Saturday, June 12, 2010

Review of England-USA: Once Again, Football Isn't Coming Home

Read it here.

Harrison and Steven Stark Preview the Cup on WNYC's "The Takeaway"

Listen here.

Harrison and Steven Stark on the World Cup on "Here and Now" on WBUR and NPR

Listen here.

Steven and Harrison Stark's Book Talk at Gibson's in Concord NH

Listen here.

Stark Reality

Harrison Stark on the Cup at the Boston Phoenix.

Steven Stark on WGBH on the Cup -- Part IV -- The Prediction

Listen here.

Group B Wrapup: Argentina and South Korea Look Solid

2-0 A Deserved Result for Flashy South Korea

This was a real mismatch, more so than anyone thought. Although known for its gritty offensive tactics and stalwart defensive line, this Greek side was thoroughly outclassed by a South Korean side that played with both purpose and flair. As predicted, the South Koreans' pace caused tremendous problems for a slow, aging Greek backline, with Park Ji-Sung in particular tearing them open on several occasions. The way in which the team relentlessly attacked was highly reminiscent of its 2002 run to the semi-finals. Although South Korea fouled often - 14 times - Greece was unable to use its trade-mark free kick counter attack: it didn't even register a shot on target until the 70th minute. It is indicative that playmaker and captain Georgios Karagounis was withdrawn at the interval after a miserable first half.

For more, read here:

Friday, June 11, 2010

Previews of Saturday Games: South Korea-Greece, Nigeria-Argentina, and USA-England

Read them all here.

Group B: South Korea v. Greece Preview

Read it here:

Khune Heroics and Mexican Tactical Mistakes Lead to Fair 1-1 Result

Read it here:

Group A: France v. Uruguay Preview

Europe's biggest underachiever faces off with the South American team of the same distinction. On paper, France - as usual - looks the much better side, and Uruguay may struggle to contain France's wide players. Uruguay plays a traditional 3-5-2, with two very hard-working wingbacks - Alvaro Pereira on the left, Maxi Pereira on the right (no relation) - covering the wide positions, meaning that these two players must shoulder both the offensive and defensive burdens on the wings entirely on their own. France has a plethora of wide players, all recently given even more license in its new 4-3-3 formation. On the right there is Sidney Govou and the attack-minded defender Bacary Sagna, and the left there is the dangerous Franck Ribery supported by Patrice Evra (Florent Malouda, a natural left-winger, is deployed out of place in central midfield, but has a tendency to drift wide into his preferred wider position too). France will want to use its numerical advantage on the wings to supply the striker - Yoann Gourcuff, the typical central playmaker, is likely to be tightly man-marked by Walter Gargano and will struggle to find space.

To read more, go here:

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Opening Match Preview: South Africa v. Mexico

Either of these teams could be a dark horse to make a run in the tournament, if only it can get out of the group. This first match is key. Mexico's very fluid formation will likely allow it to dominate possession against a technically inferior South Africa, and, having experience at playing at altitude, will maintain a physical presence the entire game. Mexico has had trouble finishing in the pre-tournament run up, and so will finally have to translate superior possession into results in the final third - Carlos Vela in particular will have to step up his finishing if they are to take 3 points from this game.

For more, read here:

Brazil Is The Team to Beat: Ranking the Teams From 1-32

Please note: This is not a prediction of how teams will finish but an assessment of their chances of winning the Cup. That's because two strong teams may meet in an earlier round and some teams have to get out of much tougher groups than others. Moreover some teams such as South Africa, Argentina, France. Mexico, and Italy could completely flame out but if they don't and get out of their group, the potential to go far is there.

So with that caveat in mind, the envelope please:


1. Brazil. This improved team has got the presence, the pedigree, and the personnel, plus a new tactical approach that will make it very difficult to break down on defense. Sure it's not invincible, but it's also the only team ever to win the Cup outside its own continent - save Argentina that won in a Mexico that wasn't much different culturally. Brazil is also in the easier half of the draw so if it wins its group, it likely avoids Argentina, Spain, or Germany until the final. Its first round group isn't easy but if this team can't get by Portugal and Ivory Coast, it likely will have trouble winning the Cup anyway.


