Thursday, 12 January 2012

The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup book review in The Daily Yomiuri on 3rd June 2006

I think; therefore I'm a fan
By Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup
Edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilbey
Harper Perennial, 397 pp, 14.95 dollars

The idea of a guide to the World Cup for thinking fans may appear a little presumptuous and even a tad elitist, but if you love soccer and want to get in the mood for the upcoming footie fest in Germany, this is an ideal companion.

Editors Matt Weiland and Sean Wilbey have collected original articles from 32 writers and journalists about each of the participating countries at the FIFA World Cup. Some focus on purely football-related topics while others go for a more political approach.

Consequently, there are chapters that may not have widespread appeal, though if you're looking for wider clarification on the contraband trade in Paraguay or corruption in Poland, this is the book for you.

It's the kind of book one is likely to dip into at random rather than plow through from "A" for Angola to "U" for the United States. Readers will tend to gravitate toward countries with which they have a particular affinity.

Time magazine's Tokyo bureau chief, Jim Frederick, offers an interesting overview and history of the game in Japan, illustrating the effect of the J.League on baseball's power base in the country.

Frederick sees soccer as a "sign of a rejuvenated and dynamic Japan--a symbol for the new as potent as baseball is for the increasingly old and tired way of Japan, Inc." He also finds soccer supporters way more spontaneous than their clapper-wielding counterparts.

England is represented by the stalwart Nick Hornby--a safe choice whose solid performance chronicling the plight of the national team over the past 40 years is entertaining enough but leaves one thinking that he could have done better.

Novelist John Lanchester's essay on World Cup holder Brazil refers back to the great team from 1970, as many of the writers in this collection do, and how they have defined the modern game. He makes an interesting point that Brazil is loved by almost everyone outside South America, in spite of its success in world soccer.

Sports fans don't really go for the overdog--whether it's the Yankees in Major League Baseball or the Giants in Japanese baseball, Juventus or Real Madrid in European soccer--but Brazil is many people's second-favorite national team.

Every now and again you will come across snippets of information that will fascinate trivia buffs, such as Saudi Arabia's banning of soccer until 1951 for no apparent reason and that Madeira's (and perhaps Portugal's by the end of the finals) favorite son, Cristiano Ronaldo, was named after a U.S.

Aside from the essays on the teams, there's a wealth of statistics on previous World Cups, the 2006 finals and each participating country, the latter mainly gleaned from the CIA World Factbook.

That Japan tops the life expectancy table is no surprise, but I never knew that Serbia and Montenegro has the most tractors per million people among the finals competitors. Now, that's something for the TV commentators to get into their match statistics.

The attention to detail is impressive. Anyone who bought and watched a set of 25 videotapes containing 30 matches from the 1970 World Cup 32 years after the event, as editor Sean Wilsey did, is clearly passionate about the round-ball game--or in need of treatment.

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