TAC 37 Index
Throughout its history, TAC has maintained close links with the beautiful game, most recently via the idea, first propounded in TAC33, that teams playing in high or spectacular locations tend to succeed over (and above) teams playing amid low drabnesses. Sadly, this theory of flatlands versus rock faces is falling flat on its face: recent Highland League results include mighty Fort William losing 17-0 and 13-0 to summitless Peterhead and Cove Rangers respectively. Newtown 11 Cemaes Bay 1, from the League of Wales, is less clear: Cemaes play on the rustic rather than rugged Synonym Island, whilst Newtownian wingers fizz along the touchlines in a mildly lumpy part of Powys.
This needs clearing up once and for all, and where better than on the world stage? So, with the much-hyped Coupe du Monde upon us, TAC subjects the eight first-round groups to rigorous expert analysis not in terms of skill or strength or jinkiness or hacking ability, but by comparing the respective heights of the countries concerned. Each group is previewed and its qualifiers predicted, with the hill-names given being those of highest points as listed in Grant Hutchison's TACit booklet World Tops and Bottoms. Trends include Argentina, reasonably enough, emerging as favourites, whilst the Americas generally look likely to do well in Europe (although Brazil - along with the Azzurri - only come mid-table). The fabled "total football" nations have few points in their favour; Scotland, as ever, have done well just to qualify; and England still seem a kick in the face away from being a genuinely good team.
The sum of each group of high points gives an indication of relative strength; Group B would appear to be the one to watch. Whether or not countries are landlocked is also noted, along with low points (in some cases pathetically below sea level). The precise location of the Group of Death is unclear, but seems to be either B or F. One remarkable fact is that Scotland's group (A) is only 126m higher than England's group (G): a local Derby! So the only thing maintaining Scotland as favourites to beat any of Romania, Colombia, Tunisia, or of course England, is the previously unsung 126m hill of Aisgerbheinn on South Uist. Forget Braveheart and all that sword-wielding shite; put down the crossbows and look to the crossbars; NF754236 on OS22 is where the true spirit of the nation currently resides.
By way of pre-match entertainment, Fife (as opposed to FIFA) President Grant Hutchison was invited to burst out from a multinational dance routine and explain why he'll not be tuning into the footballfest:
No, look; really. It's not because I don't know anything about football (although I don't - apparently we have two football teams in Dundee, but I can't quite keep straight which team plays where). And it's not because I think football is a silly preoccupation for grown-ups (although I do - it's just tribal warfare without the cannibal feasts, as far as I'm concerned). No, it's because I'm actually afraid of football. I'm a podospherophobic. This started at the age of six, when the wee bully-boys in my class took up the hobby of accosting the asthenic intellectuals at fist-point. "What team d'you support?" they would growl, and we would have to guess what team they supported, on pain of ... well, pain. I developed the notion that I could escape this dilemma by espousing some foreign team - some team so alien that it was entirely outwith the emotional ambit of my aspiring assailants. They wouldn't be able to decide, on the fly, whether this was a Good Team or a Bad Team, and so would (maybe, possibly, perhaps) just leave me alone. Unfortunately, the team I chose, in my ignorance of football and the world in general, was (and I cringe to say it, even now) - Vatican City. Well. If I tell you that the primary school I attended had a name which included neither the word "Mary" nor "Saint", I think you may just be able to guess the outcome. I'm a podospherophobic.
|Brazil||3014m||Pico da Neblina|
(all coastal, including Morocco with a low point of -55m)
Preview - Perkin Warbeck
"You say Morocco, that makes me smile / I haven't seen Morocco in a long long while"
This confession of course stems not from Craig Brown, who will have a two-inch dossier on the Sons of the Atlas Mountains, nor from brother Hamish, whom Craig will probably have to consult for up-to-date form, but from their joint namesake, Jackson. It's not clear from his string of albums whether Jackson has scaled Ben Nevis or Jebel Toubkal, Morocco's highest peak, far less Norway's Galdhøppigen. He did of course also sing "...of the wars that are fought in places / where we can't even say their names", which could well be the football commentators' motto.
What is clear from any reading of the tables is that the Scots will be required to perform the plucky wee bantams act yet again in view of the quite staggering 1125m gap between us and Norway, increasing to the 1670m deficit with Brazil and 2821m with Hamish's boys. And the Brazilians have Jesus on the top of theirs, which can't do any harm. With stats like these, it's hard even to predict the usual honourable departure by goal difference.
