World Cup 2014: Comedian Andy Zaltzman presents his neutral's guide to picking a team
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
Whatever your nationality, the World Cup presents enticing challenges for the neutral spectator. Even if your nation is involved, there are still 31 other teams, and between 57 and 61 other matches, to enjoy, suffer, love, loathe, temporarily support or inexplicably resent, as the tournament unfolds.
There is no set formula for pledging your neutral's allegiance. Influencing factors could include incidents or specific players from a nation's footballing past or present that drive to wistful reverie of glories gone by (for example, the 1982 Brazilian team), or frothing incandescence about historic sporting injustices and irritations (likely to be provoked for England fans by a momentary subconscious recollection of Germany's Andreas Möller).
You might back a team based on fond/harrowing memories of an unforgettable/forgettable holiday, or a simple preference for one or more of a country's cuisine, flag, anthem, monarch, economy, human rights record, beer, trousers or World Cup disciplinary record. This group-by-group neutral's guide will help you make these critical emotional commitments that are necessary components of any armchair World Cup.
If Brazil win the World Cup on home soil, the explosion of joy will, scientists believe, be of sufficient Earth-shaking magnitude to prompt a spontaneous Armageddon. Most people in Brazil would happily accept that trade-off, and several billion others around the globe would probably consider the end of the world to be a price worth paying to see the look on the Brazilian nation's collective football-loving face should Scolari's team triumph.
The 2014 Brazilians may lack the panache of their predecessors, relying on disappointingly monosyllabic forwards such as Fred, Jo, Hulk, Thud, Puke, Goat and Plank, but the mere sight of their yellow shirts can turn even the most functional of footballing pragmatists misty-eyed with recollections of Pelé's 1970 team of genius, and that 1982 side of Zico, Socrates and Eder, whose football made you want to dig up long-dead relatives, blast some strong coffee into their faces, and shout: "What are you doing being dead, you idiot? Wake up now, you do not want to miss this".
Neutral Supportability Rating (NSR): 87%
Eternally in footballing credit for knocking Germany out in the 1998 quarter final, and knocking them out properly, with a 3-0 clomping administered by a stylish team of schemers and artists. They are also likely to keep you very interested in your office's World Cup sweepstake. Assuming that 'Worst Disciplinary Record' is a money-winning category. As it should be. (Alongside: biggest defeat; longest-range goal; biggest managerial tantrum; worst penalty shoot-out. Keep everyone involved. Ignore the winners.)
In a world of uncertainty and flux, Mexico offer a comforting blanket of dependability. Some things in life can be unquestioningly relied upon, such as death, taxes, the Queen being immortal, and Vladimir Putin winning Russian state media's Man of the Year award. To this list you can add: Mexico being knocked out in the Round of 16.
It has happened at five consecutive World Cups. Silken passing football, and a last-16 knock-out. They could be drawn in a group with the 1970s Brazilians, Barcelona from 2011, and Genghis Khan's all-conquering Mongolia team of the early 13th century, and they would find a way to get through. Before losing to Bogsworth Primary's Under-9 Bs in the second round.
However, neutral support may be tempered by the failure of the Mexican government to deal adequately with the nation's drug problems, unresolved allegations of cannibalism in the ancient Aztec civilisation, and suspiciously broad-brimmed headgear.
The Indomitable Lions entranced everyone in the largely tedious 1990 World Cup with their athleticism and flair. And with their fouling, which was truly spectacular.
In the dying minutes of their opening match against reigning champions Argentina, as they defended a 1-0 lead, Benjamin Massing executed one of the great World Cup fouls, launching himself at Claudio Caniggia like a combination of an Exocet missile, JPR Williams and a hungry lion taking down an extremely tasty-looking zebra. He missed the ball by approximately 25 yards. Caniggia went into orbit. Boot dislodged, danger averted, mission accomplished. If any football foul has been a work of art, this was it. The referee was so impressed that he showed Massing a red card. And then a yellow card. Suggesting that the foul was worth one-and-a-half sendings off. A conservative estimate.
The Indomitable Lions went on to give England the rogue mother-in-law of all frights in the quarter-final, but have proved disappointingly domitable in subsequent tournaments. A return to their charismatic 1990s pomp would be welcome.
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
Andy Zaltzman hosts 'Political Animal' at the Underbelly, London W1 on 11 June, performs 'Satirist for Hire' in Edinburgh from 13-24 August and tours the show this autumn; @ZaltzCricket
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