By Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
The Match World Cup Special
Boxtree, 95 pp
Just what every young soccer fan needs to get them through the soccer World Cup, which kicks off in Germany on June 9: The Match World Cup Special.
Match is Britain's top-selling weekly football magazine, and its guide to the tournament is informative, entertaining and witty.
Being an English publication, there is a clear bias toward England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson's boys, with the first page exclaiming, "WE CAN WIN IT!"
Well, the English have been saying that since Beatlemania was sweeping the country and still only have 1966 and all that to show for their optimism.
Nevertheless, it's never too early to prepare young England supporters for a future of false optimism and shattered dreams.
Perhaps, as the song went back in 1982, "This time, we'll get it right..."
If England are the heroes on these pages, it comes as no surprise that the villains are the nation that lost that epic final against the hosts at London's Wembley Stadium 40 years ago.
The "Rough Guide to Germany" tells its young audience all kinds of "facts" about the host nation, such as their penchant for sausages and pickled cabbage, the popularity of the mullet haircut in Germany, that the national dress is lederhosen (incidentally, elsewhere in the book there's a picture of Shunsuke Nakamura in Japan's national costume--a judo uniform) and that Oliver Kahn is ugly.
Mostly nonsense, of course, though Kahn's image in Japan seems to be more beast than beauty and some German heavy rock bands still sport very dubious hairstyles.
The profiles of each country are fairly accurate and give the reader important statistics on players, qualifying results, World Cup history and the team's 2006 chances as well as "strongest starting line-up."
Japan, like other long shots at the finals, get half a page and their projected team is not far off the makeup of the side that will probably play Australia in Kaiserslautern on June 12, though West Bromwich Albion's Junichi Inamoto fails to make their XI.
Not surprisingly, World Cup holders and tournament favorites Brazil are featured heavily, not only in the team guides but also with full-page photographs of their top stars.
All eight first-round groups are featured, punctuated by general features on stadiums, World Cup records, no less than three quizzes and endless trivia about the tournament.
A guide to the World Cup would not be complete without a fixtures guide and this one is ideal for budding stattos. Each game has clear details of date, time (British Standard Time) and venue as well as space for the result and easy explanations of the knockout stages.
And when you're not watching the action on TV, there's always the World Cup Hero Game, a variation on snakes and ladders in which your fate as an international player is decided by the throw of the dice. Uncannily so if you imagine yourself as a teenage Arsenal player with no Premier League experience and, upon landing on square No. 38, are told, "A first-choice striker gets injured, so you're thrown straight into the team for your England debut!"
If Theo Walcott happens to replace Wayne Rooney for England's opening game against Paraguay in Frankfurt on June 10, as seems possible, Match magazine got their prediction in first.
The appearance of a little cartoon fellow by the name of Matchman throughout the book becomes a bit irritating, mainly because the editors have chosen to voice his opinions in a kind of jive talk that is not as witty as they seem to think.
Nevertheless, Matchman doesn't distract too much. As a fun guide to the World Cup, this is a fine accompaniment for young (and even not so young) football fans.