The average Scotland fan's interest in any tournament is inextricably linked to the fate of our southern neighbours, so suffice to say some comfort can be gained from the datum - Colombia, 5800m, Pico Cristobal Colon.
|Italy||4748m||Monte Bianco di Courmayeur|
|Chile||6893m||Nevado Ojos del Salado|
(all coastal, bar Austria with a low point of 115m)
Preview - Frank Sinatra (via medium)
Me and the Rat Pack been discussing this Coppa Mondiale down the Copacabana. Call me biased, but I come to the conclusion that Iddly will win the group and the tournament. Or else.
Chile's mountains are bigger, granted, but Chile ain't even a real country - it's just the name of some sorta ass-burning meat STOO.
Cameroon - I hear they got a guy called Roger Mia. Any sonofabitch try that with my wife, he soon sleeps with the fishes.
Austria - I played there once. What the hell do they know about the World Cup? Sheep, maybe; kangaroos, maybe: soccer, no way.
|Saudi Arabia||3133m||Jabal Sawda|
(all coastal, including Denmark with a low point -7m)
Preview - Andy Alvarez
Host nations frequently win the World Cup, and France are equipped to do well this time, with Zinedine Zidane as their ZZ Top; but it's hard to see them reaching the absolute heights. The old certainties have changed: as a boy, I would read in World of Wonder that Mont Blanc was the Roof of Europe. Not any more: Elbrus has elbowed it out. For all its likely dominance of Group C, France would be wise to call on colonial help come the knockout stages: the Martinique high point may only reach 1397m, but is propitiously named Montagne Pelée. One colony to which the French are unlikely to turn for inspiration is Futuna Island, with its 760m summit Mount Puke, long labelled by the media as "le Gazza Français".
Bringing in outsiders can work both ways however: should France try any tricks, chances are the otherwise dismal Denmark will feel free to rope in Greenland's 3700m Gunnbjørn Fjeld, multiply their chances twenty-one-fold, and so leapfrog all bar the French.
South Africa and Saudi Arabia will both essay strong attempts. South Africa indulge in all manner of laddish Bantu (although thankfully without the Mandela United contingent this time); yet, despite drafting in Alan Durban as their new manager, chances are they'll still be a bit of a Boer. Saudi Arabia - something of a footballing Mecca - likewise nurse high hopes, but will most likely get the chop and lose hands down eventually. Like Scotland before them (eg Alan Rough, Ally McCoist), many of their most stylish players' names begin Al-; but, overall, the mountain looks unlikely to come to Mohammed, not this time at least. The Saudis may have a Brazilian coach and some silky skills, but fitness will surely desert them in the final Qatar, and they'll throw in the towel.
|Spain||3715m||Pico de Teide|
(all coastal, bar Paraguay with a low point of 46m)
Preview - Stuart Benn
Fancy that, the highest hill in Spain is on the Canaries and not amongst the mighty Pyrenees or Sierra Nevada. At least it gives the islands a better claim to fame than being home to naff seventies duo Baccara ("Yes sir I can boogie"). Otherwise it's sun, sea, sand, sangria and ... er, canaries. For the hill/skill correlation to hold true, you would guess that the local team (no, not Norwich City, Tenerife) would be one of Spain's greats. Alas, they're not. But wait, they play at sea level and not on the slopes of Pico de Teide (now that would be a laval playing field!), and the Spanish (as opposed to Catalan or Basque) giants are from Madrid, one of the highest capital cities of Europe. It's still looking good. Speaking of canaries, that's something else the Canaries are good for - they host seven of Spain's eight endemic bird species, including the eponymous songster itself. Maybe this is worthy of further consideration as another good measure of footballing ability: Brazil has one of the highest rates of endemism in the world. On these grounds Spain are odds-on favourites - the other countries in the group can't rustle up a single endemic between them.
The bird theme continues - Nigeria's former high point (until Chappal Waddi was found to be higher) was Mount Vogel, with vogel being German for bird. The bird/hill/football connection would have been wonderfully complete had Indonesia qualified, as there are the Vogelkop Mountains on Irian Jaya (themselves home to many endemic birds). But Indonesia didn't qualify - they must have been busy doing something else. Oddly, group-mates Bulgaria also boast a deposed peak, but on ideological rather than altitudinal grounds: once proud Stalin Peak has been renamed Musala vrh. If you have difficulty pronouncing this, go to the pub, get ten pints and a few Drambuies down you, and then go on for an Indian: your order will sound pretty close to the mark. Actually, their qualifying group went pretty much to form with only mighty Russia underperforming - Bulgaria seeing off the topographical minnows of Cyprus, Luxembourg, and low point supremos Israel (although they were probably too busy rehearsing for the Eurovision Song Contest).
Paraguay have absolutely no chance. For a country that would be Europe's fourth largest (what a ridiculous statistic - it isn't, never has been, nor is ever likely to be, part of Europe) to have a high point lower than The Sow of Atholl and then to not even bother naming it strikes me as having a pretty poor attitude (or should that be altitude?) This is maybe to be expected - their last outing over the course (in 1986) ended with a pusillanimous 3-0 loss against England.
Spain's mantle of overwhelming group favourites on hill grounds is mirrored in their latest FIFA rankings. Unfortunately, it begins to break down a bit beyond that, with Paraguay fighting well above their weight and Bulgaria and Nigeria well down. Incredibly, Nigeria are the lowest ranked team in this World Cup - even Scotland are twenty-five places better off! If these rankings are correct, Nigeria must be a real pile of pants and will be on the plane home faster than we can say "Disaster for Scotland".
Prediction: Peak performers Spain and Bulgaria to go through, with Bulgaria going all the way to the final where they will meet ... England. Why? Well, if you add the heights of Musala vrh and Scafell Pike in metres, and then convert them to feet using the oh so close multiplier of 3.27902, you get 12798, the date of the final.
|Belgium||694m||Signal de Botrange|
(all coastal, including Mexico and Netherlands with low points of -8m and -7m)
Preview - Paul Hesp
As a geographer, I have always considered the terms "country" and "nation" too crude to be of much use. A real mess results when you try using both concepts simultaneously, as illustrated by the attempt to formulate a country high point / national soccer team score theory in TAC33. The concepts and their links need to be refined, taking account of the dynamics of history and relative heights. If Denali in Alaska is the highest US peak, then you can argue that until 1962 the highest point in the Kingdom of the Netherlands was Carstenz Top (now Puncak Jaya, 5030m). Against this, the more traditional argument is that since the Belgian Secession the highest point has been Vaalserberg (321m). Korea was also split into unequally high parts. Another thing about the Netherlands: the country has swapped a lot of water for land through reclamation, lowering the elevation/land surface ratio (ie enhancing the country's soccer field potential by making it relatively more level). At the start of the soccer age, Mexico's topography was modified as well, by Yankee imperialism. The effect of all this on soccer scores has never been properly researched, and until this has been done, the relationship as such remains a purely hypothetical one.
Now the human factor. Dutch national teams - not counting foreigners, as this would severely complicate the exercise - have included men from below sea level (Cruyff!), and men from PSV Eindhoven's highlands. Yet PSV is in many respects closer to Flemish ... er ... Belgian Lommel than to Ajax. Mexico and South Korea are both similar and different: the native people are linked via the former Bering Strait Land Bridge; but while Mexico is more mountainous, it is theoretically possible that its team is predominantly drawn from beachball players while Korea's players may all come from mountain farms. Again, the different impacts on scoring patterns have not been studied. The one thing we can be sure of is a level playing field. This is the same for all of the teams, so let's build our forecasts on that. The main variable then becomes the quality of each team. About which I haven't a clue.
(all coastal, including Iran and Germany with low points of -28m and -2m)
Preview - Gordon Smith
Purely in terms of altitude, the giants of the group are the USA (Denali aka Mt McKinley, 6194m) and arch-enemy Iran (Dam...vand, 5604m); the dwarves Germany (Zugspitze, 2962m) and Yugoslavia (possibly 2aravica, 2656m, but see below). Size isn't everything, however, and I would expect these ties to be driven by cultural and political enmity (Americans v Muslims v Serbs v Germans) rather than mountain mightiness. Nevertheless it is interesting to note how each of these peaks suggests a national characteristic. Zugspitze has a cableway up to the very summit, and an hotel just below it, reflecting the huge effort the Germans put into preparation and organisation; failure is thus programmed out. The USA displays its political correctness by pretending that its biggest hill was never really named after a white, middle-aged, middle-class male President: they are in Denial about Denali. Iran's highest point is a volcano.
Even more interesting is the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It lost its original high point (Triglav, 2864m) and all the other Julian Alps through civil war (see TAC13). Its next big top was Korab (2754m), which promptly seceded from FRY along with the rest of Macedonia. The present highest peak is 2aravica, in Kosovo. Now, as with Norman Tebbit's cricket test, I would suggest that a mountain only truly belongs to a nation if the people who live on or around that mountain support the national football team: otherwise England could claim Ben Nevis as its high point. On this criterion, 2aravica will belong to Iran for the duration of the World Cup. So all this stir in FRY means its World Cup high point is probably Durmitor (2522m), which isn't even in Serbia: like a limestone Lekovic, it towers above the fields of Montenegro.
