Ten things non-football fans should know about the World Cup

A guide for non-football fans who do not want to feel left out when dinner table talk turns to the World Cup

Eden Hazard. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Threats at goal include Portugal’s supernuke Cristiano Ronaldo, who is worth five aircraft carriers alone in World Cup terms. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE
Feel the heat and rhythm at Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, which will host this year’s World Cup final. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

1 Neymar isn't a bad word you curse in a kopitiam

He is the nippy Barcelona forward and the best player in the Brazilian team.

Brazil happens to be pretty good in football, having won the World Cup a mere five times.

Neymar leads the Selecao (what Brazilians call their national team, it means "the Selection") frontline with Jo (Joao Alves de Assis Silva), Fred (Frederico Chaves Guedes) and Hulk (Givanildo Vieira de Souza). No, they're not the Three Stooges from Rio.

2 Eden Hazard isn't the warning label for some biohazard by-product

No, Hazard is only very hazardous if you're opposing him on the field. The Chelsea midfielder is a wizard from Belgium who's hard to catch, sniffs out unexpected goals and is considered one of the best young players in the world.

Here's how you can show off that you really know your football. Tell your friends that you're rooting for Belgium. They're the coolest team in this World Cup, you'd be just like the dude who digs the New Zealand singer, Lorde.

Belgium's got top-class goalies from Atletico Madrid (Thibaut Courtois) and Liverpool (Simon Mignolet), the captain of Manchester City (Vincent Kompany), the hammer of Everton (Romelu Lukaku), the gem of Manchester United (Adnan Januzaj) and even the complimentary Man U clown (Marouane Fellaini).

3 Ivory Coast isn't a shop selling elephant tusks in China

Ivory Coast, aka Cote d'Ivoire, situated on the west coast of Africa, is the homeland of stars such as Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Kolo Toure, Gervinho and Wilfried Bony. The last-named is a Swansea player, not an ivory bone.

This association with ivory tusks is unavoidable since the team is nicknamed "The Elephants". But they don't play like elephants.

In fact, African teams are the most athletic and physical in the World Cup although none has won the trophy. All the teams from Africa - Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria and even Algeria in north Africa - are from the western side of the continent. Must be either the food or the happening fire dance.

4 Maracana isn't the wrong spelling of a stadium named after Maradona

Yes, they do sound familiar. But here's the big difference. Maracana is a gigantic football stadium. Maradona - Argentine legend Diego Maradona - is a football icon.

To be a genuine footie expert, you need to rattle off the names of historic stadiums - the Nou Camp in Barcelona, Bernabeu in Madrid, Old Trafford in Manchester, Anfield in Liverpool, San Siro in Milan, Bedok Stadium in Bedok, and of course, the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, arguably the most famous arena in football.

These are the stages where dreams are made, the toilets are clogged and the Cup is lifted. In the 1950 World Cup, the final match - Uruguay beat Brazil 2-1 - was watched by an estimated 200,000 people in the Maracana. Its seating capacity has since been reduced to close to 79,000 and the Maracana will host this year's World Cup final.

5 Planet Of The Apes isn't about the England football team

No, it's a movie about apes taking over the world. To be fair to England, their tactics aren't just restricted to "Kick 'em high, lad, as high as you can, cor blimey" anymore. That all changed when England left West Ham United totem pole, Andy Carroll, at home with the lamppost.

The last and only time England won the World Cup was in 1966, and they did it with three West Ham players - Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters - in their team. This time, there isn't a single Hammer.

Now, how can you tell that you're watching England? By the third missed penalty kick, you would've accepted your sad lot and stopped groaning.

6 In Brazil, Amazon isn't just an online shopping site

That's the ginormous jungle where England will play Italy. To be precise, the city of Manaus in northern Brazil, billed as the only host city in the Amazonian rainforest.

It's the sort of humid hell England boss Roy Hodgson described as "the place ideally to avoid" until his team really got drawn to play there like a bad Roy joke.

Professor Stephen Hawking, the world's top scientific brain, calculated that England's chances of winning decreases by 59 per cent with every five degrees rise in temperature. The humidity just saps so much energy. To give it a Singaporean perspective, imagine being laden with giant shopping bags at Ion Orchard when the air-conditioner breaks down.

7 Jurgen Klinsmann, the coach of the United States, isn't American - he just looks like one

Klinsmann is German, but he's the coach of the American national team. In the World Cup, this cross-cultural fertilisation is allowed, national patriotism be damned.

Iran and Greece are managed by Portuguese coaches, and Japan and Russia by Italians. Besides Germany and the US, Germans are also in charge of Cameroon and Switzerland. Bizarrely, while Colombians helm Ecuador, Costa Rica and Honduras, Colombia itself is coached by an Argentine.

Brazil is led by Gene Hackman. Or at least someone - Luiz Felipe Scolari - who looks just like Hackman yelling on the sidelines as an American football coach in the 2000 film, The Replacements. Here's a good omen - in the movie, Hackman's team won.

8 In the football world order, Spain, Brazil, Argentina and Germany are superpowers with more nukes than the US

Brazil have these nukes - Neymar, Hulk, Oscar (Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Junior), Paulinho (Jose Paulo Bezerra Maciel Junior), Fernandinho (Fernando Luiz Roza) and some other "hos". Argentina is even scarier with weapons of mass destruction - Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi.

Defending champions Spain got David Silva, Diego Costa, Juan Mata, Koke (Jorge Resurreccion Merodio) and Fernando Torres, although this last name may induce laughter in some circles.

Germany, well, you know how tough these guys are in battle, right? Even Portugal has one super- nuke who's worth five aircraft carriers alone in World Cup terms - Cristiano Ronaldo.

If people ask you how come America isn't so good in football, you can tell them it's because Americans prefer to do things with their hands, like baseball, basketball, American football, casting votes in the election booth and building a tool shed in their backyard.

Which is why Team USA actually have very good goalkeepers - Tim Howard and Brad Guzan from the Premier League. They are not a bad team, being ranked 13th in the world. They're fit, enthusiastic and just a bit too honest. You know, kinda like Barack Obama.

9 Nobody actually dies in a Group Of Death, although some people may faint

No, a Group Of Death (GOD) refers to strong teams being drawn to play against one another in the early rounds of the tournament.

There are two Groups Of Absolute Death in this World Cup - Group D (England, Italy, Uruguay, Costa Rica) and Group G (Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA). Plus one Group Of Near Death (Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia in Group D) and one GOEB. That's the Group Of Eternal Bliss - France, Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras in Group E. If France does not qualify, then coach Didier Deschamps will surely need to change his name to Didier Ah Seng and hide in Toa Payoh.

10 China aren't in the World Cup but they still make very good teacups

Sports experts, scientific analysts and behavioural eggheads will argue to death about the poor standard of Chinese football, corruption in their league, betting syndicates and even poor health due to excessive smog.

But right now, 11 good Chinese footballers are a myth like the rabbit on the moon. Not so, though, for the players from Japan and South Korea who keep the Asian banner flying. Do they have a chance in Brazil? Nope.

But the Japanese do have Shinji Kagawa from Manchester United and Keisuke Honda from AC Milan, while South Korea has players from the Premier League and German Bundesliga. One critical factor - they all travel to foreign shores to improve their game. Chinese players do go out but not in droves. The last great traveller from China? Admiral Cheng Ho from the 15th century.


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