2. Argentina. Is Maradona a mad genius or just mad? We obviously incline towards the former. Skeptics will point to a weak qualification campaign, but every time Argentina has won the tournament it has struggled to qualify. This time around, a ridiculously easy first round group and a probable weak second round opponent means this team can take its time getting its act together before facing a serious quarterfinal opponent. If things have gone right up until then, it will be formidable. Of course, with Maradona at the helm, nothing is ever that simple so this team could also self-destruct long before that too. But we don't expect it.

To read more, go here:

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Predictions From Some Experts (and not-so experts)

Tomorrow you'll get our predictions. Today, we hear from others, experts and otherwise:

EA Sports 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa: Using the game - which apparently even measures for altitude -- Brazil wins it all, defeating Spain in the final. We have our doubts: The game also has England in the semis.

VIP Communications Customer Survey: 32.2% pick Brazil; 23.5% pick Spain; 12.3% pick England.

Rome Hartman, Executive Producer, BBC News America: Brazil to win.

Piers Edwards, BBC: Brazil over Argentina in the final. Also thinks the Dutch may do well.

For more, read here:

Grant Wahl, SI: Spain tops, Brazil 2nd, Netherlands 3rd in power rankings.

Steven Stark on WGBH on the Cup -- Part III

Listen here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

How Playing at Altitude Might Transform the World Cup

Everyone is talking about how holding the first Cup in Africa could affect the results. But one of the under analyzed aspects of every World Cup is the effect of climate and altitude on both the play and outcomes. This World Cup will be the first held in the southern hemisphere - and thus during winter - since 1978 in Argentina. South Africa is sub-tropical for the most part, so the temperature shouldn't be much of an issue for most squads. But altitude might well play a significant role since many games, including the final, will be played in a Johannesburg roughly a mile above sea level, much like Denver.

The weather has been a factor since the first World Cup match in Montevideo in 1930, when it snowed the night before and the Mexicans blamed the climate for their 4-1 loss to France. Weather is a major reason why European countries - accustomed for the most part to cooler temperatures and sea level conditions - don't play well outside their continent. At the Cups held in Asia in 2002 and the U.S. in 1994 - both played in temperatures usually 80 degrees or higher -- several teams noticeably wilted in the heat, while the hosts and "hot weather teams" such as Italy, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria in '94 and Senegal in 2002 excelled.

To read more, go here:

Steven Stark on WGBH on the Cup -- Part II

Listen here.

The Authors on New Hampshire Public Radio on the Geopolitics of the Cup

Listen here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Steven Stark on WGBH on the Cup -- Part I

Listen here!

Could Countries With A Tradition of Racist Fans Underperform in South Africa?

It's been well-documented how extensive racism is in European soccer - with catcalls and "monkey chats" often directed at black players by fans. None of that is expected in South Africa to be sure. But it all raises an intriguing question: Could countries known for having trouble dealing with racism in soccer - most notably Spain, Italy, Slovakia, and Serbia - be more intimidated by playing in Africa and suffer as a result? It's not an outlandish conclusion.

Though Americans aren't exposed to it, racism sadly permeates world soccer. The black players on England's national teams have faced abuse in Croatia and Spain; Lazio's fans in Rome have been known to greet black players with "ooh, ooh" monkey chants whenever they touched the ball. This past year, Inter Milan's Mario Balotelli, born in Sicily to Ghanaian parents, has been greeted by opposing fans with the chant, "A Negro cannot be an Italian." In Russia, fans have turned on their own black players, shouting at them, "Russia for Russians" and throwing bananas on the field.

The reasons are complex why soccer stadiums can become Europe's "theaters of hatred," as one writer put it. Soccer crowds across Europe -- at least in the cheaper seats -- seem to include a disproportionate number of the supporters of the right-wing political parties that have sprung up across the continent.

To read more, go here:

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Are Premier League Players More Likely to Get Hurt At the World Cup?

Players are dropping like flies, particularly the leading ones. In the past two days, we have seen a slew of World Cup stars go down with tournament-ending injuries: England's captain Rio Ferdinand, Cote D'Ivoire's talismanic Didier Drogba, Nigeria's Jon Obi Mikel, and today Slovakia's star defender Martin Skrtel and Holland's s Arjen Robben look set to join the ever-expanding list. Germany's Michael Ballack and Ghana's Michael Essien have also been ruled out in the last two weeks.

