"Soccer in Sun and Shadow" by Eduardo GaleanoWe are now less than 50 days from the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, and I just finished what might be the perfect book to get ready for the big event: Soccer in Sun and Shadow, by Eduardo Galeano (published as Football in Sun and Shadow in the UK).

The introduction includes a truly great line, one of my favorites, which I’ve seen reproduced in several other soccer books. After feeling guilty for wanting to cheer for the star players of Peñarol (Uruguayan arch-rivals of his own beloved Nacional), Galeano writes:

Years have gone by and I’ve finally learned to accept myself for who I am: a beggar for good football. I go about the world, hand outstretched, and in the stadiums I plead: ‘A pretty move, for the love of God.’

And when good football happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don’t give a damn which team or country performs it.

The whole book is similarly lyrical and charming. The structure is kind of unusual; it’s a chronological collection of short vignettes, many less than a page. Some are philosophical ruminations on the modern game vs the good old days, some vivid sketches of glorious individual goals and players, and others fascinating time capsules of current events surrounding every World Cup, from 1930 through 2002.

An example:

The Cicada and the Ant

In 1992, the singing cicada defeated the worker ant 2-0.

Germany and Denmark faced each other in the final of the European Championship. The German players were raised on fasting, abstinence and hard work, the Danes on beer, women and naps in the sun. Denmark had lost out in the qualifiers and the players were on holiday when war intervened and they were called urgently to take Yugoslavia’s place in the tournament. They had no time for training nor any interest in it, and had to make do without Michael Laudrup, a brilliant, happy and sure-footed player who had just won the European Cup wearing a Barcelona shirt. The German team, on the other hand, came to the final with Matthaus, Klinsmann and all the stars. Germany who ought to have won, was defeated by Denmark, who had nothing to prove and played as if the field were a continuation of the beach.

It’s great stuff; I highly recommend it. Get a copy from your local bookstore or Half.com, or get the ebook from Amazon or Apple.

And get ready for June, when we’ll see new stories of victory and loss, glory and defeat. And some pretty moves, too, for the love of God.