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How to win the World Cup


Of all the new books adding to the wealth of words written about the World Cup since the planet's greatest football tournament began, none seems quite so intriguing as Graham McColl's, published this week.

On the face of it, How to Win the World Cup looks like a title that Messrs Capello, Lippi, Del Bosque, Low, Dunga, Domenech and company might form a queue to get their hands on, since every one of the 32 national coaches preparing to lock horns in South Africa will wonder whether he knows the answer.

But this is not a book of theory. It is not a coaching manual, detailing training methods, diet plans or tactical strategies.

Instead, it is an examination of the facts from the 18 tournaments held so far, analysing in forensic detail the circumstances in which each team won, not only looking at form on the pitch but at all the peripheral issues, such as media attitudes, public expectation, the political climate, even the weather.

Did Italy's two victories in the 1930s, for example, owe something to Benito Mussolini's fascists?  And did the scandal of bribery and match-fixing help the Italians win again in 2006?

How important is home advantage? Does the best team necessarily win? And why do the Germans never seem to have a problem with penalty shoot-outs?

McColl, a football journalist based in Glasgow, has written 11 books, including titles on Celtic and Manchester United and '78: How a Nation Lost the World Cup, an entertaining deconstruction of Scotland's high expectations and embarrassing failure in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.

For more by Graham McColl and more on the World Cup, visit The Sports Bookshelf Shop.  Every purchase you make there helps support this site.

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