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

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

ENGLAND

For the neutral, England must have been a hard team to support in recent tournaments, even in the unlikely event that your nation is one of the few with no long-standing historic grudge against the English, relating to history, empire, being located on the same land mass, some iffy refereeing decisions in battles that were fought hundreds of years ago, or a combination of all of the above.

England's campaigns have mostly been characterised by joyless, fearful, low-scoring draws against footballing micropowers, squeezing through a not-too-demanding group stage before slinking out of the tournament in a soggy blancmange of missed penalties and/or perceived injustice, while the world analyses the inverse correlation between the players' reported wages and their ability to pass a ball in an even approximately sensible direction.

This time, however, things may be different. For a start, England are widely perceived to have absolutely no chance of winning. For a second start, manager Roy Hodgson has picked a squad packed with youthful enthusiasm, talent, fearlessness and pace.

Some seasoned pundits have expressed concerns that these players will not be experienced enough in competition football to implement England's now-traditional timorous, nerve-wracked and bafflingly slow-paced game, or instantly switch to a 9-1-0 formation after scoring an early goal in a frantic attempt to hold on to their lead for the rest of the game, before conceding a sappingly inevitable equaliser. (England have scored first in their last eight tournament openers; six times they have conceded an equaliser, on two of which occasions they have gone on to lose.)

Could this be the tournament that England surprise themselves and the world by playing to their perceived potential, and making it to just their fourth major semi-final of the past 10,000 years? Probably not. But possibly. And neutrals might – might – even genuinely enjoy watching them play.

NSR: A national record 73%

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

ITALY

Italy offers two players to attract significant neutral support, plus an unarguably impressive national expertise in what to do with dead pigs' legs. Slow-motion midfield general Andrea Pirlo appears to have the ability to make football freeze, while he potters around the pitch with the air of a contented pensioner enjoying a leisurely Sunday afternoon tending his beloved late wife's daffodils. There are times when you feel that Pirlo is contemplating nipping out of the stadium for a glass of Barolo and a nibble on some high-end ham, before returning to unfreeze the action with a defence-lacerating pass. He plays like an underfunded primary school teacher – with a ludicrous amount of class.

Former Manchester City oddball Mario Balotelli bounces on the opposite end of the psychological see-saw.

Balotelli could be a match-winner for the Azzurri, but is equally likely not only to throw his toys out of the pram, but also to throw himself out of the pram, before his manager throws the pram at him.

On the negative side, there are racist fans, Silvio Berlusconi, match fixing, and the fact that the Stifling Negativity club is very much in Italy's footballing golf bag, and they are prepared to use that club regardless of how the ball is lying. Neutrals will eagerly await the end of Italy's tournament, whether successful or not – Italian body language at the moment of World Cup victory or defeat is worth four years of licence fees on its own – while the opening-match showdown against England could be a highlight of the tournament. Or a stultifying 0-0 draw. More likely the latter. In any case, it is a classic confrontation – Dante vs Shakespeare, da Vinci against Tony Hart, Pavarotti versus Kajagoogoo, and Brunelleschi's Duomo in Florence against the smashed-up bus shelter on the A243.

NSR: 63%

THE INDEPENDENT REPUBLIC OF TEN-MAN URUGUAY

If you like to support a sporting minnow, but believe all things should be judged relative to a nation's population, then Uruguay is the team for you. The 3.3-million-strong numerical underdogs have overbarked throughout World Cup history, winning in 1930 and 1950, and reaching three other semi-finals.

The last of these was four years ago, when goal-scoring and opinion-splitting specialist Luis Suárez pulled off an understandable if shameless handball to stop Ghana scoring in the quarter-final, one of the most flagrant acts of cheating in the tournament's impressive history of wilful skulduggery. The Liverpool goal machine has put this controversy behind him, partly by being consistently sensational at football, partly by ensuring that the handball is no longer even in the Top Three Naughtiest Things Luis Suárez Has Done On A Football Pitch.

Disappointingly, Suárez's red card was a now isolated incident of wrong-doing. Uruguay used to be entertainingly, almost heroically, ill-disciplined in the age before red cards were commonplace (peaking in 1986, when, in consecutive group matches, they found themselves down to 10 men after, respectively, 19 minutes and slightly under one minute). As refereeing became stricter, and picking up red cards was no longer a challenge, so Uruguay increasingly, and regrettably, concentrated on the football.

NSR: Between 0% and 51%, (depending on how naughty Luis Suárez is)

COSTA RICA

Costa Rica's result against England could prove decisive in the Scottish independence referendum in September.

The Central Americans beat the Scots in 1990 – a similar result against Hodgson's men would no doubt be seized upon by the 'No' campaign as unarguable scientific proof that Scotland and England are so similar as to be politico-romantically inseparable; the 'Yes' camp would see an English victory over Scotland's 1990 vanquishers as yet more evidence that the Sassenachs continue to waggle their self-assumed national superiority right in Scotland's face. Either reaction would be largely in keeping with the tone and content of the referendum debate so far.

However, neutrals may consider that Costa Rica, as the top-ranked nation in the 2012 Happy Planet Index, is quite content enough with life already, and others are in far greater need of a sporting morale boost.

NSR: 32%

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Life and Style
tech
News
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
news
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
Extras
indybest
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
tvWebsite will allow you to watch all 522 shows on-demand
Caption competition
Caption competition

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor