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.



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.)

NSR: 55%


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%


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?
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits