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The ESPN World Cup Companion: Everything You Need to Know About the Planet's Biggest Sports Event Hardcover – May 4, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Roger Bennett on The ESPN World Cup Companion

The World Cup has been a dominant force in my life, creating a spine against which I have come to mark time. Some of my earliest television-watching memories revolve around the delirious spectacle of the 1978 World Cup, as stadiums exploded with confetti whenever Argentina took to the field. 1982 was defined by Brazil’s intense midfielder, Falcao, maniacally celebrating a goal with the veins in his arms bulging from the screen as if in 3-D (Youtube it) and Diego Maradona's 1986 destruction of my beloved England by means foul and fair which caused my brother and I to run out into the street and vent our grief by blasting a soccer ball through the window of our home. My parents, thankfully, understood our pain.

In 1990, I spent the summer as a counselor at a sleepaway camp in Maine and first encountered America's cruel indifference to the sport I loved. The day of England’s semi-final match-up against West Germany was one of the most frustrating of my life. I spent an afternoon driving frantically from one sleepy rural bar to another. All were broadcasting the local Portland minor league baseball game. Not one was able to direct their massive satellite dishes towards a signal that could pull in the World Cup semi-final. In the pre-internet age I had to wait for the next day’s Boston Globe to discover the bitter result. England lost. Perhaps it was for the best.

I moved to the States shortly afterwards, and have watched with wonder as the profile of the World Cup has ineluctably risen tournament to tournament. When this country performed hosting duties in 1994, I viewed the majority of the games alone, courtesy of a Spanish network on an old television set in the corner of a deserted Jimmy's Woodlawn Tap in Hyde Park, Chicago, with only the barbacks for company. Between 1998 and 2002, I lived in D.C. and experienced the tournament achieve cult status in that city. The cognoscenti had become clued-up and flocked to local Brazilian bars or Italian restaurants in Adams Morgan to digest the spectacle. By chance, I was back in D.C. for the U.S.A.-Italy game in 2006, and was shocked to see these venues were jam-packed with lines snaking around the block two hours before kickoff.

Those lines at the bar and the widespread sense of celebration surrounding the 2006 tournament catalyzed the idea for this book. An effort to frame the backstories of World Cups past for all those who had become enraptured with the sport but were finding the plotlines as hard to unravel as if they had jumped into Lost in the middle of season three. Between June 11th and July 11th you will see one team, Italy, defend their trophy, while 31 others attack. Amidst the shocks, disappointments, triumphs and searing losses, our book is guaranteed to enhance your love of the game, and ensure you are the most soccer-literate fan around the office water-cooler.

(Photo © Jamie Glassman)

About the Author

David Hirshey is the Executive Editor of HarperCollins Publishers and was a longtime editor at Esquire magazine. A former college player, he has been covering soccer for more than 30 years for a variety of publications, including the New York Times, the New York Daily News, ESPN The Magazine, and Deadspin.com. He is the co-author of two books, Pele's New World and The Education of an American Soccer Player, and played himself (almost convincingly) in the acclaimed soccer documentary Once In A Lifetime.
Roger Bennett has written books about music, culture, and sport and articles for outlets including ESPN the Magazine, ESPN.com, The New Republic, No Mas, and the Manchester Guardian.   His documentary film, Sons of Sakhnin, followed two years in the life of the first Arab soccer team to become champions of Israel.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: ESPN (May 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 034551792X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345517920
  • Product Dimensions: 10.2 x 0.9 x 10.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,559,768 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By austin_Larry VINE VOICE on May 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As a companion book coming out right before the 2010 world cup I was hoping for something different. Over the past 10 years or so I have become a casual fan of soccer watching more and more of it. It is quite enjoyable but I am still 'un-educated' compared to sports I grew up playing and watching.

I was expecting at least a short summary of all the teams compeating in 2010, their style of play, who to watch for, etc. I was also hoping for a section on terminology and explantions of the most used offensive and defensive schemes. This book had none of that.

As for what it did have, it was an enjoyable, easy to digest summary of all of the past world cups. Each world cup also had 'shorts' inserted into it such as 'cult figures', greatest teams, greatest goals, etc. The print is large and easy to read. For what it is, it is ok. My gripe though is that the title is companion. My idea of companion was to make the watching of the 2010 World Cup a more informative experience. This book does not do it. If you are looking for a history of the World Cup though, I found the book informative, entertaining, and fast-paced, if not too detailed.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Mind you, I don't use the word "MUST" lightly. This chronicle of The Beautiful Game's most prestigious tournament is nothing short of fantastic. Every aspect of the book is expertly constructed, from the fantastic photographs to the narratives to the wide variety of subject matter that will only enrich your love for the World Cup.

