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eat the cup 2018 :: welcome, comrades!

even regular followers of this blog might be surprised to learn that the longest-standing tradition on more like space is not tied to politics, makeup, mental health or even writing, but sport. i started the quadrennial eat the cup "challenge" [in quotes because i'm not actually challenging anyone but myself] way back in 2006 as a way of combining my growing love of soccer, my love for cooking and my still-new blogging habit. i determined that, as i followed the world cup, i would cook dinners to honour the winners of different games, meaning that the meal would, as far as possible, feature traditional dishes from those nations. in subsequent iterations, i started to do dishes that were combinations of different winners from the same day or, as the competition wore on, combinations of the different combatants.

finding certain ingredients can be a challenge, even in a diverse city like montreal [and i live on the cusp of some of its most diverse neighbourhoods], but what's proven really tricky over the years has been figuring out which teams to feature early on, so that i don't end up repeating the same countries ad nauseum through to the finish. [although last time around, i also ended up missing out on a few national cuisines when certain notable nations got bounced in the early going...]

of course, the other major challenge is that foods tend to be regional rather than national, even if each nation claims their own particular spin on the favourites. [zarzuela is bouillabaisse. fight me.] national boundaries are pretty random when you look at them and a lot of the people within those nations have a tense relationship with their central government. [aside from being bouillabaisse, zarzuela is also catalan, which for the purposes of the world cup, makes it spanish. awkward.] that's especially true this year when we get three teams from scandinavia, three from north africa, and four from eastern europe. cabbage, couscous and questionable fermented fish for all!

finally, because it's the fourth damn time i'll be combining cooking with kicking and several of the teams present have been there for each of the previous cycles, i have to work to find new and interesting ways to address those.

but that's what makes it fun and challenging!

one thing that won't be challenging will be continuing the tradition started with 2014's eat the cup, "man candy of the match". as is always the case, the world cup is a veritable man candy store except for the fact that the candy isn't for sale [unless you own a football team]. but that won't stop us from appreciating nature's exquisitely toned bounty.

if you'd like to get a primer on who'll be fun to watch even if the games aren't exquisite, you can always check out past examples from this blog or look through some lists from other sites [links do not indicate endorsement, especially of the ones that include anticristiano ronaldo]. but don't worry, there will be plenty of candy on offer to go with the food.

as far as predictions for the actual sporting part of the competition? well, on paper, you'd have to favour the french team who have so much talent at their disposal that they chose not to include players like alexandre lacazette, a top goal scorer for his professional team for the last several years. likewise, brazil and belgium are disproportionately blessed. the thing is, all three of those teams have shown a propensity to collapse under pressure in recent international competitions. spain and germany have some stellar names in their ranks, but both have a lot of first-team players who are closer to the end of their international careers than the beginning and stamina can be a really important factor in a competition like this. i'd still say that those five are all favoured to make it deep into the competition before bowing out.

because of the prominence of their star players, some favour portugal and argentina to make serious inroads, but i'd say that there are just as many reasons to feel that both teams are lucky to have made it to the dance. my prediction? neither anticristiano nor lionel messi is leaving russia as a champion.

the world cup is not a place where one finds a lot of surprises; the teams that do well tend to be the teams that everyone thinks will do well so that even if people don't guess the eventual winner, getting the final four teams tends to be pretty simple. however, there is always the chance that a team finds a way to punch above its weight. [costa rica were that team at the last world cup, wales and iceland at the last euro.] who will manage it this time?

well, keeping in mind that i said that cup winners portugal would be the ones to disappoint at the last euro, so my record is far from exemplary, i think that egypt have a decent shot at slipping through to at least the quarterfinals. they start off in a somewhat soft group where a win and a draw could easily see them skip through to the knockout round. from there, let's assume that they face either spain or portugal. the latter, despite the presence of the almighty anticristiano, is very winnable. the former is more difficult but consider the fact that every egyptian player is going to relish the chance to shove their cleats up the face of sergio ramos, who very nearly deprived egypt of their star goal-scorer, mohammed salah.

alternately, england suffer from abominable management right now, because there's little evidence that anyone is trying to manage them, but they likewise have a good shot at coasting through an easy group and then facing down either poland or colombia in the knockout round. that's doable. three lions' fans will just have to hope that the team figures out how to manage themselves in the meantime. [that's not fatuous: a solid spine of five players work together throughout the year at tottenham hotspur and a sixth was with them for years up until this season. they know how to win games.]

the final dark horse i'd guess, a bit more of a long shot, would be serbia. they start off in a group with brazil and three solid second-place contenders. the bonus for serbia is that they are the last team to face brazil, who will likely have secured advancement to the next round at that point. serbia may have to stare down germany immediately after, but the fight in germany's group will be epic, as every team wants to avoid being the one to face brazil in the knockout round, so die mannschaft [although they're the clear favourites to win their group] might be a little worn out.

i'd love to see both iran and iceland advance, but both find themselves in very difficult groups at the outset, which hobbles their chances. that said, iran made it through their qualification without conceding a goal, so if anyone is going to grind down group favourites spain and portugal, it's them. and iceland may once again succeed in unnerving teams through the power of eerie chanting.

fancy trying your luck at predicting scores, standings and more? try giving fifa's match predictor a whirl.

wanna know more about what eat the cup is and how it's evolved? check out the "results" from 2006, 2010 and 2014.

for the tournament kickoff, the gods of foot have set me a substantial challenge:

russia vs saudi arabia

the land of lakes and oceans versus the land of no water.

having consulted with my "footie friends", we are all in agreement that vodka will trump allah at tomorrow's opener. bridging the culinary gap is going to take a bit more ingenuity.

thanks once again to dominic f. marceau for providing the eat the cup logo. 

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