I predict the following results:
|FRY||0 - 1||Iran||Traditional first game upset: Iran pan FRY|
|Germany||2 - 0||USA||Revenge extracted at last for Hogan's Heroes|
|Germany||1 - 1||FRY||Like Tito, they couldn't afford to lose two legs|
|USA||1 - 1||Iran||Iran contra The Great Stan (as The Guardian once typo-ed)|
|USA||1 - 4||FRY||Lekovic typically saves penalty and lets in o.g. from pass-back|
Which leaves the final game, between the only two countries in the group that don't have a score to settle with each other. Accordingly, I predict a repeat of Germany's infamous 1982 Anschluss with Austria:
Germany 0 Iran 0
Both go through to the next round. Germany plays Holland, whose high point, tumescent with the support of outraged Serbs, temporarily leaps from 321m to 2522m.
|Colombia||5800m||Pico Cristóbal Colón|
(all coastal, including Tunisia and England with low points of -17m and -3m)
Preview - Alan Blanco
Their initials spell CERT, but none of these teams has any chance of coming out on top. Colombia might seem to have a big advantage over the rest of the group, but the team starts off under a cloud and it's hard to tell if they're going in the right direction. There is too much infighting, and no-one has been near Cristobal Colon for four years, ever since an unknown agent shot dead an innocent back marker for turning a corner in the wrong direction. We should see an enhanced performance this year, but lack of coordination will ensure failure to match over-stimulated expectation. The antics of the eccentric keeper may well be entertaining, but a strong attack will surely find holes in his defence.
England are one of three rank outsiders, along with Denmark, whose hopes are about as high as Dundee Law, and Paraguay, who made a strategic error by failing to name their captain. In contrast England are saddled with the leadership of an over-exposed wet fish suffering from too many boots in the wrong place. England's horizons are the lowest of all, ranked only third in their own country, behind even hapless Wales, who train to reach the top in summer but stop running altogether during winter. At least they have a platform to start from, but neither will become a top country without a country top. England will surely get flattened this summer, but it might be hard to tell, as there will be lots of fuss made about their minor highs and lows.
Romania look promising on paper, with bags of quality in several areas, but there are crucial gaps where continuity is lacking, and their biggest names fail to connect. Captain Moldoveanu has hit the target twenty-five times from forty-four starts, and will be varful as usual, but likely to be left isolated and unable to mount keen pressure on the big groups. Romania will probably be entertaining, but will ultimately lack the range and depth to compete at the highest level.
Tunisia have similar problems. Jebel ash-Sha'nabi is the most impressive name and difficult to tackle, but liable to fall victim to a sustained assault. The country fails to attract any international talent, which usually ends up in nearby Morocco, where the standard is much higher. A visit from England may sound attractive but is likely to prove pointless, and Tunisia seem certain to finish with the lowest point in the group. Once the defence is breached the floodgates may open, and they'll need to dig deep to maintain their bottom place.
|Jamaica||2256m||Blue Mountain Peak|
(all coastal, including Argentina and Japan with low points of -42m and -4m)
Preview - Tessa Carroll
So. I've got ER and Frasier on tape and my feet up for an evening's TV indulgence. And then the phone rings. It's the Editor: do I fancy writing a short piece for TAC on Group H of the World Cup? He's clearly forgotten that I know nothing about football and care even less; either that or he's desperate. No, no, he says, it doesn't really have to be about football, it's more about hills and his great theory that countries with big mountains are better at football than flat ones. I remind him that I don't know that much about hills either, and I certainly don't share his fascination with numbers. But, he says, Group H includes Japan, and that's something you do know about. Ah. This I can't deny. But - last attempt at evasion - so does that TAC first-team stalwart, Val Hamilton. But no, she too pleads complete ignorance of the baleful game, and deadline-pressed editorial ears are deaf to further demurring. I am immediately bombarded with "Highest points: Argentina: Cerro Aconcagua 6959m, Japan: Mount Fuji 3776m, Jamaica: Blue Mountain Peak 2256m, Croatia: Dinara 1831m. But it doesn't have to be about hills, you could link them all with food. Or birds. Or religion - remember Maradona, hand of God?" So, here's word association football for Group H. Argentina hoping for repeat showing of hand of God ... Japan praying for Divine Wind (kami kaze) to blow away opponents as it did the invading Mongols in thirteen-whateveritwas ... Mongols invading by sea ... sea ... mountains ... ah ... Rasta homeland's Ras Dashen Terara (4620m) gives Jamaica a better chance against don't cry for me Argentina ... No woman no cry ... Reggae, ska, Croatian name for Croatia is Hrvatska. Done it!!
"Predictions?" says the Editor. Honestly; England gets some faith-healer and suddenly the Editor decides TAC needs a Mystic Meg.
TAC 37 Index