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

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.

GROUP A

BRAZIL

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%

CROATIA

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.)

NSR: 55%

MEXICO

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.

NSR: 62%

CAMEROON

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.

NSR: 70%

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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue