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I'm not a huge sports fan in general, but like a lot of people I will make an exception for the World Cup every four years. Pressure of work and Worldcon has meant that I have been less engaged this year than I would have liked, but I did my vital preparation anyway by reading FiveThirtyEight and also this modest book which runs through the star players, and also the footballing heritage and politics of each of the 32 competing countries, breezily and articulately.

Not quite all of the stories he tells about individual countries check out in every detail. It is true that Oscar Gestido, brother of Uruguay's 1930 star player Álvaro Gestido, was president of Uruguay; however it's not quite as good a story as it might be, because he was only president for a few months in 1967, ten years after his footballing brother had died and almost four decades after they won the first World Cup. Other stories in the book may have similar credentials; I don't know.

I did actually finish it some time ago, a couple of days after the tournament started, and am still woefully behind with writing up my reading; of course, two-thirds of the teams are now out of the running, so it's a bit late to recommend it, but despite the occasional fantasising, I'll look out for Stark's guide to the 2018 World Cup with interest. Like most people, I still think this is Brazil's competition to lose; but they are showing signs of losing it...

And I'll be cheering for Belgium tomorrow night, but I hope that they can get into the habit of scoring in the first three-quarters of the match for a change!

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