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A Brit’s Guide to the 2018 World Cup (for Americans Who Don’t Give a Shit)

An A-Z of everything you need to know to not be hopelessly lost

It feels pointless to try and convince y’all to call soccer “football,” or insist you revere the World Cup as “the World’s Greatest Sporting Event.” You probably don’t think it is, and I’m not the arm-twisting kind. So think of this as a guide to simply get you involved if you fancy it: Play some drinking games during Argentina v. Iceland; spout some excellent nugget to a soccer-loving associate; take the below information and use it in any way you want to make the 2018 World Cup work for you.

You never know, you might enjoy it.

A Is for… AH, FACK IT!

I recently relented and watched American Football for the first time with my partner’s Texas-dwelling brother. Ah, fack it! I thought, I’ll give it a go. And I liked it! He dispensed his acquired knowledge. We chatted loads. I had a bet. We had some beverages. And I learned a lot. It was what most people would regard as “fun,” so my initial three-word reaction turned out to be right on.

B Is for… BETTER THAN CRAP TV

Watching bad telly is a shortcut to thinking. We all know it, but we all do it. Of course, Judge Judy can be unpredictable, just like soccer, but some World Cup memories can stay with you forever, offering a wondrous rollercoaster ride where a massive upset occurs, a superstar shines or someone falls over and makes a tit of himself.

C Is for… CORRUPTION CORRUPTION CORRUPTION

At the topper echelons of the soccer nobility lie an organization known as FIFA, who are no strangers to a bit of high-level skulduggery: Bribery, collusion, indictments, they do the lot. Russia represented an overly political choice given its relationship with the rest of the world, and Qatar 2022 even more so. But the money doth rolleth in, so what do they care, right?

D Is for… DRINKING GAMES

Do two fingers every time a frightened England player puts a pass astray. Down half a pint every time a Uruguayan player gets a yellow card. Have a sip of Chardonnay every time Cristiano Ronaldo takes a shot. You won’t remember the final score, but it might be fun.

E Is for… ENGLAND FLOPPING

My country, the actual inventors of The Beautiful Game™️, will probably deface it miserably, like always. We have only won six knockout matches since 1966. That’s six in 52 years. Pretty terrible, huh?

F Is for… FELINE PROGNOSTICATOR

A resident of the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Achilles the psychic cat will be predicting the results of all the matches played in his home city. “He will make his predictions the morning of the game,” says his veterinarian Anna Kondratyeva. “For breakfast, we’ll put two identical bowls in front of him with cat food and a little flag of the countries playing.” Whichever one he goes to, that’s his selection. He correctly predicted the result of every match in last year’s Confederations Cup, so don’t underestimate his power.

G Is for… GOALS GOAL GOALS!

Given the relatively low quality of their opponents and their outstanding attacking talent, Germany and Brazil could get lots of these in the group phase. Perhaps the Golden Boot winner will come from one of those two teams?

H Is for… HOOLIGANS

Russian fans don’t do hooliganism the way the Brits do it. Whereas idiotic crews from the British Isles chant obscenities at locals and throw plastic chairs at police, Russians are sober, super-organised and ruthless. Fans from around the world have been warned by these Russian firms to behave while on their turf. Expect some confrontations.

I Is for… ICELAND

With a population of 330,000, Iceland is the smallest nation ever to qualify for the World Cup. When they play, the whole country watches, and the ones that made it to the game ALL do the epic Viking War chant.

J Is for… JURY’S OUT

France has the ability to be spectacular, but also to implode rather publicly. On paper, they have one of the, if not the, strongest squads in the tournament. But soccer’s not played on paper, is it? Time will tell whether they pull together as a team and do the business on the pitch.

K Is for… KICK-KICK-KICK-KICK KICKY-KICKY KICK-KICK

There will be lots of kicking going on.

L Is for… LIFE LESSONS

Germany will be handing these out in spades. They will turn up, play to their full potential under seemingly no pressure, crush lesser nations with their unerring professionalism and athleticism and eventually lift the trophy without breaking a sweat, let alone any of their followers’ hearts. They are utterly supreme, the bastards!

