World Cup 2018 Book Review: The Long Road to Russia
The Long Road to Russia sees the writer travel the world taking in qualifying matches for the 2018 FIFA World Cup whilst documenting his experiences there. It offers a unique insight into the drawn-out procedure that takes almost 1000 days to determine the 32 finalists for each tournament and is a must-read for football fans and anyone with a passion for the World Cup.
The long race to make it to the 2018 World Cup began way back on 12th March 2015, just eight months on from the 2014 final in Rio. It commenced in the small, coastal city of Dili with Southeast Asian minnows East Timor taking on Mongolia and the book starts in Asia with tales of corruption and match-fixing from Singapore, a vibrant atmosphere in Thailand as they chased their World Cup dream and a 'David vs Goliath' clash as Laos took on South Korea.
It then picks up the start of qualifying in Europe and explores some of the complex issues in the Balkans, most notably taking in Kosovo's first ever home World Cup qualifier against Croatia. It also features qualifiers from Andorra and Spain and delves into the ongoing Catalan independence issue which overshadowed La Roja's bid to seal progress to Russia.
There are also trips to Africa and North America before the journey rounds off in Peru with judgement day in South America. It recalls how Lima was taken over by a wave of emotion as the Peruvians took on Colombia, looking to seal their progress to the Finals for the first time since 1982.
The Long Road to Russia is certainly more than just another football book and works as both a travelogue and to some extent an examination of the health of the beautiful game. It documents an extremely eventful and at times worrying period for football, starting with the FIFA corruption crisis and concluding with the build-up to the 2018 World Cup, in a country many observers would rather wasn't hosting the tournament.
It includes interviews with supporters and questions whether they are beginning to gradually lose interest in their national teams or whether the unequal and increasingly commercial club scene now meant that international football and specifically the FIFA World Cup, the sport’s Holy Grail, played an even greater role in their eyes. It explores why the competition arouses such passion and whether its meaning and status spread beyond the traditional football powerhouses to countries that have never even qualified for the finals or in some cases even come close.
Also featuring the views of some players and coaches, it's an interesting and entertaining read from the outset and summarises the last few years on and off the pitch very well through the eyes of a passionate football fan.