fewer eyes will be on the self-styled 'Iranian Phil Babb', 32-year-old Jalal Hosseini, who should have no such problem. Iran are 1,500-1 to win the tournament, but are worth a small slice of neutral backing just to hear an Israeli radio commentary on Iran thrashing the USA 6-0 in the final on 13 July. An admittedly unlikely scenario.

NSR: 6%

NIGERIA

Another African footballing nation with fading memories of an almost-glorious World Cup past. The thrilling team of 1994 was minutes away from beating eventual finalists Italy in the second round, before the ethereal genius of Roberto Baggio squelched all over their party. Since a 4-1 capitulation to Denmark at the same stage in 1998, Nigeria have failed to win a finals match.

Neutrals may hope that The Super Eagles unclip their wings after all these years, before they are re-nicknamed The Adequate Pigeons, for no other reason than that footballing success would likely irritate the balaclavas off the Islamist terror groups who have become such a remorselessly and tragically tedious feature of the Nigerian newscape. A Nigerian World Cup run could possibly annoy them even more than international politicians brandishing a firmly-worded hashtag in their vague direction.

This is assuming that Boko Haram, the gobby, stupid and violent minority-interest pressure group, are of similar mind to their Malian counterparts Ansar Dine, who have stated that they want to ban football. This was yet another example of terrorists' ongoing failure to get to grips with modern public relations. Besides, not only is football universally popular, but it also has arcane, outdated rules, and an opinionated fan base; it has traditionally been anachronistically homophobic, and is a long-standing bastion of gender inequality. You would expect the likes of Ansar Dine to be signing up for satellite subscriptions, not calling for the beautiful game to be banned.

NSR: 71%

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own