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It’s almost World Cup time again (or to avoid legal action, the FIFA World Cup 2018™). For an Englishman, or one who gives a damn like myself, this means two weeks of hyped-up, unreasonable and unjustified excitement followed by the depression of elimination, probably on a penalty shootout, followed by grudging unpartisan admiration for the good teams remaining in the later stages. We know we are not going to win it, because too many of the players have said that we ARE going to win it. Although there is noticeably less mention of the only time we did win it, in the year between 1965 and 1967, the year We Must Not Mention.

But before it kicks off, and while I’m still in the daft, initial “it’s going to be different for England this time” mode of thought, I get the chance to show off a few pics from some of the countries involved. So you don’t have to be interested in football or even know what shape the ball is to enjoy this quick pictorial distraction.

Let’s give the hosts Russia credit to start with, although not for their outrageous attitudes towards gay rights and anyone opposing Tsar Vladimir, especially journalists. Russia has taken over top spot in the nasty, nationalist, racist gang league and they shouldn’t really be holding the tournament. Not as daft as Qatar holding it in 2022 though.

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The Church of the Spilled Blood in St Petersburg. Hopefully none will be spilled in the next four weeks.

Let’s move on to Denmark. I have a soft spot for Denmark, nicely placed, I always think, between the Nordic and Central European cultures, combining the best elements of both. It has no mountains which is perhaps why the Danes are quite good at kicking balls around on the flat. I was at the stadium in Gothenburg in 1992 when Denmark beat Germany in the final of the European Championships, and that’s another reason I’ll be rooting for them. As long as they’re not playing against England obviously. As well as the fact that it’s home to some very good friends and Christian Eriksen is on the team – Eriksen being one of the stars of the English club I support, Tottenham. So, come on you Danes.

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The Opera house in Copenhagen. They like food, they like bikes, they like football. A few of them seem to quite like me. A seriously likeable country.

So to South America and Peru. Why Peru? Because I’ve just been there. They are also rated as dark horses, or perhaps that should be dark llamas.

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Resident minstrel in the Bodega Juanita in Lima, Peru. Football replays and live games are continuously shown on the TV in this bar.

France are among the favourites for this World Cup and they do have an unfair share of quite good players. As does Belgium. In fact, I might have a flutter on Belgium. So why no photo from Belgium? See the caption.

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Notre Dame, Paris. Just because I don’t have any decent shots of Belgium.

I love the idea of plucky little Japan (with a mere population of 127 million) beating one of the supposed footballing giants in the final. Germany or Argentina, for example. It won’t happen of course, but it’s an entertaining thought.

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Steamed bun food item in a Nagasaki street market. Will the Japanese diet carry them to World Cup glory? Probably not.

And last and not quite least, England, the land of my father. And my mother, who used to enjoy watching the World Cup. I was grateful for that, since the rest of my direct family didn’t really give a hoot about football. Although I think we all enjoyed it when England won the thing in the Year We Mustn’t Mention between 1965 and 1967, when I was captain of my house team at primary school. Another Tottenham player, Harry Kane, is the England captain and he’s actually pretty good. I’m not going to tempt fate by saying anything else. Just don’t mention the words “Iceland”, “Nice” or “June 27, 2016” and I’ll be fine.

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England, my England, right or wrong, and quite often wrong. This is the pier at Deal, my home town, from which the coastline of France is visible on a clear day. So close and yet so far.

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