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Revisiting the Cup

- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 26, 2008

At the World Cup with the Footballers, Fans and Freaks" (Harcourt Books), and local writer Tony Limarzi, for his slim volume "Forza Italia: The Italian Triumph in the 2006 World Cup" (Publish America).

Trecker's colorful title warns readers that this is no ordinary book on soccer. It borders on the sensational but is an indulgent read. From his Munich apartment, Trecker saw the seamy and outrageous side of soccer's biggest party. I, too, spent 36 days in Germany - granted mostly on trains as I commuted each day to games from a leafy suburb in Hannover - and at times reading this book I wondered whether we were at the same event. Did I miss all the fun?

Drama surrounds Trecker at every turn. Just getting to Germany was a challenge. His neighbor turned out to be a gun-runner, so the FBI was suspicious of Trecker's trips to El Salvador and Guatemala for World Cup qualifying games leading up to the finals. Somehow Trecker got his media credential as a Swiss national. FIFA, soccer's governing body, is based in Zurich, and so he says he was "at the top of the pecking order" in terms of getting tickets into the games he covered for Fox Sports and his "14 million" readers.

Trecker's tournament began in chaos after customs official seized his epilepsy medication. (He was later seriously ill, which delayed the publication his book.)

In Nuremberg before the U.S.-Ghana game, he got into a scuffle after someone "decked" his wife, "in the shadow" of Hitler's "rally grounds".

He's on solid ground explaining the sensitive European press after forward Eddie Johnson used the word "war" before a game. And there are juicy nuggets. Did you know that combustible American midfielder Clint Dempsey, who once punched out a teammate, wanted to become a priest?

His long explanation of soccer's tricky offside rule — "like the infield fly rule in baseball" — is one of the best written. And his characterization of former D.C. United and American team coach Bruce Arena is brutal.

"Arena is a strange man," Trecker writes. "... he has a disquieting habit of emotionally and verbally abusing people he finds mentally inferior to him." And, "... he was honest, straightforward, and almost charming in a one-on-one situation. But when the klieg lights were on him, he could be insufferable, even cruel."

Trecker relates America's estrangement with soccer to the nation's lack of empathy for losers.

"The rest of the world remembers great soccer losses and broods upon them," he writes. "Soccer — with its maniacal crowds, mad tension, and stifling importance of a single, two-hour stretch of time — is often not fun."

For Limarzi, soccer is a burning romance. The author is the radio play-by-play announcer for D.C. United, and his book reads like a homage to his two loves: his family and the Azzurri — Italy's soccer team.

"This was our fourth World Cup together," he writes about his wife.

Limarzi didn't attend the World Cup — he was called on to do United's TV coverage — but from afar, he followed Italy's journey to win its fourth title.

Though American-born, Limarzi throws his allegiance to Italy, which is drawn in the "Group of Death" with the U.S. team.

"I knew Italian soccer before there was an American team," he writes. But it's tough. He and his father once coached American midfielder Oguchi Onyewu of Olney, and he admires United's Ben Olsen, also on the U.S. team.

"There I was ... pulling for Italy but fully supporting Ben Olsen and Oguchi Onyewu. My paradox was complete and it seemed like a lose-lose situation."

But Italy went on to win it all, and so writes Limarzi, "No matter what happens over the course of the next 20 World Cups, I will always have Germany 2006."