- A History of the World Cup
Clemente Lisi’s A History of the World Cup is a tribute to the world’s most popular sport, soccer, and its famed tournament held every four years. The author details the growth of the World Cup from a fledgling tournament that at first begged teams to compete and which was halted for twelve years due to World War II to a multi-billion dollar operation watched by close to a billion people world-wide. Thirteen national teams competed for the first men’s 1930 World Cup championship won by host Uruguay. Two hundred and five teams vied over several years to be among the thirty-two World Cup finalists in 2010, eventually won by Spain.
Lisi adds his final chapter on the 2010 tournament, and one of his best, to his well-received earlier work to produce the second edition. He captures the latest World Cup— from the vuvuzela horn blasting fans that plagued South African stadiums to France’s questionable qualifying and eventual team collapse due to infighting, and from the numerous errant referee calls marring games to the demand for incorporation of technology to avoid future injustices.
Many of the highlights of 2010 reflect themes that run throughout the previous eight chapters. As Lisi chronicles the eighty years of the World Cup, he emphasizes the changes and decisions that influenced outcomes. Different playoff and seeding formats were used to adjust to the growing number of entrants making each tournament unique. Team tactics and strategies, roster selections, and game substitutions are credited with earning defeat or victory. Blown calls by referees, vicious play to counter superior offensive skills—first notable in 1934—and critical plays in games are vividly recounted as the backdrop for understanding each World Cup. Comparisons between 2010 and previous tournaments abound—South Africa hosting in 2010 helped unite the country after apartheid reminding readers of Chile in 1962 and Mexico in 1986 both of whom used the tournament to bring their people together after devastating earthquakes. Even France’s handball in the qualifying rounds is reminiscent of Maradona’s “hand of God” goal for Argentina in 1986; the difference in how the world reacted to each attests to the increased influence of technology.
Yet, the play of superior teams and individuals ultimately highlight the history of the World Cup. Brazil playing its jogo bonita (beautiful soccer) has appeared in every World Cup. Germany, Argentina, and the defensive-minded Italians have been dominant teams throughout the history of the tournament. Lisi also captures the excitement of the fans’ emotional favorites who emerge at each tournament such as Cameroon in 1990, which became the first African nation to advance to the second round. The United States ascent in soccer is followed beginning with its role as fan favorite in 1950 and its stunning defeat of England resulting in the Brazilian fans carrying the players off the field in triumph. Tragic consequences add depth to the work such as the apparent murder in 1939 of Austria’s [End Page 184] greatest player Matthias Sindelar who had avoided playing for Hitler’s Germany and the killing of Andreas Escobar after Columbia was eliminated from the 1994 tournament. The tensions caused by rampant nationalism runs throughout the book.
Nineteen short biographies serve as sidebars throughout. The author highlights players who had an impact on World Cup competition over their careers and includes such stars as Ferenc Puskas, Bobby Moore, Pele, Mario Kempes, Paolo Rossi, Diego Maradona, Ronaldo, Fabio Cannavaro, and others. Not just the soccer triumphs but personal struggles make these interesting reading such as the numerous players who emerged out of extreme poverty or battled with drugs and alcohol.
The purpose of the book is to “recount the history of the World Cup to an American audience largely unfamiliar with the tournament’s past” (p. xvii). Lisi, who describes himself as a “soccer junkie” (p. xiii) and is a reporter for the New York Post...