Is there a pattern? It's interesting to note how many of these stars ply their trade in the English Premier League - of the recent list only Robben plays his club football somewhere else, at Germany's Bayern Munich. Much has been written about the Premier League's grueling schedule - with teams forced to compete for the league in addition to the FA and Carling Cups, not to mention European competition, the season drags on - even the mid-table club Fulham played 59 matches this past season. With no real break before the World Cup begins, players may be at their limit.

For more, read here.

The Authors on Fox News TV

Watch it here!

Harrison Stark on the Total Football Soccer Show

Listen in!

Surprise Selections (and other news) from Group H -- the Spanish Speakers (Plus Switzerland)

This is the Spanish-speaking group plus Switzerland, or the offensive-minded group, plus Switzerland, but no matter how you slice it or dice it, it's Spain with everybody else fighting for second. The latest news, in the approximate order of finish:


On paper, Spain is the favorite to win the whole tournament but Cup aficionados know that something always goes wrong for the Spanish and that subsequently they've never gone past the quarters. Historians tend to attribute the team's lack of good fortune to its traditional lack of unity, which reflects the nation's atomized regions. (Hence the European joke, "Three Spaniards, four opinions.")

The talk beforehand was that with a side dominated by Catalans, this wouldn't be as much of an issue this time. Think again: Pedro (Barcelona) is unhappy because he had to draw lots with Javi Martinez (Athletic Bilbao) as to who would get stuck with the unwanted Number 2 jersey and lost - not that anyone on the Spanish team is superstitious of course. Then coach Vincente Del Bosque cracked the whip and banned his players from Twitter and Facebook during the Cup, which leaves much of the team wondering what to do with all the time it now has on its hands. Other than squabbling, of course.

For more, read here:

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Does Germany's Eurovision Victory Tell Us Anything About the World Cup? Probably

Occasionally, victories in international competitions come all at once. One need only look back to 2008 to see Spain's Euro triumph coincide with Spanish domination of tennis and cycling the same year, not to mention Penelope Cruz's Oscar.

Although not quite the same thing, Germany - shockingly - won the annual Eurovision Song Competition on Saturday, courtesy of Hamburg's 19-year-old Lena Meyer-Landrut. For those unfamiliar with the competition, you're missing out: essentially an infinitely more absurd American Idol that involves all of Europe, the competition is an all-night affair where countries perform musical routines and then a winner is decided by phone-in vote (voters are not allowed to vote for their own country).

How big is it on the continent? Absolutely huge.

To read more, go here.

US Opponent Watch: Why England Needs A Tactical Makeover

England's recent 3-1 victory over Mexico was an extremely flattering result. England chased the ball for much of the game, out-passed and out-paced by a technically superior Mexico side, and owed their victory primarily to Peter Crouch's height advantage over a small Mexican back line and Carlos Vela's woeful finishing (he is capable of better and will have to step up in South Africa if Mexico is to advance). If England is truly to be a title contender, a comprehensive tactical re-think is needed.

For more, read here:

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

On the eve of South Africa 2010, a father-and-son writing team parse the multivolume epic that is world soccer into a guide for uninitiated Americans.

A profile and interview with the authors at Gelf Magazine.

Surprise Selections (and other news) from Group G, the Mini Group of Death With One Pariah -- Brazil, Ivory Coast, Portugal, and North Korea

This is a mini-group of death since one very good team among Brazil, Ivory Coast, and Portugal will be eliminated. Then there's North Korea, which, as we all know, is unpredictable in a multitude of ways. In the predicted order of finish, more or less:


Once again, the cliché holds true: Brazil is so loaded that a team composed of the players who didn't make the squad could make a Cup run. It's old news that coach Dunga (Portuguese for Dopey, after one of the Seven Dwarfs) has Brazil playing very defensively - at least for Brazil - and chose to drop many of the senior "bohemian" members of the squad who performed poorly last time in favor of younger players. Thus, the squad features no Ronaldhino, no Ronaldo, no Adriano, and no Roberto Carlos. Dunga also left at home Neymar - the brilliant 18-year-old striker (watch for him next time) - not to mention future stars under-20 midfielder and captain Sandro (Internacional - Brazil) and 20-year-old striker Alexander Pato (AC Milan).

The only surprise, really, was the inclusion of Wolfsburg striker Grafite, who's shown in the Bundesliga that he can handle a more rough and tumble style.