FACT: Germany has placed third or better every decade they entered the World Cup — 1930s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s — and 8th or better (quarterfinals) in 17 out of 18 tournaments. This record outperforms every other nation.

M Is for… MEXICO

You can’t support your own team (commiserations), so why not root for everyone that plays against your closest neighbor instead? Mexico has a tough draw: Even if they can negotiate a group containing Germany, Sweden and South Korea, they’ll probably be faced by Neymar’s Brazil in the first knockout phase. Ouch.

N Is for… NUGGETS

Don’t know what you’re talking about but keen to sound like you do? Try these:

  • Brazil is the only nation to have played at Every World Cup.
  • Every single World Cup has been won by a coach who is the same nationality as his team.
  • The World Cup trophy went missing in 1966 for a total of seven days prior to the tournament. It was found by a dog called Pickles.
  • All of the 27 goals Denmark has scored at the World Cup have come from inside the box.
  • Translated as “the one who scores” in Russian, the tournament mascot, Zabivaka, is an anthropomorphic wolf and was revealed live on television after being voted for by 1 million Russians on the internet.

O Is for… OOOOOF!

Sometimes even the best players in the world can get overwhelmed by emotion.

P Is for… PANAMA

Yes, they pipped you to the post, but they did so with admirable guts and determination, and they deserve all the neutral backing they can get at their inaugural tournament. I, for one, will be glued to the TV for their first match, hoping that they do their nation proud. Their performances could make a difference in some wide-eyed little Panamanian’s life forever. That’s what the World Cup’s all about.

Q Is for… QUANTITY AND QUALITY

There are 64 matches in total — over 31 days in 12 stadiums across 11 cities — and for the first two weeks, multiple games per day EVERY DAY. It’s a veritable soccerfest.

R Is for… REFEREE!

The only participant at the World Cup who was born in America is referee Mark Geiger. The other American ref, Jair Marrufo, is of Mexican descent.

S Is for… STEPH CURRY AND LEBRON JAMES

These fantastic sporting icons are, of course, not playing at the 2018 World Cup, but their soccer counterparts are: Lionel Messi (Argentina) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal). Both men are in their prime and will be duking it out for global plaudits.

T Is for… THE WORST OFFICIAL SONG EVER

What was Will Smith thinking?

U Is for… UPSETS

North Korea beating Portugal in 1966; plucky Cameroon astonishing World Champions Argentina in 1990; Senegal beating World Champions France in 1998; Iran surprising the United States in 1998: When the World Cup throws up an upset, it doesn’t get forgotten easy. Can Saudi Arabia upset the host in this year’s opener? Very, very possibly.

V Is for… VLADIMIR PUTIN

Russia isn’t in the best of shape as a football team, so it’ll be interesting to see how its leader reacts to any poor performances. Perhaps the most polite thing you can say is that he’s an 8th Dan Judo, one of the highest grades possible, so the Russian players had best do the business.

W Is for… WHACK!

For a country with only 3.5 million people, Uruguay have a tremendous World Cup pedigree, winning the tournament in 1930 and 1950. They also have a reputation for being robust. Or to put it another way: A bit dirty. José Batista was sent off after just 56 seconds against Scotland in 1986, which is the fastest dismissal in World Cup history.

X Is for… X MARKS THE SPOT

Except it doesn’t in football, or any sport I can think of. My point: In soccer, if a knockout game ends all square after extra time, then we get the spectacle of penalties. Nerves jangle, nails are ruined and England loses every single time. It’s dramatic and totally heart-breaking.

Y Is for… YOU WHAT?

Feel free to spout the following clichés during the tournament with or without sarcasm. They are all, in their own way, a bit daft, but all will be well used during the tournament.

  • “We have to take it one game at a time.”
  • “The other team just wanted it more.”
  • “On his day, he’s unplayable.”
  • “He’s almost hit it too well there.”
  • “They ran their socks off today.”
  • “Game of two halves.”
  • “Penalties are a lottery.”

Z Is for… ZERO-ZERO

Or nil-nil, as we would prefer to say. Some nil-nils can be intense end-to-end battles where you think, How did they not score? at the end. Some are just dull. If you want to avoid them, you should think twice about watching England: Eleven of the 62 World Cup matches England have played have ended up 0–0, more than any other team.