The book is broken down by each individual tournament, first with a recounting of how the event unfolded. The authors use of exciting, sweeping, and epic language make the reader feel "there", involved. Then they add in what I find to be the real treats: Profiles of the greatest players, the best goals, the most dramatic moments. For additional spice, they toss in other tasty tidbits like "Soccer fans you're most likely to meet in hell", "Superstitions", "Wives and Girlfriends (aka WAGs)", a quiz that'll help you measure up against the worlds craziest fans/hooligans, best teams of all time, worst teams of all time, and other shenanigans in typically snarky ESPN style.

The photographic choices are superb, only adding to the drama and feel of the book. One particular gem comes on one of Diego Maradona's profile pages. The after-effect of Maradona's one-against-them-all goal vs. England was still sending shudders down world-class defensemen's spines. A photo taken in his very next match shows six, yes, SIX Belgian defenders "about to wet themselves" as he stares them down, ball at his feet. The body language is unmistakeable -- the defenders, though clearly superior in numbers are clearly nervous, and Diego Maradona, even from behind, appears to like his odds. Amazing. And the book is plum full of photos like this!
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Soccer sure takes a beating in the USA. Kids bail on it when they hit middle school. "Soccer Mom" is fightin' words in many quarters. Soccer is even connected to the big crash of 2008--everybody's favorite company on government life support, AIG, has continued to sponsor a pro team in a splashy way. So why does the rest of the world love soccer/football so much?

The ESPN World Cup Companion goes a long way in explaining why soccer is the most popular sport worldwide, especially during a World Cup year. Even though the game can seem dull on the surface (it's only 1-0 after playing 85 minutes? How can a game end in a TIE?), Hirshey and Bennett do a fine job of digging down and showing what makes soccer so fascinating to so many people.

While the book does have stuff that will appeal to hardcore soccer heads, such as highlights of past World Cup tournaments, a selection of "best/worst/biggest/smallest" statistics tables, and profiles of (in)famous players, the intended audience is primarily people who have recently become fans. The overall tone is fun, humorous, and irreverent. Think of it as the kind of introduction a friend might give you over a couple of beers (or, since this is about soccer, 15 pints of beer and a pocketful of darts for throwing at fans of the other team).

Bottom line: 4 stars, with the caveat that committed fans probably are familiar with a lot of what's in the book already. However, longtime followers of the game will enjoy the numerous sidebars and generous helpings of trivia sprinkled throughout the text.

Bonus! UBS, the Swiss bank, has built an econometric model that generates World Cup predictions. See the Comment section of this review if you're interested.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
THE ESPN WORLD CUP COMPANION by Hirshey and Bennett is a 252 page, large format, coffeetable book. The book has a black and white photo on every page. The paper is inexpensive, not glossy. The book is divided into five sections, 1930-1958, 1962-1970, 1974-1982, 1986-1994, and 1998-2006. The writing style is informal and sometimes jokey (makes jokes). The writing does not provide nebulous platitudes, but instead dives right into a large number of specific topics, and provides details about these topics. Clearly, the authors know their subject, and they show no hesitancy whatsoever into disclosing interesting facts.

We learn of the first attempt to globalize soccer, and that this took the form of a competition hosted by Uraguay in 1930. This was the first WORLD CUP. we learn that, during this match, the American soccer team consisted of men from the DETROIT CARBURETORS, the FALL RIVER MARKSMEN, and the PROVIDENCE CLAMDIGGERS (page 6). A full page is devoted to Hector Castro, a legendary soccer player from Uruguay, who lost his right arm when a youth, by way of an accident with an electric saw. A large photo shows this legendary player, and his shortened arm is easy to discern.

Page 9 provides an interesting stand-alone account of thefts of the WORLD CUP (of the actual 40 centimeter tall cup). The cup was manufactured in 1930, and then stolen in 1966 and in 1983.

Page 11 provides a lively account of Benito Mussolini's (Italian dictator) enthusiasm for soccer, which took the form of subsidies to Italian soccer fans who needed traveling money to attend tournaments, recruiting Argentinians to play on the Italian soccer team, and bribing referees.
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