For more, read here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The US Roster Isn't A Surprise For A Third-Tier Soccer Power

There are actually few surprises on the US squad despite the headlines indicating otherwise. Some may be taken aback at some of the omissions but they really shouldn't be: Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo) was left off, but he has never really gelled with the team (he came in 2006 and didn't play a single minute of football). Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA) was also left off after featuring often in the Cup's run-up but his wild tackling that caused him to see red at the 2009 Confederations Cup can't have helped his chances. Eddie Johnson hasn't appeared for Fulham for years, and his loan spell this season at Aris Thessaloniki was less than impressive.

What the decision to pick two relative unknowns for forward to replace the injured Charlie Davies (Sochaux) shows is how weak the squad really is.

To read more, go here:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Surprise Selections (and other news) from Group F, the Easiest Group in South Africa -- Italy, Paraguay, Slovakia, and New Zealand

Group F is, by far, the easiest group in South Africa, which means it's a godsend for defending champion Italy, which always starts slowly. The fight for second will be between Paraguay and Slovakia; New Zealand is in the running to be the worst team ever to go to a World Cup tournament.


This being Italy, there was enormous controversy surrounding the announcement of the squad, despite the fact that there were no real surprises. The Italian press has been militating for months for a squad place for Sampadoria's hot-tempered Antonio Cassano, but manager Marcello Lippi made clear months ago that he wasn't coming to South Africa. Yes, striker Luca Toni (Roma) was left off the squad but he looked too old even four years ago. Yes, there was no recall for the internationally retired Francesco Totti (Roma) but last-minute recalls are few and far between on World Cup squads. And yes, hero from last time Fabio Grosso was left off the squad, but anyone who has seen him play at Inter and then Juventus over the past 18 months can understand why. He's lost it.

For more, read here.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Surprise Selections (and other news) from Group E-- Netherlands, Denmark, Cameroon, and Japan

Welcome to Group E - the group which features four teams that kept together fairly stable squads throughout most of the qualifiers, meaning the provisional squad announcements offered few if any bombshells. On paper, the Dutch win the group while Cameroon and Denmark fight it out for second and Japan finishes last. The second-place finisher here could be a tournament dark horse.


The Dutch only played 25 players in qualification - the lowest of the 32 teams in South Africa - and they won every game. That's why the squad contains no new names, really, and iconic striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy (Hamburg) found you can't go home again as he failed in his attempt to return to the team after retiring from international duty two years ago. Yes, the uncapped striker Jermaine Lens (AZ Alkmaar) and Ajax's fullback and midfielder Vurnon Anita were named to the squad for the first time but it's unlikely they'll see action barring unexpected injuries or cards.

To read more, go here:

Interview at Footie Business

An interview with the authors here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Surprise Selections (and other news) from Group D, the Group of Death -- Germany, Ghana, Serbia, and Australia

This may be the toughest group to call in South Africa because it is, in fact, the toughest: All four of these teams would qualify from most of the other groups. But that's why they call it the group of death.

So, it's on to recent developments with the teams, in an order of finish that could well be reversed:


There's a good argument that the most successful team in the history of the World Cup hasn't been Brazil but Germany. Winners three times, this team has never failed to get to the quarterfinals over the last seven tourneys and has finished third and second respectively at the last two.

But if there's ever going to be a tournament where the Germans stumble, it's turning out that this could be the one. The group is difficult and even if the Germans do emerge winning the group, they could face both Argentina and Spain on the road to another possible final. Captain and midfielder Michael Ballack was injured earlier this month at Chelsea and will miss the proceedings. The Germans are down to their third-string keeper (who is still admittedly miles better than anything England has to offer), after the first-string choice, Robert Enke, tragically committed suicide last autumn and the second-string choice, Rene Adler, got injured in the spring.

Even Bayern Munich's success at getting to the Champions League final will probably hurt this team. As we've pointed out before, European club success in a country actually hurts the national team because it makes it likelier that many of its players will be bushed by the time they get to South Africa.

For more, go here:

Monday, May 17, 2010

Surprise Selections (and other news) from Group C, the Most Overrated Group in South Africa -- England, USA, Slovenia, and Algeria

The hype surrounding this group could move mountains. That's because it contains the Cup's two most overrated teams, at least by their fans - England and the USA. But interestingly, Group C also has two of South Africa's more underrated squads - Algeria and particularly Slovenia. Upsets are definitely possible in a group without a truly dominant squad.

