Blog In The U.S.S.R.

(or ‘The Eastern Blog’)

Yesterday afternoon, the World Cup 2018 kicked off in Mother Russia – hence this week’s title.

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Even if you don’t necessarily like football, this still shouldn’t be a surprise, unless of course any of the following apply:

  1. You are a hermit/recluse/prisoner of war, without access to the outside world or any form of media (and, if that is the case, how are you reading this?);
  2. You have the memory of a goldfish and cannot retain information for more than a few seconds;
  3. Your knowledge of current affairs is equivalent to, or worse than, a Love Island contestant;
  4. You live in a country where an evil dictator controls the news, e.g. North Korea, the USA etc. (topical, bearing in mind this week’s historic meeting between a deranged megalomaniac with shit hair and nuclear weapons… and Kim Jong-un);
  5. You have the memory of a goldfish and cannot retain information for more than a few seconds.

Before those of you who detest football stop reading, I should explain that this entry is not solely about the beautiful game. Well, it is, but only to the extent that I will be providing my own unique run-down of the thirty-two countries who qualified.

That way, even if football isn’t necessarily your thing, you might discover a new favourite nation to cheer, as they progress through the tournament. It could even make that office sweepstake slightly more interesting.

So, without further ado, pick your favourite from these:

Russia

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Russia may well have been good enough to qualify for the World Cup anyway, but rather than take the risk, they decided to bribe/blackmail their way into hosting the entire competition in 2010*

*allegedly. I don’t want to find a healthy dollop of VX nerve agent in my soup next time I dine out.

Saudi Arabia

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Russia’s opponents for the opening match yesterday. I’m writing this before the tournament has started, so I’ll assume the match went ahead, and the Saudi Arabian squad didn’t mysteriously disappear, or come down with life-threatening illnesses prior to kick-off. Unlikely to progress from the group stage, which is no bad thing, as it’ll allow them to focus more on giving equal rights to women (decades after everyone else).

Egypt

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If Liverpool striker Mo Salah is fit, Egypt could do well – without troubling the knock-out stages too much. If, however, Mo Salah is still carrying his shoulder injury from the Champions League Final, or has a few off games, Egypt will be like that boring colleague at the Christmas party – going home early.

Uruguay

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Uruguay will most likely top Group A, so long as they don’t get kicked out of the tournament because Luis Suarez has eaten an opposition player, been racist, or simply behaved like the despicable twat he is. Shame, as he’s actually a very good footballer. Uruguay have won the tournament twice, and that will still be the case come August.

Portugal

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I have mixed emotions about Portugal. It is a beautiful country, and they are a strong footballing side (as evidenced by their victory at Euro 2016), however there are very few footballers I detest more than Cristiano Ronaldo, and I cannot bring myself to cheer a team containing that smug prick.

Spain

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Like Portugal, Spain have some terrific footballers, and you will not find a starting eleven anywhere in the world with finer, more precise beards; but as far as preparing for a World Cup goes, sacking your manager the day before the start of the tournament is ill-advised at best. They’ll still do better than England though.

Morocco

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On Wednesday, Morocco lost their bid to host the 2026 World Cup, because FIFA decided to go with a joint offering from Mexico, the US, and Canada instead. Seemingly, despite having eight years to prepare, Morocco’s hotels, transport network, and – rather crucially – football stadiums, are so shit that they still don’t have enough time to prepare. Their disappointment will no doubt be an unwelcome distraction (and they were crap in the first place).

Iran

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Speaking of shit footballing nations, don’t get your hopes up if you picked Iran in the work sweepstake, ok?

France

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France are a solid team, but apart from their victory at the 1998 World Cup (which they hosted), they rarely perform to their potential – something England fans can relate to. If the players sort themselves out, they could be formidable, but they’ll most likely just end up being…. well, French.

Australia

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The Aussies are very much like the United States when it comes to football. Both have massive countries, with a population who, for the most part, couldn’t give a shit about ‘soccer’ – presumably because they devote the vast majority of their time to avoiding all those deadly snakes and spiders. Strewth.

Peru

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Peru is famous for three things: Machu Picchu (which I think is a type of Pokemon), Paddington Bear – who always sounds distinctly un-Peruvian if you ask me – and the fucking panpipes. Notice the absence of any reference to football. There’s a reason for that.

Denmark

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I’ve never been to Denmark, but I’m quite fond of it as a nation. The Danes have some good players among their ranks, but sadly not enough for them to do any major damage on the world stage. Fortunately for Denmark, they have been plonked in a group alongside Australia and Peru, so they have every chance of progressing to the knock-out stages.

Argentina

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Argentina are another team who should do really well in tournaments, but haven’t won anything for some time. Still, as we have seen with Barcelona this season, Lionel Messi (the man my son wishes was his father) can win a game virtually on his own if he so chooses, so you should never write them off.

Iceland

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Prior to Euro 2016, most people would have associated ‘Iceland’ with cheap frozen food and Kerry Katona/Peter Andre; but having reached the quarter-finals in France (by beating England), only to be knocked out by the host nation, shit party food is now thankfully a distant memory.

Croatia

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Despite what Cristiano Ronaldo may think, footballers don’t need to be good-looking – which bodes well for Croatia, because you will not find an uglier collection of specimens outside Burnley town centre (I’ve just flicked through my son’s Panini sticker book, and it’s actually worse than I thought). Not bad footballers though.

Nigeria

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If my junk mail is anything to go by, there are enough Nigerian princes floating around to plough some serious money into their national team, so they should be unstoppable. Unfortunately, it looks like all that money is currently tied up in various off-shore accounts, so Nigeria will have to resign themselves to being average (at best) in the meantime.

Brazil

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The favourites, as usual. The most annoying part is, they don’t even need to play very well to stand a chance of winning the entire tournament. In fact, Brazil could send their Under-12’s blind B-team to the World Cup, and still comfortably reach the semi-finals. The swines.

Switzerland

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To give the Swiss some credit, they make nice chocolates and cuckoo clocks, but that’s about it. They aren’t exactly a force in world football, so I don’t think we need to say too much more about them. Shit flag, too. Looks like they nicked it from a first aid tent.

Costa Rica

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I know nothing about Costa Rica (the team, or the country). I’m pretty certain it’s in Central America, somewhere near that other non-entity from this summer’s tournament, Panama (quick Google check…. good, they share a border), but other than that, I’m stumped. Never mind, they won’t be around long enough for me to take an interest.

Serbia

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Like Russia, the Serbian squad – following another cursory glance at the sticker book – appears to be exclusively made up of big, angry-looking, bastards – and a lot can be said in football for scaring the living shit out of your opponents. This alone may well be enough for Serbia to follow Brazil into the knock-out stages.

Germany

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God, I hate Germany. Not the country, or the people (hey, it’s all in the past), but as a footballing nation they are our nemesis. Which makes the fact we have every chance of facing them in the quarter-finals (assuming England make it that far), all the more daunting.  We won’t beat them in normal time, and we sure as hell won’t beat them on penalties either, so we have to try and avoid them at all costs.

Mexico

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Now that Mexico have been chosen as joint hosts of the 2026 World Cup, in eight years’ time they will become the nation to stage the tournament the most times – thrice. For me, it’s between Mexico and Sweden as to who will follow Germany into the second round (which probably means it’ll be South Korea).

Sweden

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Sweden may be responsible for Roxette and the Volvo XC60, but they also gave the world ABBA and Ikea, so for that reason alone they can fuck off.

South Korea

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Everyone’s favourite Korea, although they are only marginally better than their neighbours when it comes to football (unless you believe North Korean media, in which case you will know that the Kim Jong-un World XI are the best team of all time).

Belgium

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Made up of players you look at and immediately say ‘Shit, I forgot he’s Belgian – he’s quite good’, which makes them a half-decent side, and undoubtedly England’s biggest threat in Group G.

Panama

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Shares a border with Costa Rica (I learned this a few minutes ago). Has a famous canal, and is associated with hats. If you fancy a sneaky bet on Panama, make sure it’s on them losing every match without scoring a single goal.

Tunisia

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England’s opening fixture. A fascinating and beautiful country (we had our honeymoon there), spoiled somewhat by recent terrorist activities and general civil-unrest bollocks. Shame.

England

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The semi-finals of this summer’s tournament start on 10th July, and barring an airline strike, England’s footballers will be safely back in Blighty long before then. If we reach the final four, I’ll post a nude photo of myself on my Facebook page.

Poland

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Straight out of the Russia/Serbia camp of ‘scary blokes you don’t want to mess with’, Poland are a decent side who – looking at the remainder of their group – stand every chance of reaching the last sixteen. There are lots of Polish people in Crewe, so I hope they do well for our local relations, if nothing else.

Senegal

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In any other group, Senegal would be advised to book early flights home, but none of the teams in Group G look particularly threatening (although the Polish look threatening), so if Senegal reach the knock-out stages it wouldn’t surprise me.

Colombia

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Famous for drugs and shootings (then again, so is London). In the world of football, they are only known for two things: Carlos Valderrama’s massive permed hair, and their goalkeeper (who looked like Lionel Richie) performing his ‘scorpion kick’ at Wembley in 1995.

Japan

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Like the rest of Group G, Japan are boring at best – very much like their flag – however they seem like such a peaceful nation (no, I haven’t forgotten Pearl Harbor, but like Germany, it’s all in the past) and you can’t possibly take a country whose national sport is paper-folding seriously. Bless them.

So, there you have it. Choose your favourite, and support them like you were born there.

Thanks for reading x

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