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The Beautiful Game

Today's blog post is from Sara Hatch. Sara is the sales assistant and resident soccer enthusiast here at Beacon Press. She has been watching the World Cup since 2002 and will be supporting the U.S., England, the Netherlands, and Côte d'Ivoire.

Tomorrow the world will explode. Don't worry; it's not the onset of nuclear war. It's the World Cup, the glorious tourney that occurs every four years and pits nation against nation, creating stories that will last for decades in each nation's history. Games will be won and games will be lost. We will see both spectacular dives and goals that make your heart sing.

Here at Beacon, we have taken a personal interest in the sport, with Steve Wilson's book, The Boys from Little Mexico. Published this month, Wilson tells the story of an all-Hispanic boys' high school soccer team in Woodburn, Oregon, documenting their lives on and off the field. It is an inspiring story of a small-town team transcending racial boundaries and proving the transformative power of sports. For further evidence of the unifying power of sports, one needs to look no further than Côte d'Ivoire, the small West African country and former colony of France.

For most of the past decade, Côte d'Ivoire was torn in two by civil war. Rebel forces camped out in the north while the government remained prominent in the south. As Steve Bloomfield relates in his fascinating new book, Africa United, the civil war was mostly a cold war. But despite many attempts to re-assemble the country, including a peace agreement in 2003, the country remained split between the rebel north and government south.

While civil war continued to rage in 2006, the national team, Les Eléphants, made it to the World Cup in Germany. Though the team did not make it out of the first round (having been pitted against football powerhouses Argentina and Holland), the national pride that was felt across Côte d'Ivoire led to some of the first steps toward a permanent peace.

One year later, as Bloomfield relates, a fragile peace deal was signed. English Premiere League player Didier Drogba, just named African Player of the Year, brought his trophy home and traveled to the northern city of Bouaké, a place he had not been since the civil war had begun. There he declared that the next match, a World Cup qualifier, would be played not in the de facto southern capital of Abidjan, but in Bouaké, the home of the rebel forces. Not long after Drogba's announcement, the country began to re-assemble into the united government that we see today.

Whenever I hear or read stories on the peace deals surrounding this national team's success (such as one in the 2006 The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup), I feel true hope for the world and I remember how I fell in love with this beautiful game.

For Africa, 2010 is a chance to show the world that, although the problems of the past are not over, the true and beautiful spirit of Africa still exists and can be seen on football pitches across the country. No language or religion unites Africa, but football crosses those boundaries. When the opening game between South Africa and Mexico begins on June 11th, Nelson Mandela, the man who symbolizes peace in Africa, will be in the stands watching his country celebrate.

What to read during the World Cup:
A host of books and blogs have sprung up around the World Cup. Many make for excellent reading for those who seek more than just what's on the pitch.

The Boys from Little Mexico, Steve Wilson
One gutsy team plays the soccer with heart, pride, and their lives on the line, in an extraordinary cross between Friday Night Lights and Enrique's Journey.

Africa United, Steve Bloomfield
This beautiful, stirring compilation of stories about Africa is told through the unifying sport of soccer.

How Soccer Explains the World, Franklin Foer
You may think soccer is just a game, but as Foer's brilliant book explains, it's so much more. Foer is also editor at The New Republic and lead contributor on their Goal Post blog.

The New Republic's Goal Post
This blog returns for its second World Cup, featuring amazing writers and a host of global soccer experts that tackle everything from who will win, to the weird sleeping habits of Lionel Messi.

World Cup
This blog features up to the minute news and thoughtful pieces for those new to the game and old pros.

The London Times
The World Cup section of the Times is covered by some of the same journalistic voices that follow the best teams in the world year-round in a nation where football is a way of life.
Follow your team in style with this beautiful, interactive calendar.