So, it's on to recent developments with the teams, in an order of finish on which we wouldn't bet the farm:


Every four years, the English are convinced that "football is coming home." But the reporters who cover the team - who usually join in the mass delusion - have begun to notice that the good ship England is taking on water. Note the recent headlines: "England Remain A World Cup Longshot," (from When Saturday Comes) and "Rest of the World Will Not Fear England Squad," says Oliver Kay" (from the UK Times). After a season in the always tough and physical Premier League, England's players are tired and hurting, and the team never had a keeper, or a decent second striker, or enough defenders to be a top-flight contender anyway. That's why manager Fabio Capello tried to get both the aged Paul Scholes (Man U) to return (he failed, fortunately) and defender Jamie Carragher of Liverpool (he succeeded, unfortunately), who had already lost a step several years ago. This is the same Jamie Carragher who wrote in his autobiography after he retired from international duty two years ago, "I was never in love with playing for England in the first place." Not a good sign.

To read more, click here:

Friday, May 14, 2010

The World Cup Silly Season Continues: Surprise Selections (and other news) from Group B -- Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, and Greece

The same caveats as before: We're in the silly season, when pundits overanalyze everything pertaining to the World Cup. Still, let's join the throngs and look at the surprise developments (if any) with squad selection and other matters with Group B - Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, and Greece.

In the predicted order of finish:


This World Cup's longest-running soap opera continues with the team selections from manager, former superstar, and a man who once claimed that the Pope disrespected him - Diego Maradona. Maradona, of course, went through 78 players in qualification, bizarrely selecting players who hadn't appeared on the team sheet in years and dropping superstars like hotcakes. So, it's probably not a surprise at all that when the squad announcement was made earlier this week, Maradona had dropped two mainstays of both this squad and Champions League finalist Inter Milan - namely defender Javier Zanetti and midfielder Esteban Cambiasso - not to mention Marseille's Lucho "Commander" Gonzalez and Real Madrid's Fernando Gago. Meanwhile, it looks like the defenders at the back who will play are all central defenders, meaning some folks will be playing out of their usual position. Who made it? Well besides the obvious names (Messi, Mascherano, Tevez, etc.) there's Ariel Garce, the Colon defender who supposedly impressed Maradona against Haiti, not that it's that difficult to look good against the Haitians. Then there's midfielder Juan Mercier of Newell's Old Boys - another superstar when Haitians are the opposition - and the Lanus midfielder Sebastian Blanco. Not exactly household names, though Juan Sebastian Veron is, even though he's 35 and over the hill.

For more, read here:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

World Cup Coverage Begins At Realclearsports With A Look At Group A Team Selection

This is the silly season for World Cup soccer.

It’s a lot like baseball’s spring training. Every team’s fans think they really have a chance to win – even though they don’t. The press is all geared up with little to report so every minor story gets blown way out of proportion. How players perform in the exhibitions leading up to the Cup receive extensive analysis – even though, like spring training, they don’t mean much of anything unless someone gets injured.

So it goes with the squad announcements this week emanating from the 32 participants in next month’s tournament. The only “surprises” tend to come from the enlistment of marginal players who are going to make the squad – the equivalent of baseball’s 24th or 25th player. And even the provisional squads announced this week have to be pared some more before the tournament opens.

With all these caveats in mind, we’ll begin to look at the squad announcements and other recent developments in the days ahead, beginning today with Group A – Mexico, South Africa, France, and Uruguay. (As background, we’ve already done an extensive analysis of all the groups in our book, “World Cup 2010: The Indispensable Guide to Soccer and Geopolitics,” so we’ll also be referencing that from time to time.)


This is the most wide-open group in South Africa with all four countries having a real shot at making the cut. Three have talent and South Africa has home tourney advantage – which counts for a lot at the World Cup. What makes the group difficult to call is that the three with talent are among the least consistent teams in the world’s upper echelon. In our predicted order of finish (more on that later), here’s the latest on surprise selections:

To continue reading, click here:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Review from "Post Magazine," 4/15: "This may be the first American book about soccer that lives and breathes the game."

From John Rozehnal, Post Magazine, 4/15:

A Heightened Pitch

soccer as culture at the world cup

The young genre of “soccer studies” is a bit of an odd marriage: an academic approach born in ivory towers applied to a game so base and populist you can play it without hands. It attempts to trace the histories, politics, and identities of nations through their feet, whether it be American isolationism, German efficiency, the rebellious artistry of the Dutch Oranje, or the rhythmic flair of the Brasileros. Hardly a national identity exists that cannot be found reflected in that country’s relationship with the beautiful game.

Entering the soccer studies fray most recently are the keen father and son Steven Stark P’11 and Harrison Stark ’11, who submit to growing the canon with World Cup 2010: The Indispensable Guide to Soccer and Geopolitics. It is a refreshingly intelligent and soft-spoken introduction to the teams, tactics, personalities, and global intricacies of the world’s grandest exhibition. The guide provides multiple layers of soccer knowledge, perspective, and subtext to those whirlwind few weeks.

The first third of the book is cautious but colorful. It succinctly provides an overview of the tournament as well as a few short essays on soccer’s global significance and the potential for Africa’s first Cup to function as a coming-out party for the continent, √° la the Beijing Olympics. It also accounts for the role of the less obvious factors like geography, altitude, racism and spiritual intercession in shaping the outcome of the tournament.

Like a good soccer game, the guide really finds its rhythm about a quarter of the way through. Group by group and country by country, the Starks evaluate each team with a concise but illuminating report. They assess not only offense, defense, and management, but also pedigree and politics, without which we would never understand why the Dutch are chronic underachievers, and why Slovenia will be worth watching but Slovakia might not.

World Cup 2010 is perhaps the ideal guide for the uninformed (read: American) viewer. Its clipped pacing and partitioned fact-boxes make for a very easy read for those accustomed to 40 seconds between downs. It is extensively researched and written with a combination of humility and wit that just hits the mark. Most importantly, anyone who cares can immediately tell that Stark & Stark are no armchair fullbacks. After reading half a page, it’s obvious that they actually play the game, enjoy it, and enjoy writing about it. While it may lack the exhaustive depth of analysis you might find across the pond, this may be the first American book about soccer that lives and breathes the game.

There may be critics who say the book is irrelevant, or at least a decade late. They will posit that if power has moved from the nation-state to the transnational corporate behemoth, then surely the Barcelonas and Chelseas, conglomerates of the world’s best players unhindered by borders, are the executors of the best soccer. If the World Cup is just an excuse to resurrect arcane allegiances, how could it possibly have anything left to say about the world? On the other hand, what could be more appropriate in the Obama age of re-engagement with the world than a strong American showing?

To those clamoring for easy answers, you’ll be disappointed. Stark and Stark refuse to lay out their own particular assessment of where soccer imitates life and where the two become one. On the grand questions of geopolitics, as well as to the more direct one of “who will win?” the Starks allow us o draw our own conclusions. It’s too complicated and too uncertain to give a straight answer, though that won’t stop the hacks on ESPN from trying. But a few things are certain. First, the world’s favorite tournament is about to break new ground. Second, the planet will go bonkers for it. Third, as the dust settles on Johannesburg on the sixth of July, a winner will be crowned. If you want to understand what happens in the meantime and why it matters, this book is worth your while.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Beckham is a Sentimental Loss for England, Not A Real One

Ollie Kay of the UK Times has it about right: David Beckham is a sentimental loss to the Cup (and our cover!) but not to the team. He likely would have come in only at the end of games in the hopes of taking an important free kick or even a penalty kick (which given his history, he might well have missed). Life marches on.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

World Cup 2010 the Book

The World Cup is the planet’s biggest event. Yet no one on this side of the pond has ever set out to explain comprehensively why it matters and what’s likely to happen this time around.

In this sharp, fun, and sassy guide, Stark & Stark lay it all out for both the casual and impassioned fan – the spectacle, the tradition, and the teams. Learn why Spain never wins, Brazil often does, and what the US and Mexico really need to do to win the Cup. Discover, too, what the first World Cup in Africa will mean – from Mandela to mythical spirits. Each team profile features a squad breakdown, players to watch, predictions, and an analysis of team tactics, tradition, coaching techniques, and even the national anthems that will be played before each match. Through it all, the book highlights the cultural politics that still make every England game resemble the Charge of the Light Brigade, as one reporter put it, and every Italian team a cross between Machiavelli and Michelangelo.

You’ll laugh out loud, you’ll argue, but when it’s all over, you’ll know more about the World Cup and soccer than an ESPN analyst. This is not only the best introduction to the 2010 World Cup; it’s a book about soccer you’ll want to read and reread for years to come.